I cannot remember a time in recent history that the American people have been more stressed, more on edge, and more anxious about what their future holds than now.
It is no secret that illness can affect our menstrual cycle, but did you know that stress can be just as insidious? Stress can delay ovulation or even cause you to skip ovulation altogether for that cycle.
How Stress Wreaks Havoc on Aunt Flo
So it goes like this…. You have what is called your HPA-Axis, this is where your hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands communicate with each other to produce the beautiful symphony of hormone release that are responsible for things such as your metabolism, affecting insulin sensitivity (all my PCOS babes are probably familiar with this process), your immune system, and most importantly for our discussion today, helping you run away from danger in the ‘flight’ aspect of your ‘flight-or-fight’ reaction.
We all learned about flight-or-fight in elementary school and how this is due to the release of cortisol from our adrenals, but what we failed to learn was that our body does not know the difference between needing to run from an attacker or the stress we feel from being unable to see into the future and know when this quarantine will end. We are currently in a state of ‘sit-and-stew’ which puts our body into a constant state of stress and an almost constant influx of the hormone cortisol (which is not how the process is designed to be).
Next we have our HPG-Axis, which is again our hypothalamus and pituitary but this time they are communicating with our gonads. When we have a steady stream of cortisol being put out during times of chronic stress it inhibits our HPG-Axis from functioning properly which can inadvertently suppress ovary function, thus leading to a cycle in which we were either not able to ovulate or shifted ovulation to a later date.
Not trying to conceive a baby right now? This should still matter to you, and here is why! The lack of ovulation will lead to a lack of adequate progesterone, thus causing something termed 'relative estrogen dominance' for that cycle. How will this present itself you ask? This could lead to irregular cycles, either arriving later than expected or even sooner than you planned, heavy and/or painful flow, the feeling of being more emotional than you are used to, insomnia, brain fog, headaches or migraines, and all of those things you associated with PMS.
Shew, ok. That was a lot of not-so-fun info right? Well, the whole point of this post it to help you navigate this stressful time, bring a little more peace to your days, and hopefully help you stay healthy and well so that you do not feel any of the burden when aunt flo arrives.
My Top Strategies You Should Be Implementing Into Your Daily Routine
First thing in the morning, spend 5 minutes writing down all the things you are thankful for today. You do not have to worry about how deep and meaningful they would be to anyone else, this is about you. As long as you are thankful for these items, you should feel free to write them down and remind yourself of each and every one of them.
Spring is in the air, so go ahead, lace up your tennis shoes and take a stroll around the block. Take note of all the trees that are starting to bloom, the sound of lawn mowers in the background, the birds chirping a little more lively than usual. You can take a walk and still practice social distancing, am I right?
Participate in a virtual workout! I know quite a few gyms and workout groups that are hosting virtual workouts that you can do from home and do not require weights or equipment! Sitting on the couch all day working from home, or watching Netflix is not going to help you release any stress, it really isn’t.
Join the House Party App and meet up with friends! I know lots of people who are setting ‘party times’ and meeting up for virtual happy hours! While drinking alcohol in a time of health uncertainty might not be what I really suggest, seeing your friends faces and being able to chat and catch up can do wonders for your mood! Social interaction is so so important when it comes to stress management! We are supposed to be practicing social distancing not social isolation.
Create a self-care routine that really makes you feel loved, by yourself! Take a hot Epsom salt bath, do a face-mask, drink some tea while reading that fiction book you have been putting off… the options are endless and are sure to make you feel pampered without ever leaving the house!
What should you do if you find yourself with irregular cycles or newly painful periods?
Well as much as you will hate this, don’t stress! We are all in the midst of new and interesting times, and no one can tell us when it will end! If you find yourself dealing with new symptoms, think back to the last month or so and remind yourself of everything else that has been different. Maybe try adding in more movement to your day, extra self-care, more distanced meet-ups with your friends, and remove all the crappy food choices from your diet as much as you can! Adding in lots of cruciferous veggies, antioxidant rich fruit and delicious egg yolks are not a bad idea either.
As always, I am not a doctor, and do not give medical advice. If you feel you are in need of medical care, please seek out help from your PCP or qualified health care team. This information is not intended to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose any disease. Take care of yourselves my friends, we will get through this!