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Lockdown may be affecting your periods

Periods can feel like strange and mysterious things.

Some of us have hardly any periods at all while our mates seem to bleed constantly (both require some kind of investigation).

But if you’re normally pretty regular, you may have found that your cycle has gone a little haywire during lockdown.

Why? Well it’s probably all down to our old foe, stress.

Stress can have a massive impact on our physical health. It can cause psoriasis and gut issues. It can trigger headaches and gallstones. And it can also mess up our menstrual cycles. Here’s how:

It might delay or stop menstruation

Our bodies don’t like stress. They don’t know whether an increase in the stress hormone cortisol is the result of lack of sleep, a global pandemic, famine or being chased by a tiger – so it just puts out the same response.

Because we probably wouldn’t want to be pregnant during a famine or in a dangerous situation, cortisol spikes can suppress normal levels of reproductive hormones and that can lead to anovulation (no ovulation), amenorrhea (lack of period) or a delayed bleed.

The NHS lists stress as being one of the most common reasons behind periods stopping, alongside pregnancy, PCOS and weight issues.

One study that looked at the impact of stress on female nurses found that high stress and longer cycles were related.

It can shorten your cycle

The same research found that while people in high-stress situations either didn’t ovulate or had longer cycles, those stressed-out people who didn’t have much control over what they had to do at work had shorter cycles.

So that may go some way to explaining why some of us are currently having two periods a month rather than one. You’re living through a stressful period of time over which you have little or no control. That kind of stress is a different type of stress to the kind you feel when you have too much to do or too much pressure to do it.

Periods may be more painful

Intense cramps may be a side effect of stress. One study looked at the period pain of 388 Chinese women aged 20-34.

It found that dysmenorrhea (painful periods) was twice as common in women who reported high levels of stress just before they were due, with 44 per cent of women with high-stress complaining of pain compared to 22 per cent living with low stress.

Interestingly, however, scientists found that pain was more likely if the women were stressed out during the first part of their cycle rather than the second. If your cycle is out of kilter, you might struggle to work out which part of it you’re in…so it’s really worthwhile trying to reduce stress and anxiety completely.

So, what can you do about it?

Well it’s worth saying that this crisis may not impact your period at all – so if your cycle is ticking over as normal, great!

If you are experiencing changes, you might want to keep a note of symptoms and dates in a cycle tracker like Flo or in your diary. If you find that your periods have stopped even months after life gets back to normal, it’s worth chatting to your GP – most doctors are offering phone appointments during lockdown.

In the meantime, prioritise looking after your mental health and reducing stress as best you can (easier said than done at the moment, we know).

Limit how much news you consume, really practice good sleep hygiene. Just because you’re not having to get up early for the commute, that doesn’t mean that you should be going to bed later.

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  • Posted on April 18, 2020