Stress and Hormones
Do you have irregular periods? Or tons of PMS symptoms? Stress could be at the root cause of your issue. And I don’t mean that in generic “be calm and everything will be OK” kind of way. It turns out that stress can cause hormonal changes that manifest as period and fertility problems. When we understand the true cause behind the symptoms we’re experiencing, we can take actions to prevent and treat those issues.
First let’s talk about stress. Stress is both a mental and a physical phenomenon. Whether it’s worrying about a family member’s health, pulling an all-nighter to finish on a deadline, travel, or getting a cold…our body responds to these situations by releasing cortisol, a hormone that elevates our blood pressure, stores fat, and gets our brain on high alert.
We don’t often talk about the fact that the building blocks of cortisol are the same as the building blocks of our sex hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone. When our bodies are asked to produce more cortisol because of stressors in our system, it prioritizes making that cortisol at the expense of progesterone and estrogen.
If you experience irregular periods or frequent bleeding, you might feel like it’s all completely random. But in truth, some of those bleeds may actually be an indication that your body’s estrogen levels are dropping prematurely (before you ovulated). This irregular bleeding could suggest that a stressful event (whether it was mentally stressful or physically stressful) may have diverted resources away from the building of estrogen, causing bleeding between cycles.
Similarly, many physical PMS symptoms like bloating and migraines may be associated with higher levels of stress in the weeks leading up to your period. This may be due to cortisol’s direct impact on the body or because of how cortisol can impact the levels of sex hormones.
The impact of cortisol on progesterone is particularly important when it comes to fertility. You need sufficient progesterone to create a lining of the uterus that is suitable for implantation of a fertilized egg. Insufficient progesterone can make it more difficult to get or remain pregnant.
Of course stress isn’t the cause of every single case of PMS or infertility. But it’s important to know how physical and mental stressors do have downstream effects. It helps take some of the mystery out of your menstrual cycle so you can take clear actions to help reduce those issues.
In this blog post, I dive into some of the best stress-relieving activities to help bring balance back to your menstrual cycle.