We get stressed because of so many everyday triggers, and we’re always told how it affects our emotional and mental health – but what about our physical body? We’ve gotten so used to the ‘fight or flight’ response and feeling like being in a constant state of chronic stress is normal. But when you add hormones to the mix – (*ladies, hands up who has ever felt like they could win a boxing tournament and eat a gallon of ice cream at the same time?) – how does stress affect your period? And does the pill do anything to help?
How does stress affect the body? Physical effects of stress
When we’re stressed, our bodies automatically go into overdrive – this fight or flight response where the body shifts all of its energy toward fighting off a threat, like a wild animal back in caveman days, releasing hormones called adrenalin and cortisol. If we don’t learn to control our stress levels, we are prone to living with ongoing chronic stress symptoms, from mental health problems like anxiety and depression, to physical health issues like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure among others (1). And in terms of your menstrual cycle, there are a few key reasons why this chronic stress affects your period and PMS, even if you are on a birth control pill.
How do birth control pills work
There are many different kinds of birth control pills. Finding the right one for you requires a visit to your GP and following instructions so that you manage the reasons you were prescribed the pill in the first place. These could be from regulating serious period cramps, avoiding pregnancy, or even helping with skin issues like hormonal acne.
Birth control pills have hormones that prevent you from ovulating mid-cycle. You take them once a day around the same time. Once you follow your specific instructions from your GP as well as the pill product itself, you will give your body a break, usually after 3 weeks of daily pills, thus bringing along your period. It comes due to the hormone withdrawal, mimicking a natural cycle and preventing pregnancy.
Stress and periods
Estrogen and progesterone are hormones that are responsible for your period and cycle that your body produces naturally.
Progesterone is one of the key hormones that regulates the menstrual cycle. It gets made in your ovaries, in your corpus luteum, during the second half of your menstrual cycle and in your adrenal glands. The interesting part? It’s made from the same building block as your stress hormones.
Therefore, what happens when you’re stressed is that your body can get confused and begin thinking that making stress hormones is more important than making babies and making sure your period comes on time. Your body thinks you are living in this fight or flight state constantly – but no roaming tigers here! It therefore takes over this very same building block to produce stress hormones, leaving not much else to make progesterone.
A lack of progesterone combined with too much estrogen, can mess up your menstrual cycles and can lead to a variety of hormonal issues and imbalances, even difficulty getting pregnant as well as seriously unbearable periods, cramps, mood swings, PMS etc.
Dealing with stress is never a quick task – we must all make a conscious effort to carve out self-care routines that work best for us in order to manage our triggers and educate ourselves on how to avoid living in a constant low level state of chronic stress. This takes time and isn’t a quick fix, but it is the number one important thing to tackle if you have bad periods or irregular cycles. You can do it!