Stress is a sneaky visitor that can show up uninvited and mess with your body's plans. Although it’s completely normal, stress can affect your period and potentially make it harder for you to become a parent.
In this article, we'll explore the connection stress has to menstrual health and fertility and share some helpful ways you can lower your stress levels and enhance your overall well-being.
Understanding stress and its health effects
If you’re a living and breathing human, you’ve likely experienced some stress in your lifetime.
Stress is unique to each of us, and today, in our overly busy lives, we all have so many reasons to feel stressed out. Whether yours comes from your job, relationship, or fertility status, it’s always a good idea to be aware of it and figure out what you can do to ease it.
What is stress, exactly?
In the dictionary, you can find several definitions for “stress.” But to save you some Google-ing, we’ll go with this one:
“A state resulting from a stress—especially one of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existing equilibrium.”
Those equilibrium-altering tensions elicit a physiological response in our bodies. First, recognizing stress and then going into a fight-or-flight mode by increasing cortisol production in the body.
This cortisol boost can lead to irregular hormone secretion and impact your fertility. High cortisol levels can also cause irregularities in your menstrual cycle or missed periods.
How does stress affect your period?
Stress can really affect your menstrual health. It's important to pay attention to it, especially if your periods are irregular or if you're trying to get pregnant.
Stress can exacerbate your menstrual pain and discomfort, leading to dysmenorrhea. Additionally, amenorrhea, or lack of a menstrual cycle, can occur due to chronic stress.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis
When our cortisol levels rise, inflammation can occur, leading to a dysregulated immune system and painful periods, key factors in endometriosis.
Higher than normal stress levels can also impact those with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), worsening symptoms and adding complications.
“Stress-induced hormonal imbalances can worsen insulin resistance, a common feature of PCOS, potentially leading to weight gain and metabolic disturbances,” explains fertility coach and nurse practitioner Dr. Tara Brandner, DNP, FNP-c.
The impact of stress on fertility
There’s a delicate hormonal balance required for successful ovulation and conception. It’s essential to monitor your stress levels if you’re trying to conceive, as stress can interfere with your reproductive journey by affecting various stages of fertility.
Chronic stress can interfere and cause your body to get off-balanced. Dr. Tara explains, “Stress-related hormonal imbalances, particularly elevated cortisol levels, can interfere with the release of reproductive hormones and affect the maturation of eggs and their release from the ovaries.”
Stress and assisted reproductive technologies (ART)
There's no denying that frequent doctor visits, needle pokes, hormones, and other aspects of ART can mess with your emotions.
“Stress may impact the hormonal environment needed for successful implantation and early pregnancy development,” says Dr. Tara.
Plus, chronic stress can make it more difficult for in vitro fertilization (IVF) to work. Essentially, your body becomes stuck in a loop where stress and treatments worsen each other.
Although it's easier said than done, and you likely won't be able to eliminate all stress, you can use coping strategies and make other healthy lifestyle choices to promote your chances of getting pregnant.
Managing stress for menstrual health and fertility
Now that you know stress can negatively affect your cycle and fertility, what can you do to manage it? Don’t worry, we've got you…
Deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation can all help reduce stress and promote a more centered and present mindset.
Start by focusing on what you can control and recognize how your body feels. When you catch yourself feeling stressed, stop and think about your five senses:
- What do you see?
- What do you hear?
- What do you smell?
- What do you feel?
- What do you taste?
You don’t need to sign up for expensive yoga or meditation classes—many online mindfulness resources allow you to start at home.
Some places to check out:
You can also search for in-person yoga and mindfulness events in your area.
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Healthy lifestyle choices
Get your body moving with regular exercise, or use cycle-syncing to plan your workout routine. Being active can help manage stress and maintain a healthy hormonal balance. Plus, it will boost your mood and give you some extra energy. We all could use some of that!
You are what you eat, so aim for a healthy diet. Prioritizing your gut health can support healthy hormones and lower your stress levels, too.
Additionally, prioritizing quality sleep can help to regulate your hormones, improve your cognition, and boost your mood.
Last but not least, socialize regularly and lean on your people when you need them. Maintaining strong social connections can do wonders for relieving stress. Plus, being around your friends and family doubles as a distraction from everything you're going through.
When to seek professional help
You don’t need to do this on your own. Even if you're naturally resilient, it's OK to ask for help whenever you need it.
A therapist or mental health professional can work with you to address proper ways to cope with stress and provide suggestions for specific situations.
Call your primary provider if you notice persistent irregularities with your period or have other fertility concerns. Dr. Tara recommends conception testing and appointments before you are ready to conceive to determine if there are any hormone issues.
Mental health is whole health
Stress impacts your overall well-being, and it’s important to address any mental health issues as soon as you notice them. Seek professional help for anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns you’re struggling with.
Taking care of your mental health can positively impact menstrual health and fertility and improve your overall well-being.
Remember to prioritize yourself and use stress management techniques that work for you. Although you may be on a journey to add to your family, you need to be in a good place, too.
Blair Sharp is a freelance writer who lives in Minnesota with her husband and son. Her words have been published in various publications, including Parents, SheKnows, The Bump, and Insider. Find her writing daily on LinkedIn and check out her weekly newsletter, The Relatable Creator, for motivation to show up and stand out online. Head to her website www.blairsharp.com for more.