How Stress Impacts Your Menstrual Cycle (It Can Be Downright Weird)

Did your period come a few days (or weeks) early this month? Did you panic think you were pregnant because your cycle was uncharacteristically late? Whether you noticed changes in your cycle during stay-at-home orders or your regular cycle is just starting to feel off now, there may have been a month or two in there that your cycle was just downright weird.

Let’s set the record straight: A weird cycle in the last few months is actually totally normal. 

Stress is the likely cause of wonkiness in your usually regular menstrual cycle. As we’ve said before, it impacts everything. Here’s how stress could be messing up your usually dependable bleeding. 

Cortisol, Stress, and Your Ovaries

When you feel stress, your body releases the hormone cortisol. Cortisol will then travel to your brain and cause a change in the release of the hormones in your anterior pituitary that control ovulation (LH and FSH). That change can mean ovulation is slower or faster, or just different than your body is used to.

Since the release of that egg is the stimulus for your body to create progesterone—that cooling, calming nourishing hormone—a change in ovulation can mean inadequate amounts of progesterone. And without adequate progesterone, your cycle could be really short, really long, or you could experience more severe PMS symptoms than normal. 

The good news is that if you’re not in a constant state of fight or flight, including that high cortisol production, your cycle should resume normal course next month. So, since we’ve moved a bit into the new normal (post initial COVID stress), see how your cycle responds. And check out how to reduce your anxiety while we’re still social distancing.

Your Routines + Follicular Maturation

That egg we just talked about took about 90 days to mature. Yep: The stress you were under, the foods you were eating, and the routines you were perpetuating three months ago were the conditions that created the mature egg your body is releasing now. 

For example, around March when the Minnesota quarantine started, many patients reached out to us and said that their periods were very wonky. So, we took a look at the timeline—and approximately three months before quarantine, we were smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season, when many people consume more sugar (including alcohol) and are under more stress. This recipe can cause the environment for the egg to mature to be less than optimal—which leads to the progesterone created by that egg to be less optimal as well. And again, changes in progesterone levels can impact the timing and symptoms of your cycle. 

Changes in Nutrition

Your nutrition three months ago can affect your cycle today, true, but it’s not just the long-term picture that can have an impact. Your nutrition today can also change your normal cycle. Prostaglandins are a hormone-like substance that can create inflammation and pain, and cause cramping of the uterus. Foods that are high in sugar, processed meats, pre-packaged food, excessive alcohol and caffeine, can all cause increased levels of prostaglandins. Translation: Those non-perishables that we’ve been stocking up on during quarantine can cause our prostaglandins to spike—and make our cycles more painful.

The solution? Add more whole foods to your routine. Try our tips for boosting your immune system, and our easy, go-to meal formulas for a well-rounded plate.

One thing we’d like to note too: This isn’t a blame-game we want to play. Just because your routines and habits can impact your cycle doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also do what feels good for your body. If you need comfort foods right now, or you don’t have access to fresh produce and proteins, that’s okay. What’s important is that you stay safe as we navigate the effects of COVID-19. These are just tips from a doctor’s perspective on how you might see your normal body cycles change—and what you can do about it, if you can and want to.

And if you need more support, we’re here for you. Book an in-person or virtual visit with our expert team today.