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Does stress affect your menstrual cycle?

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We all know chronic stress is harmful to the body. Yes, stress takes a toll on the body, causing heart problems, high blood pressure, indigestion, insomnia, muscular aches, diabetes, obesity, weakened immunity, etc. It’s a long list, and stress can affect the menstrual cycle too.

But, what is stress and what happens when we are in tension?

Stress simply means that you are experiencing too much pressure in your life at the moment. Sometimes this pressure is crucial and needed to meet life’s challenges. For example, suppose you are crossing a road, and suddenly you see a car coming towards you at a really high speed or you in the wild and suddenly you see a tiger in front of you. It would definitely cause panic or anxiety to anyone.

When our mind perceives danger a part of our brain called the sympathetic nervous system gets activated to prepare the body either fight the challenge or flee from the situation. A series of changes in the system are initiated – increased blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels for more energy, increased breathing rate, sharpening of senses like vision and hearing, more blood and oxygen flow to the large muscles of the trunk, arms, and legs so we can run from danger or fight against it. This is called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, as the body prepares itself to confront the challenge or escape the situation.

At the same time, the stress hormones temporarily inhibit other systems of the body, including digestion, growth, immune, and the reproduction system, for these, aren’t needed at the moment. And we want to conserve our energy and put all of it into confronting the problem at hand. So suddenly there is a spike of energy in the body, and we run for our lives, to save ourselves from the accident or the wild animal.

So stress at times is vital. However, whatever the kind of stress we are facing in life be it – confronting a wild animal in the forest, or simply stuck in a traffic jam, relationship problems or approaching exams or meeting a deadline, our body reacts in the same way. It goes into the ‘fight or flight’ response to deal with the stress.

Consequently, the bodily functions that help us deal with the pressure are activated and all the other functions are temporarily shut down. The body increases the production of cortisol (stress hormone) to increase energy levels for dealing with the stress, and it blocks the production of female hormones – estrogen and progesterone. Chronic stress i.e., continually experiencing stress and anxiety, can be extremely harmful to our reproductive system. It creates a hormonal imbalance in the body, disrupts ovulation, which can result in menstrual problems like –

  • Delayed periods
  • Missed periods
  • Spotting
  • Heightened menstrual pains
  • Prolonged periods

Learning to stay relaxed even in difficult time’s immunes us against stress. Some practical ways to combat stress are:

1. Yoga and meditation have for thousands of years been a part of Indian culture, but today even scientific researches are proving how yoga and meditation can be effectively used to handle stress.

2. Good sleep is essential to give the body and mind adequate rest and overcome anxiety.

3. Take up a hobby like painting, singing, playing guitar, dancing, cooking, pottery making, etc. that helps you relax.

4. Regular exercise is the best way to manage stress and stay healthy.

5. Altogether avoid caffeine and include fresh fruits in your diet. If you are going through a stressful time in life, remember it can affect your health and monthly cycle. Follow the above tips, as it is essential to take care of yourself. If you are still unable to manage stress, seek advice. Getting support at the right time can help one get through the challenging times.

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