STRESS: HOW IT CAN DERAIL PERIODS AND HOW TO COMBAT IT Stress is an elusive ghost that haunts us relentlessly. Sometimes, we might be aware of this ghost. But most of the time, it is pretty good at hiding, tiptoeing upon you. There are two primary types of stress; physical and emotional. But whichever one you are experiencing, stress will take a toll on your mind and body, thus impacting your quality of life.
Your subconscious mind has as much control over your body as your conscious mind.
Therefore, most of the time, you would not know that your body is under stress, especially when it is emotional stress. Stress can manifest in various ways, affecting the multiple systems of the human body. For women, the reproductive system can take a heavy hit. How is that so? Well, it is a play of our hormones and the delicate balance between them. When the body is under stress, the adrenal glands produce and release cortisol (also known as the stress hormone). You may have heard of how adrenaline kicks in when someone is in a threatening situation. Adrenaline is not the only hormone released during fight or flight situations. Cortisol is also released and plays a significant role during a stressful ordeal. However, such ordeals are usually short. And the correct levels of cortisol are supposed to help your body cope with stress during this short period until the danger passes.
Effects of Long Term Stress?
The problem arises when ongoing stress cause persistently elevated cortisol levels, resulting in long-term health effects. These effects range from an increase in blood sugar levels and weight gain to a weakened immune system and increase risk of heart diseases. Elevated cortisol levels can cause the chief female reproductive hormones to fall, eventually leading to a decline in estrogen levels. Women are more prone to the effects of stress during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Due to this, stress may worsen your PMS, making it more challenging to deal with its symptoms. Along with worsening PMS, your cycles can also become irregular. And not knowing when your periods will arrive is another stressful event to add to your list. When stress levels are extremely high, your periods may stop for some time, this is known as functional hypothalamic amenorrhea. For all of us, missing a period is a cause for concern. But before jumping to conclusions, it is crucial to re-evaluate your life. Could it be that you are unknowingly taking on stress? Functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA) occurs when estrogen levels are very low; leading to menstrual cycle cessation. This form of amenorrhea can be caused by psychological stress, intense exercise (such as in athletes), and disordered eating.
Long-term FHA has long-term adverse consequences on health, such as: ● Poor bone health; since estrogen levels are low, suppression of new bone production, thus increasing the risk of osteopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures ● Premature cardiovascular disease in young women
IDENTIFYING STRESS If stress has a way of being sneaky, how can you know that your mind and body are stressed? Well, you will have to listen and observe. Stress has myriad ways of manifesting. It will influence your mind and body to bring about subtle changes. So, take a note of these telltales and identify stress.
● Insomnia ● Fatigue, joint pain, body pain ● Headache ● Loss of focus, concentration ● Poor memory ● Sensitive gut, altered bowel habits Behavioral Changes ● Irritability ● Anxiety ● Depression ● Worsening PMS
At times, life may be going breezy, yet you may still be feeling stressed? Why is that so? In this case, it is time to dig in deeper and take a look. Your body may be dealing with nutritional deficiencies that can be causing stress. Low iron, B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium are common culprits. Social media plays a titular role in our lives. Even if we try to control our social media exposure, it will still influence our actions and behavior with whatever time we indulge in it. We may unknowingly compare ourselves with the 'perfect' lives on display, thus unwittingly taking on the stress of competing for such a life. So, reexamine your life from a different lens. Small changes to your daily routine might be responsible for the stress you are experiencing.
How to Combat and Manage your Stress Now that you have identified that your body and mind are under stress, what can you do about it?
Let it go! Many of us tend to make sure everything is within our control, and that everything happens as we have planned it. But life does not work that way, now does it? So, let go and let things be. Do not worry or stress over the things you have control over. Start saying no. Sometimes, it is OK to say no or turn down offers when feeling overwhelmed.
Or instead of telling yourself, 'I can not do it,' tell yourself, 'No, I can do it!
Give meditation a shot! There are many different forms of meditation; opt for the one that you like practicing. Or mix it up with aromatherapy.
Breathing techniques for stress relief. Take a moment to check in on your breathing. During a stressful moment, take several deep breaths. There are so many techniques to choose from, such as pursed-lip breathing, belly breathing, or lion's breath.
Social Media Detox. As mentioned before, social media plays a crucial role in our lives. Stepping away from most if not all platforms for a while might be helpful.
Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Being under stress can also impact sleep. Not getting enough sleep will make you weary, which will amplify the effects of stress, thus creating a loop of sleepless nights and stressful days. For this reason, it is time to observe your sleep hygiene. Avoid daytime naps and caffeinated beverages a few hours before bedtime. Sometimes taking a nap helps. Short naps may help reset your mind, but just make sure that these short naps don't end up frequent or long as they may mess up your nighttime sleep schedule.
Give yourself time. Step away from taking care of everyone else and concentrate on yourself only. Perhaps take a hot bath with relaxing scents and music. Or book yourself a massage or a manicure!
Eat well and exercise. If there is one thing we have control over, then it is what we choose to eat. Aim for healthy balanced meals daily, you want balanced meals to avoid big blood sugar changes which can really effect mental health. And don't forget to move that body!
Go herbal. Herbs in the form of teas are particularly helpful in alleviating stress. So at the end of a hectic day, settle for chamomile or lavender tea instead of regular tea or wine. Plunge into the world of alternate therapy.
Vagus nerve therapy is known to treat stress, anxiety, and depression. Through varying actions (exercise, massage, cold water immersion), the vagus nerve is stimulated to bring about positive effects within the body. Similarly, studies show that acupuncture can be helpful in treating stress, anxiety, and depression.
THE TAKEAWAY Stress can derail our menstrual cycles, but we can stop this from happening. We may not be able to run away from stress, but we can control how we choose to react to it. Do we give in and feed the vicious circle of stress or do we mindfully hit pause and just relax for a bit? That is up to you.
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