a girl sits hugging herself with text reading 4 ways that stress affects your periods

How Stress Affects Your Periods

Today we’re going to be talking about the effects that stress has on our hormone health, particularly our menstrual cycles and symptoms. Click below to watch the video or just continue reading!

My name is Jenn J - I’m a women’s hormone health coach and family nutritionist. My practice is built on empowering women living with uncomfortable and debilitating hormonal symptoms like painful periods, mood swings, PMS, weight issues, and low energy to reclaim their lives and put their period problems to rest while helping the whole family eat healthier! 


On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rate your everyday stress levels? Have you noticed a pattern in the levels of your stress and the frequency or intensity of your menstrual symptoms? Maybe your PMS seems a little much these days, your periods have become so irregular that you don’t know what to do, or you just can’t seem to stop eating.


Believe it or not, there’s a strong connection between our body’s stress response and the health of our menstrual cycle!


In fact, I learned this the hard way when I let my Type-A, workaholic personality get the best of me at a time when my hormones were already having trouble regulating.  I started experiencing rapid weight gain, extreme fatigue, irregular periods, and extremely painful periods, and my PMS mood swings could easily knock out anyone in the room with a look. 


The thing is, I know I’m not alone. I see this all of the time in my nutrition practice: women who are too burnt out to function but somehow keep going every day, anxious and snappy, and their periods have become a real source of problems for them. But learning how to take time out for yourself is so important! You can learn more about that by reading my last blog: The Importance of Taking Time Out to Be By Yourself & the 5 Things I Did That Took Me From Burnt Out to on Fire!


So let’s talk about how stress and our menstrual cycles really work together!

The first thing to note is that there are 4 categories of stress:

  • Perceived stress (things like relationships, work, burnout, overscheduling, family, finances, emergencies, etc)
  • Glycemic Dysregulation (typically related to diet choices, though can also be genetic in nature)
  • Inflammatory Stress (allergies, autoimmune, digestive issues, etc)
  • Circadian stress (sleep issues, poor sleep hygiene, shift work, etc)


And the interesting thing about all 4 of them, is that biologically, our body responds relatively the same way:

-we have a release of cortisol from our adrenal glands that are supposed to help us react to our stressors

-this release doesn’t differentiate between the sources of stress


For example, our body responds the same way being chased by a bear as it does when you can’t find your car keys and you’re late for work. - no difference between life & death situations vs mundane everyday stressors


And if we don’t intentionally recover and de-escalate from that cortisol release, then it continues to hormonally build up in our body.


Secondly, when our adrenals continuously pump out cortisol, they can actually burn out and not be able to keep up.  So we tend to see our body draw on nutrient stores and reserves to keep up.


We’ll also see secondary survival organs begin to shut down or work less efficiently, things like digestion, sleep cycles, and our menstrual cycles.


Why would we need to ovulate and create another human being if our body is perceiving our environment to be unsafe?


Now, even though each organ and system in our body has its own functions, many of them rely on the success of other systems in the body. So we really can’t have some organ systems without others. 


This means that this combination of adrenal burnout, nutrient reserve draws, and organ deficiencies all contribute to our menstrual cycle dysregulation and increased hormonal balances. We tend to see more symptoms like irregular periods, painful periods from a build of inflammation, anxious behaviours and heightened PMS, insatiable hunger from nutrient deficiencies – and way more!


This is why self-care and stress management is such a crucial part of helping to manage symptoms of a hormonal imbalance and our menstrual cycle! The thing is, most of us really struggle in this department because we’re just so busy, or we think we’re doing enough ‘self-care’ but we’re missing some of the key components that really help us de-escalate heightened cortisol.  


Being intentional every day that you’re lowering all types of stressors can really be helpful in you noticing small improvements in your cycle month over month as your body begins to rebuild nutrient stores and learn healthier coping mechanisms.

If you're interested in learning more about adding self-care to your routine and how to do it with ease, check out these related blog articles: