How Stress Affects Your Period

October 19, 2016
busy period, pms stress, toronto naturopath, naturopathic doctor toronto, period doctor, period naturopath

It’s true, you and I both have the same amount of hours in the day as Beyonce. But, we likely don’t have a personal chef, trainer, housekeeper – you get my point.

The fact is, the amount of things you have on your plate is a recipe for stress. And before you say, “Alexsia, I’m not that stressed.” Think about all the little stressors you have.

Here are my little stressors:

  • My presto card slipped between the TTC seats

  • The cream that I bought for dinner is expired

  • My dishwasher is leaking

None of these things individually are causing me to pull out my hair and lose sleep, but they add up. Are you with me? You know how stress is affecting your body. But what about when it comes to your period?

Let’s start from the beginning.

What are the adrenal glands?

The adrenal glands are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys. They produce 50+ hormones, but the ones you’re probably most familiar with are:

  • Adrenaline

  • Norepinephrine

  • Cortisol

  • Estrogen – 40% of this is produced by the adrenals!

  • Progesterone – 40% of this is produced by the adrenals!

  • Testosterone

  • DHEA-S

Adrenal Gland Functions

They help protect us from stress – whether it be internal (ex. emotional, psychological, hormonal) or external (ex. chemical, thermal, biological) stress.

They have other functions too:

  • Makes energy: when you’re stressed, you need more energy. So carbs, fats, and protein are converted into glucose

  • Balances fluid and electrolytes: You might be craving a bag of chips when you’re stressed out.

  • Fat storage: The belly that won’t budge no matter how many kms you run.

  • Makes sex hormones: especially after menopause

Why cortisol is important

Cortisol is the main stress hormone, and it has tons of functions too:

  • Protects the cell from insulin excess

  • Balances blood sugar

  • Helps the brain-central nervous system

  • Regulates blood pressure, produce regular heart beats, regulate electrolyte levels

  • Keeps the white blood cells in check

  • Is anti-inflammatory

Cortisol’s Daily Pattern

Just like melatonin, cortisol has a daily pattern:

  • There’s a cortisol spike in the morning getting us out of bed

  • Cortisol will then decrease throughout the day

  • Tiny spikes will happen with eating an exercise

  • By the time you go to bed, your levels should be pretty low

BUT If you’re stressed out your daily pattern might look like this:

  • Dragging yourself out of bed in the morning

  • Feel awake after that burrito-run at lunch

  • Drinking coffee around 3pm to keep your eyes open

  • Experiencing your second wind by 6pm

Stress and your body

Normally, when we experience stress, cortisol and the adrenal glands are able to help the body manage. But when all those little stressors add up? Bam! Your adrenals get tired, they don’t have what it takes to produce cortisol anymore, and that’s when you start to feel run down.

How does this affect your period?

Stress can make you miss a period of two. (PS. It’s important to take a pregnancy test to make sure a bun isn’t in the oven). Basically when you’re undergoing stress, your brain tells your reproductive system to shut everything down. So you stop ovulating, progesterone is not produced, and then this can cause a slight increase in estrogen, leading to symptoms of PMS.

How you can cope with stress

Food & Nutrition

    A few key guidelines to adopt:

    • Eat breakfast by 10am to keep your blood sugar up, but avoid high glycemic fruits

    • Don’t forget to chew your food well

    • Combining protein and fat with carbs will keep your blood sugar stable

    • If you need to add salt to your food, do it! (Pink salt is my favourite)

    What to avoid?

    • Caffeine in your coffee, tea and chocolate because they are stimulating

    • White sugar and flour

    • Packaged food with 5+ingredients (yes, I’m talking about junk food)

    • Fruit juices where sugar is one of the first ingredients

    What about supplements + other natural treatments?

    The most basic things you can start with are:

    • B Vitamins: The B vitamins are food for your adrenal glands, and help with energy production.

    • Vitamin C: The adrenal glands are packed with vitamin C, and when they’re running on overdrive supplementing will help them work as best as they can

    • Magnesium: Your body uses up a ton of magnesium everyday to help facilitate all of its chemical reactions. That eye tic that you get when you’re stressed out? Yeah, that’s a magnesium deficiency

    • Adaptogens: This a particular action of a set of herbs that support, nourish, heal, and replenish the adrenals. Because there are quite a few different adaptogens out there, your ND can help you choose the most appropriate for you.

    Any self care tips?

    Repeat after me: You cannot serve from an empty vessel


    Get comfortable with saying no. Respect your boundaries. Do only what is essential. Spend time with people who make you laugh.

    What are the 3 things that make you happy/healthy/alive. How can you do more of #1 within the next week? What about the 3 things that drain you/deplete your energy/worsen your health. How can you do less of #1 within the next week? 

    Sleep & Rest

    Take breaks throughout the day. Go for a quick walk, or lay down in your car for about 10 mins. Turn off your cell phone by 10 and go the f to sleep. If you can, wake up at 9am. If not, make sure you get at least 7-8 hours. 


    If you feel completely exhausted after you exercise, it’s stressing out your adrenals. Press pause on the high stress exercises, and try out a yoga class instead. Or at the very least, put your legs on the wall. 


    You knew I would sneak this one in here. Spend 5 minutes in the am or pm focusing on your breath. 

    Next Steps

    If you are stressed, and you probably are, there are tons of ideas on how you can start the healing process. Period issues usually (but not always) take about 3 months to fix, so be patient with your body. There aren’t any magic or miracle cures unfortunately. And remember that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Visit your local Naturopathic Doctor to create the best plan for you (& that includes the appropriate forms and dosages of supplements too)!

    If you found this information helpful, please sign up for my monthly newsletter called The Flow for great and informative content like this!

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