|Disclaimer: This article is for information only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.|
Menstruators health is a complex, understudied topic covering a variety of issues, including period pain/menstrual cramping. During their period, many menstruators experience cramping, bloating, fatigue, and even headaches during their menstrual cycle. But what many menstruators might not realise is that their stress and anxiety levels can play a major role in how severe their period pain is.
For many women, period pain can be debilitating for a few days. Everyone is different in what they react to, but stress and anxiety play a role for many. By understanding the connection between stress and anxiety and period pain, women can take proactive steps to manage their symptoms and reduce their discomfort.
What Causes Period Pain?
Period pain is caused by the release of Prostaglandins (a hormone responsible for getting the uterus to contract and shed its lining - causing us to bleed). When these contractions occur, blood and oxygen supply can be cut off, which causes pain in the area.
In addition to the release of prostaglandins, stress and anxiety can also contribute to period pain (dysmenorrhea) by releasing cortisol and adrenaline, which can increase the intensity of the contractions and make period pain worse.
Can Stress cause Severe Period Pain?
High stress levels have been linked to more painful periods. When we are stressed, our body thinks it is in a 'fight or flight' situation. It reacts to this by releasing 'cortisol'. This shifts our bodies into 'survival mode'. This extra cortisol has been found to increase pain sensitivity.
Besides just causing more severe period pain, stress can also have an affect on when we menstruate by making our cycles more irregular and change our premenstrual symptoms like nausea and bloating. It has also been suggested it can make our cycles longer too.
Which is why after you tend to get your period just after finishing exams or going through a short term, high stress situation.
Why is Anxiety Worse during Period?
Hormonal fluctuations just before and during your period have been found to cause more Anxiety. This tends to happen just before your period and a large proportion of menstruators will feel
Researchers speculate the rapid hormonal withdrawal just before your period starts (progesterone and oestrogen) can leaf to mood changes.
These changes lead to many more women than men who suffer from anxiety disorders and panic attacks.
Can Anxiety make Period Symptoms Worse?
Yes it can. The changes in chemicals around our period can trigger our anxiety, which triggers cortisol (see above to 'can stress cause severe period pain') which acts as a pain enhancer and can also exacerbate other symptoms like nausea.
How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety
The good news is that you can take some steps to help manage your stress and anxiety levels during your period. Here are a few tips:
- Exercise regularly. Exercise has been found to be really good to reduce stress and anxiety - when we exercise, our body releases 'feel good endorphins' which relaxes us and helps us feel better (and less stressed).
- Do Yoga: Numerous studies have found a link between increased yoga and reduced stress/anxiety and - pain.
- Get plenty of sleep: Getting a good nights sleep helps to reduce stress and anxiety levels as it decreases cortisol levels and restores balance to the body. It also helps period pain more directly too, read here about sleep and period pain.
- Eat a healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet helps your immune system remain healthy and helps repair damage to cells in your body. If you eat unhealthily, your body does not have enough nutrients to run it properly, which causes many problems (including stress).
- Talk to a therapist: Having a chat with a therapist can help you identify and understand what is stressing you and provide ways to take control of your stress.
Other Tips for Reducing Period Pain
In addition to managing stress and anxiety, here are a few other steps you can take to reduce your period pain:
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naprogesic.
- Apply heat: Applying heat to the lower abdomen increases blood supply, which reduces cramping. One way to do this is by use of portable period pain belts, like Invisiwarm.
- Yoga (see above)
- Get plenty of sleep (see above)
- Eat a healthy diet (see above)
By understanding the connection between stress and anxiety and period pain, we can take proactive steps in managing our symptoms and reducing the pain. Remember everyone is different and different methods of period pain management will work for different people.
Please reach out if anything in the article is unclear or with any feedback!