A grudge against Cityrail, looming deadlines or even a big juicy new love can all cause our bodies to go into a state of stress (yes even the drop dead gorgeous new man in your life). Anything that disrupts our balance places stress on the body.
Stress is not uncommon especially for those of us who are working late hours in the city and burning the candle at both ends. 'Busy' and 'burn out' are becoming a mainstay of our vocabulary and self talk. Frankly, it's exhausting just thinking about how busy we have become.
Dealing with a bit of stress here and there seems normal, everyone else seems to be doing it and it's not really doing that much harm, right?. Wrong! Elevated stress is directly linked with menstrual irregularities like PMS, PCOS, heavy periods, mood swings and even more serious conditions like endometriosis. Your hormones are tuning in each time you get stressed and joining the chemical party that is about to cause havoc on your symptoms.
It's not all doom and gloom however as there is an antidote to get your hormones glowing and symptom free and it is called Mindfulness. We have all heard of the concept and have a brief notion of what it is but do we really know how it works?
If the answer is no then you are in luck. How our body turns stress into is a relatively simple process with lot's of big names that try to confuse us. By understanding how stress works in your body you will understand how the converse Mindfulness can stop your symptoms in it's tracks.
How Stress Works
It all begins not in Africa but with our hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA Axis).
The HPA axis describes a set of interactions between two parts of the brain - the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland and the adrenal that are located at the top of each kidney. They communicate in a linear fashion to communicate to our body that we are under threat.
HPA Axis Explained
1. The hypothalamus releases corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). CRF then travels all the way down to the pituitary gland.
2. The pituitary gland then reacts by releasing adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which you guessed it, finds it's way to the adrenal glands.
3. The adrenal glands then complete the final step by producing glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids are our bodies stress hormones e.g. cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline which you likely have heard of before.
4. Cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline then directly influence our behaviour and physical state causing the sweats to begin, our mouths to feel dry, body to heat up, cognition to increase or turn to mush and essential processors like digestion and reproduction to switch off. This is stress as you know it.
In summary your HPA Axis is what leads to you feeling stressed.
How does your HPA affect your hormones?
So you know that CRH we talked about before? That CRH if elevated by stress has the power to inhibit your sex hormones that are essential to the free flow of your cycle. If this delicate balance is disturbed then PMS appears, menstruation can halt, your mood may drop, you may feel exhausted and you may see a few more pimples then usual.
The second culprit from our HPA story is glucocorticoids which when under stress increase and suppress your essential sex hormones (e.g. lutinising hormones, eostrogen and progesterone).
A change in the rhythm of your sex hormones caused by stress is what leads to the symptoms you may be experiencing.
Convinced! How do I flick stress to the curb?
Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Did I mention mindfulness? Being present, aware in each moment, feeling your senses react to your environment, being in your body - this is what it takes. Mindfulness stops the surge in CRH and glucocorticoids. This is big! It means that those stress hormones that were before sending danger signals to your hormones and disrupting their flow are switched off by mindfulness.
Mindfulness soothes your HPA axis, which now that we know how important it is are going to look after it!
So to keep your cool during your period, keep your calm during the month.
Ways to be mindful..
- Destress with a warm bath at the end of a long day
- Laugh with friends over dinner
- Book in an extra yoga class this week
- Curl up with a book
- Take a 10 minute break to walk around the blog
- Create a 20 minute home yoga sequence
- Meditate for 10 minutes a day
- Give yourself a facial
- Learn an instrument
- Practice alternate nostril breathing
- Gaze at the stars
- Write a gratitude list
- Talk to a stranger
Love to know your thoughts, please comment below with your questions about your stress response.
Jennifer Ward, Adv Dip Nat, Bcom Econ
Jennifer is a leading naturopath trained in herbal medicine, nutritional medicine and health coaching. Consultations available by appointment at www.jenniferwardnaturopath.com.au. For speaking engagement enquiries or to collaborate email email@example.com.
1. The role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in neuroendocrine responses to stress https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181830/