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Is stress standing between you and your pain free period?

Just this week we did a live chat on Facebook. If you missed it, don’t pop a blood vessel, I promise there will be many, many more.  It reinforced for me that it’s so important for me to keep on banging my drum of sharing health information and inspired me to write a bit more about topics we may have covered many times before – we only see or hear what we need when we are ready.

I’m not long back from Hawaii.  I had an absolute blast holidaying with several of my most favourite humans on the planet – my sister and her gorgeous family plus the Kringoudis crew.  We rested, we relaxed, we chilled out and we pretty much did zilch for 2 whole glorious weeks.  We made such good work of it, chilling out became easy.  Sleep ins were a given.  Stress wasn’t even in our vocabulary.  It was normal not to have to think about deadlines, school pickups, gymnastic drop offs or remembering to hang out the load of washing I had put through 3 rinses because I kept on forgetting about it.  If only real life was like this.

Upon returning home, I was greeted suddenly with a visit from my monthly friend (aka my period).  As many times before, she just showed up quite seemingly unannounced.  I pulled out my phone and checked my app (I use m-cycles).  It was true, she was due.  Typically my associated menstrual symptoms are reflective of the month prior, so whilst I was unprepared for her arrival, I was not shocked but pleasantly reminded that when my body isn’t under stress, it’s so much happier.

My period came with ease.  There was no breast tenderness, no PMS, no pain, no clots, no issues, just an easy, pleasant cycle with no major road bumps.  During that Facebook chat I we held one of the most common questions was ‘how do I fix my period pain?’.  Collectively we’ve been taken on a bum steer when it comes to many health issues – to look for a pill to fix a problem, a magic bullet that will come along and rescue us, our periods are no exception.  Sadly, no pill exists.  Pain relief for some might be the saviour each and every month and I’m certain for those experiencing excruciating period pain, it probably is your knight in shining armour but sadly, it doesn’t actually address the reason why the pain shows up month after month, it only treats the symptoms.

Endometriosis is one of the main causes of period pain.  The recommendation to ‘fix’ Endometriosis is a laparoscopy where with keyhole surgery, your specialist enters the uterine cavity and removes the offending tissue by burning it off with laser.  The next step is most often the pill (or synthetic hormone contraception), to stop any Endometriosis growing back or it’s possibly suggested to get pregnant quick smart which often sorts things out.  This isn’t incorrect in theory, it is one way you may be able to stop Endometriosis.  But it doesn’t address why the Endometriosis is there in the first place.  So when the time comes, these women who have adopted this treatment approach can find themselves in a pickle facing some pretty big reproductive issues when then come off the pill or other form of synthetic contraception because unfortunately they don’t come without side effects, nor has the root of the issue actually been considered.  Of course period pain doesn’t automatically mean you have a diagnosis of Endometriosis, but it is common and often associated.

Now I know as much as the next person that we can’t live our lives in bubble wrap, but there is absolutely something in considering my story.  As a practitioner the same rings true.  I often ask patients if they take some well deserved time off or head away on a holiday, is their period pain as bad.  The answer is most often no.  Does this mean that stress is standing between you and a better period?  Quite possibly.

But in a world that is so fast paced, it’s almost at times impossible not to be pulled into stress and it’s horrible wraps.  Why is it so, that stress can cause a kit of issues including reproductive challenges, period pain, PCOS, PMS and alike?  A research team led by Sheldon Cohen from Carnegie Mellon University found that chronic physiological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response.  Aka, stress leads to inflammation.  Inflammation leads to pain.  Your period pain could very well be linked to your stress levels.  The study went on to confirm that psychological stress upsets the body’s ability to regulate inflammation and can promote the development and progression of disease.  Most interestingly it was concluded that because inflammation is partly regulated by cortisol (the stress hormone) and our cortisol due to high stress isn’t necessarily allowed to serve this function, inflammation can become uncontrollable.

Cortisol interestingly is also that hormone that greatly upsets our sex hormones, most commonly progesterone.  Progesterone is the hormone that plays a key role in ovulation.  But if cortisol is in full swing as a result of constant stress, it doesn’t allow our sex hormones to preform their monthly dance, meaning we may wait longer for the period to arrive each month or they may go missing altogether.

I recognise as much as the next premenstrual lady that stress is one super difficult factor to manage which is why I created Debunking Stress just over a year ago to help you not only manage stress better but to identify where exactly your stress might be coming from and give you tools you can implement to get things back in control.  Stress drives your health wild.  Stress is much more than a deadline.  Stress is also eating average food which starves your body of essential nutrients, environmental factors (i.e. pollutants or a toxic relationship – equally stressful), emotional pressure or it could be as simple as not getting enough sleep. Whatever the cause, it is important to pin point the main offenders.

It’s imperative we look at our lifestyle to ensure we are doing the best we can to adjust our daily habits to be supportive of our health.  You might like to consider just how stress is having it’s way with your body and your hormones. Here’s a few things to take on board;

  1. Diet.  Inflammatory foods can add to the mix.  The main offenders being gluten, sugar and dairy.  Take a month of keeping these foods on the low down and see how it influences your period.  These foods also upset gut function which can impair your body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients further adding to the issue.
  2. Sleep.  Poor sleep will only further fuel the cortisol issue.  Try getting a minimum of 7 hours per night even if you have to beg, borrow and steal!  Again, just try it from one cycle to the next to see if there is any change.
  3. Avoid cold foods leading into the period time.  Chinese Medicine places great emphasis on the energetics of foods.  Cold and raw foods slow the body down, can lead to stagnation within the body and aren’t advised at the best of times.  In the week window leading up to the period, try eating warming and cooked foods and observe.
  4. Breathe.  Breath is one of the only ways we can help our bodies cope with stress.  We can’t always remove stress, the trick is helping the body to cope with it.  5 deep belly breaths each time you are feeling overwhelmed can change your day (and save your hormones)

If it’s time to address your stress levels, PMS, Period Pain or not, Debunking Stress is your go to.  I created it for this exact reason – to help us identify what we are doing day to day that isn’t supporting our overall health.  It’s the little things in life that can add up to the big stuff.  Plus period pain doesn’t have to be there – it’s considered normal because so many of us now experience it, yet it’s a sure sign your body is screaming out for a little extra TLC.  I want all women to experience happy, healthy hormones – especially living pain free!  Head to www.debunkingstress.com.

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