As the world is adapting to what is now the “new normal,” Fairygodboss wants to be there for you every step of the way. Keep reading for timely advice and join our Navigating the New Normal group for continued support.
Stress levels are, to put it mildly, high right now. Unfortunately for many ovary owners, that stress is manifesting in a particularly salt-in-the-wound (or should we say womb?) kind of way. Namely, through more severe periods.
For the menstruating among us, most of us have already dealt with one period cycle, at least, since the emergence of COVID sent us packing inside our homes. And apparently, quarantine periods belong in a class of their own.
“My headaches are worse and my mood swings are WAY worse,” one FGB’er commented, while another agreed that her “mood swings are much worse, too — I imagine that has to do with my anxiety being worse in general during quarantine.” Another FGB'er shared what’s happened to a friend of hers: “Although she was in perimenopause and hadn’t had a period in almost a year, when her high school senior daughter and college sophomore daughter came home to shelter-in-place with her, she started her cycles all over again.”
The fact that panic-buying has led to an ongoing dearth of toilet paper and period products certainly doesn't help matters, either.
Beyond the FGB Community, an intensification of PMS and period symptoms is something I’ve been hearing from friends, too. “Mine is ending now and it was awful,” one told me. Another said that her “period headaches have been worse; I feel like during this WFH time, they’ve been even more unbearable with all the screen time.” Still another friend told me her “cramps are way worse” and that although she “usually has a period for only a day, since COVID, they are heavier.”
Talking to Bustle, Dr. Kecia Gaither, an MD, OB/GYN and director of perinatal services at New York’s Lincoln Memorial Center, said there are several factors leading to worse periods right now.
"Social isolation, loneliness, (and) change in exercise all reflect the psychological effects of COVID-19, the common denominator of which is acute traumatic stress," Gaither said.
Essentially, stressed-out bodies produce more cortisol and CRH, or the corticotropin releasing hormone, which in turn disrupts ovulation and can make for particularly painful periods. For some, increased cortisol may make their periods come more frequently or last longer; for others, COVID stress could result in not having a period at all. Additionally, loneliness and changes to one’s sleep cycle — two things many of us have experienced during quarantine — can impact hormone cycles and levels. In fact, given the number of overall life changes we’re experiencing, it’s hardly surprising that menstrual cycles are changing, too, said Dr. Beth Schwartz, a gynecologist at Jefferson.
“I think it’s a combination of stress and the upheaval of everyone’s normal routines,” Schwartz said. “People are suddenly taking their pills at different times because they’re not on a regular schedule anymore. People are also changing their eating and activity habits. All of those things are at play and can affect your hormones.”
“I don’t get too worried about things that happen one time, but if someone’s periods continue to be irregular, then they need an evaluation,” she said. “Doctors’ offices may not be open in the same way they were before, but you can still reach out by phone or patient portal. My office is answering portal questions rapidly and doing a ton of telehealth visits.”
Given the role stress plays in irregular periods, Dr. Sarah Toler, Doctor of Nursing Practice for the health app Clue, also advises practicing mindfulness, for the sake of both menstrual and mental health.
"If you’re feeling mentally impacted by the coronavirus news, the best thing to do is to focus on yourself and practice some self care,” Toler told Cosmopolitan. “Instead of staying glued to the latest COVID-19 updates, allow yourself to check the news at certain times of day. Try to fit some stretching and deep breathing into each day. If you live with partners, roommates, or family, take this time to connect and nurture your relationships. Check in with friends and neighbors over phone or video — your virtual companionship might help someone cope and help you feel connected."
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