How Burnout Can Make Your Period More Painful

Jun 30, 2021

Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND

Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND


Periods can be weird. Sometimes you actually spin like you could spin around in a white skirt (SERIOUSLY – tampon commercials?) and sometimes you feel like hell would be a better choice. For the majority of us, we fluctuate somewhere in the middle. But, did you know that your cramps can actually get worse when you’re feeling extra pressure? Whether it’s from work, friends, or family – stress (and burnout) plays a strong role in your period pain.

According to the Canadian Medical Association, period pain is a result of a pretty complicated process. Cramps can occur when the muscular wall of the womb tightens or contracts. When you have your period, these contractions tend to be more powerful in order for the lining of the womb to shed.

Contractions in the womb compress blood vessels lining that part of your body which results in blood and oxygen supply to the womb being cut off. A lack of oxygen means that tissues within the womb itself release pain-causing chemicals. And because your body loves you so much, it also releases more chemicals called prostaglandins which cause more contractions and more pain.

Although period pain can be caused by an underlying medical problem such as endometriosis, Women’s Health Concern reports that around 80 percent of women will experience some form of period-related discomfort at some point in their lives. This pain can become severe enough to disrupt day-to-day life in around 5-10 percent of women.

Particularly painful periods are known as dysmenorrhea and science seems to suggest that stress may play a factor in the worsening of period pain. Unsurprisingly, there haven’t been too many studies into the issue. (That appears to be a recurring theme when it comes to women’s health topics.) But – thankfully what we do have shows a pretty good trend.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health found that stress could in fact lead to worse PMS symptoms. Why? We’re not quite sure, but there are a few theories including that stress may alter ovarian hormones, or that the stress hormone cortisol may have a direct impact on PMS.

We’ve also found that a lack of sleep can also result in stronger episodes of period pain. If you don’t sleep enough, your body will release more of the stress hormone cortisol, which affects how your pituitary gland works. Your pituitary gland is responsible for regulating your hormones, so this can have a huge effect on the quality of your cycle – like periods coming at hella inopportune times, or being heavier or more painful than usual.

It can be difficult to control how stressed you feel, or more particularly, how well your system can adapt to that stress, but it’s an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Maybe it’s time we started to use our periods as a way to understand how well our system is able to handle its stress… before we start to truly get affected by burnout.


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