A teenaged young woman’s life is full of such a wonderful time of growth in many ways: physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, academically… and the list goes on. From academics to athletics, mental and emotional growth as well as physical, this time of life is so transformational. While there is so much potential for growth, there’s also potential for stress. Even some of the most fabulous experiences can have components of stress to them. Managing that stress is crucial to maintaining health and that includes her menstrual cycle. Many consider stress in the mental or emotional context; however, it goes far beyond that.
MedicineNet, provides this definition:
Stress: In a medical or biological context stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure). Stress can initiate the “fight or flight” response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems.
Simply put, stress is anything that nudges the body out of homeostasis. One of the most telling ways stress affects the body is the way in which it disrupts a young woman’s menstrual cycle. While many have heard of the correlation, how stress affects her cycle depends on how the young woman’s body adapts. In this article, we’ll first look at how stress affects the body and its effects on hormones. Then, we’ll cover how stress can affect a young woman’s cycle. Finally, we’ll suggest some ways to lower stress and support health.
Part of The Wellness Way Approach is to look at the body through the lens of the Swiss Watch philosophy. If we consider the body similar to a Swiss watch, with many organs and systems making up various gears, it quickly becomes clear that in order for the body to function properly as a whole, each gear also needs to work well. If one system is off, it will trigger a cascade of symptoms that will affect the efficiency of other systems and overall health.
The Fine-Tuning of a Woman’s Cycle
A woman’s menstrual cycle goes through four unique phases, each with a very delicate balance of hormones. The rhythm of how these hormones fluctuate should be predictable throughout the month. While that rhythm should be predictable, there are many factors that affect a woman’s hormones. Sometimes there are disruptions that can lead to an imbalance along the way, affecting other gears in the system.
Below is an image of how three primary hormones (the estrogens, progesterone, and testosterone) should rise and fall through a woman’s cycle.
What happens when these crucial hormones don’t stay balanced and rhythmic? That can lead to many challenges, both physical and mental, which could start the stress cycle all over again.
A Chink In a Gear Causes Disruption
Pregnenolone converts based upon the needs of the body. Are you facing stress? Your body will need cortisol, the stress response hormone also known as the fight or flight hormone, to help react to that stress. Cortisol is crucial to sustaining in life in the presence of stress and threat. According to Mayo Clinic:
When you encounter a perceived threat — such as a large dog barking at you during your morning walk — your hypothalamus, a tiny region at your brain’s base, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or harmful in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation and fear.
Due to that stress, and the need for cortisol, the delicate balance can be thrown off, depleting those estrogens, progesterone, and testosterone. Not only will the need for cortisone deplete those crucial hormones, but it will also deplete cortisone which is imperative to reduce inflammation and resulting pain.
Depending which way the body adapts to sustain life and which specific hormones are suppressed will determine whether a lady’s cycle is longer or shorter, heavier or lighter.
How the 3T’s Impact A Woman’s Period
There are three sources of stress on the body. Commonly known as the 3T’s, trauma, toxins, and thoughts create interference in the way the body functions to maintain life.
- Trauma triggers might be a car accident, fall, sports injury, or another traumatic physical trigger that sets off the stress response.
- Toxins may include food allergies, medications, chemical exposure, bacterial infection or overgrowth, or another consumed or exposed stimulus.
- Thoughts may include chronic stress, which affects our thinking and keeps us in a continuous state of alarm and inflammation.
Each of these will affect people in unique ways, and how each person is affected may present differently. The body is amazing at adapting to maintain life, however, and, once the interference is removed and healthy function is supported, the body can return to homeostasis.
Emotional and Mental Stress
Most people recognize mental and emotional stress as what stress is. There certainly is an element to that, and for women, that’s certainly one of the biggest factors that create health challenges.
In recent years, mental health, especially among children and teens, has become a more sociably acceptable topic to discuss. With more awareness regarding this crucial health topic, teens are gaining more help navigating some of the trickiest years of their life.
The teen years are laden with emotional highs and lows. That, coupled with new responsibilities, new schedules, and new commitments can lead to more mental stress. Whether it’s the concern over grades, or navigating friend, romantic, or family relations, or even stress due to family economics, all these are very real and valid forms of stress. Managing thoughts can reduce a significant amount of stress.
Strategies to manage mental and emotional stress
There are numerous ways to manage mental and emotional stress. First of all, as parents, it’s important to help your teen navigate these emotions and equip them to handle them with perspective. Here are a few practical ways to help teens manage stress, both real, and perceived:
- Be present—this transition from child to adult is an interesting balance of independence and dependence. But, they still need to know their parents are a source of security and guidance.
- Practice gratitude—science has shown the effects of gratitude on mental well-being.
- Set and help maintain realistic expectations—some students feel perceived or self-induced pressure, and at times, from parents and teachers, to hit a certain level of grades. This can lead to burnout and high-level stress. Help your child to find areas where they thrive. Support education but maintain proper expectations for your specific and unique child. We don’t need a million doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Especially if they are all stressed out and unhealthy!
- Reassure your teen during times of adult stress—when adults are faced with stress, whether stemming from illness, financial situations, or relationships, it often spills over and affects teens. They are starting to understand more of how the world works, yet aren’t totally equipped or in a position to handle the situation. When there is stress from these situations, consider how and when you share the information. It is important to teach teens to deal with the world around them but in the appropriate ways.
Physical stress is sometimes seen a bit easier because it can be more visible. Sports and physical activity can be a fantastic outlet for stress if done appropriately. Teens are often competing in multiple sports; some are on the run every night of the week. Not only can this contribute to mental stress, it can also cause undue physical stress. Interestingly, the complexity of competitiveness coupled with the physical demand can resemble a threat to the body. It does not have the ability to decipher the difference between a bear attack and the desire to win a game!
Illness also puts the body under stress as it works to heal and repair. Finding the triggers causing the health issues is imperative to supporting the body as it returns to homeostasis and restores health. Be sure to find a doctor to help with health restoration rather than just treating symptoms.
Strategies to Manage Trauma
Getting out and participating in physical activity can be a wonderful way to connect with people, get some exercise, and develop life skills and coordination. However, there is a very specific way to exercise that supports a young woman’s hormones instead of depleting them. Use the guide below to help build a routine. You may also need to have discussions with a coach to help your teen maintain or restore a healthy cycle.
Illness. It is critical to understand underlying triggers and causes. Many chronic and acute illnesses are triggered because systems and organs in the body need support. The Wellness Way is a network of health restoration clinics that think and act differently to solve the health challenges others can’t. To find a clinic, or learn more, visit our website. If we don’t have a clinic in your area yet, we do offer consults through alternative platforms to connect with our patients.
Many of us are aware of the toxins around us, from weedkiller to homecare products. But what about less obvious toxins, such as those in food or personal care products? Even when consuming a completely organic, clean, whole-foods diet, it is possible to be unaware of how some of these seemingly nourishing foods can actually be toxic to a specific person! Food allergies don’t always mean a big, scary anaphylactic reaction or skin rash. Sometimes the reaction can result in headaches, brain fog, or other hidden inflammation.
Personal care products are another source of unintended chemical exposure. The luring scents and bright colors are created by a plethora of chemicals. Many considered endocrine (hormone) disruptors!
Strategies to Manage Toxins
Be mindful of toxins in the home and consider cleaner healthier options. This is a good first step. The next step would be to have a comprehensive food allergy test done to ensure that your teen isn’t taking in unintended toxins.
We Do Health Differently!
A common response to disrupted periods often includes birth control or other hormonal products. Unfortunately, these can cause further interference and not resolve the triggers causing the challenges. To discover what is causing stress to the body and how to restore health and get your teens cycle back on track, reach out to a Wellness Way clinic today, and start your journey.