There were some changes that we saw coming when coronavirus forced us all to start spending more of our time at home. We knew our sweatpants usage was about to increase, for instance. But other changes, we didn't anticipate. Like our periods getting all out of whack. Who could have seen that coming?
I've been blessed with a pretty regular menstrual cycle. I can count on it to come right on time (almost always on a Thursday, weirdly enough), month after month. But since COVID-19 hit, it's been a different story. My period was almost five days late last month, and it barely lasted its usual three to four days. I had to wonder if there was a link between the sudden change in my lifestyle, and the sudden change in my period. And, according to the experts I spoke to, the answer is probably yes.
The biggest reason we may be noticing a shift in our menstrual cycles right now is stress. Most of us are feeling worried about our job status, or our health status, or the safety of our families. Or we're feeling frustrated from being cooped up indoors, with no clear end in sight. "Stress can screw up your period like crazy," confirms Mary Jane Minkin, MD, OB/GYN at Yale University School of Medicine.
Long-term tension messes with your hormones, Dr. Minkin explains. Usually, your pituitary glands produce two hormones that control your ovaries, helping them release eggs on schedule. Experts still don't completely understand the details. But they know that anxiety interferes with the regular secretion of these pituitary hormones. As a result, regular stimulation of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone become messed up, which leads to irregular periods.
It's not just stress, though. COVID-19 disrupts other areas of your life that could lead to changes in your period as well. Take exercise (please). Right now, you may be working out more or less than usual. Or maybe, with gyms closed, you're trading high-intensity boxing classes for light jogs. Changes like these can cause your hormone levels to fluctuate and your menstrual cycles to shift, says Dr. Minkin.
If you're having trouble sleeping during the quarantine, that, too, can throw off your period. People who experience irregular sleep are more likely to experience irregular periods, according to a study published in Sleep Medicine. Again, it may be related to hormones. Changes in circadian rhythms can disrupt the body's production of hormones including cortisol and melatonin, ultimately affecting the menstrual cycle.
Your period should get back on track within a few cycles, especially if your routine begins to stabilize. If it doesn't, if you experience symptoms such as pain during your period or bleeding that lasts more than seven days, or if you just have a hunch that something other than coronavirus anxiety or insomnia is affecting your cycle, Dr. Minkin suggests setting up a call with your healthcare provider for a check-in. Although the world around us is adjusting to the "new normal," your period should still be something you can count on to stay the same.