We can all agree that it's been a year. Between the global pandemic, the fight for racial justice, and the panic-inducing headlines (and tweets) coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania, we're all feeling the weight of election stress leading up to November 3. If you've noticed that your period looks or feels different this time around, you can blame politics for that, too.
Yep, the high-stakes election is causing our periods to be all out-of-whack — so if you've been experiencing late periods, unexpected periods, longer periods, lighter periods, and even inexistent periods, you can trace it all back to our frustrating democracy. (I personally attribute my irregular flow to the Electoral College).
"Anything that causes significant stress can screw up the ovulatory process, which includes the coronavirus and its accompanying quarantine," says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, OB/GYN at Yale University School of Medicine. I'd also say that having our reproductive rights, LBGTQ+ rights, human rights, and the future of our planet at stake would be a cause of significant stress, wouldn't you?
When you think about your menstrual cycle and how it works, your mind might immediately go to your uterus — which, fair, that's where the tangible end results occur. But the control of your period and the menstrual cycle as we know it actually starts in your brain. "At the bottom of your brain there's an area called the pituitary gland and above that there's the hypothalamus, and that's where the marching orders come from for ovarian function," Dr. Minkin says. "When you're under stress, you don't get the proper signals coming from the top of the brain into the hypothalamus to get this whole intricate system going that helps you ovulate."
Dr. Minkin says that from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that being stressed would botch our menstrual cycle. When stress levels rise, your body responds by secreting alpha-amylase, an enzyme that can trip up ovulation. ""Your brain says, 'We're not going to ovulate this month because there's too much stress out there,'" Dr. Minkin says. "You want to ovulate when things are calm and you can continue with the pregnancy, because that's what this whole system is designed to do."
For those who are trying to conceive during this time, there are a few things you can do to help. "Certainly, stress contributes to poorer ovulation, and you need to ovulate well to conceive," Dr. Minkin explains. De-stressing looks different for everyone, so she recommends finding your own ways to stay calm and relax, including meditation. If stress continues to impact your fertility, reach out to your healthcare provider for help.
We won't be stuck like this forever — in a constant state of disorderly periods and off-beat ovulations. Our bodies can go back to normal, Dr. Minkin says. "If your body gets used to stress, the ovarian activity may pick up again because of the hypothalamic activity picking up again. In other words, our brains are saying, 'Okay, we'll have a period and we'll get things going again,'" she explains. "The body may get more acclimated to the stress, but hopefully the stress level will go down."
Your period should be able to regulate itself after a few cycles, according to Dr. Minkin. But if it doesn't and you're experiencing symptoms such as pain during your period or bleeding that lasts longer than seven days, or if you just feel like something's up, call your healthcare provider. "You just want to make sure there's nothing else going on," she says.
Rather than putting all the weight of your stress into the outcome of the election, focus on taking care of yourself first. Most likely, our stress won't entirely go away. But until then, do things that distract you from dwelling on the state of the world: Step away from social media and the news, watch a funny movie, head outside for a walk, or enjoy a stream of cute puppy videos. Whatever works for you — and hopefully, it works for your period too.