Something that has become very clear to us at Womensync is how stress can have a negative impact on our fertility. Stress comes in different forms, such as physical or emotional stress, both of which have a major negative impact on fertility, ovulation, PMS and the menstrual cycle. Sometimes we don't feel stressed ourselves, but our body does, which makes it extra important to start paying attention to what kind of stressors we experience in our everyday life. In this post, we will go into what stress means to the body and why it is important to review the stress in one's life in order to create the conditions for a strong ovulation and hormones in balance .
Delayed ovulation and prolonged menstrual cycle due to stress
In a research study of 166 women, it was found that stress was the biggest factor that increased the likelihood of experiencing a long menstrual cycle (longer than 42 days). The women who experienced a high degree of stress due to major life events (such as starting a new job, getting married and experiencing other demands such as responsibilities for the family, deadlines at work, exams etc.) were twice as likely to have delayed ovulation and thus a longer menstrual cycle than those who did not experience the same degree of stress.
This can be a bit tricky because whether you feel stressed or not, your body may be experiencing stress . Your menstrual cycle simply reacts to the stress it is exposed to whether it is chronic long-term stress or stress created in a specific situation. Even situations that many of us don't think are stressful, such as vacations, weddings or a new promotion at work, can become physiologically stressful. Likewise, other life-changing events such as a breakup, death in the family or being fired from work can add stress to the body. Another type of stress that is equally important to address is internal stress that can be created by negative thoughts about oneself or performance anxiety.
Something that has been noticed is that many women have also noticed that their ovulation tends to be late when they travel during phase 1 and 2 of the menstrual cycle (that is, before ovulation). It is also not unusual for phase 3 (after you have ovulated until your next period) to be one or two days shorter than usual or to experience spotting in the days before your period when you have experienced more stressful situations during phase 3 .
Different types of stress that can affect your ovulation:
External stress such as: not eating enough, nutritional deficiencies, eating things you can't tolerate, over-exercising, high caffeine intake, too little sleep, death, breaking up/separating from your partner or being laid off from work.
Inner stress such as: feelings and thoughts about not being enough, making high demands on yourself, performance anxiety, extreme need for control and being in a relationship, a job or in a place in life where you are not happy.
Additional aspects that you don't always think about are stressful but can become a stress for the body: drinking a lot of coffee/energy drink (caffeine), hard or a lot of exercise, holidays (if you feel pressure about "everything you want to catch up on" there), a new promotion at work, getting married/planning events, traveling a lot and changing time zones.
When ovulation does not occur as planned
If you have started to track your menstrual cycle and familiarize yourself with what affects it, you have most likely noticed that there are many factors that can affect your ovulation . The most common factors that can affect, delay or cancel your ovulation are stress of various kinds as well as too little energy, illness or traveling across different time zones . We know it's easy to experience frustration when ovulation doesn't come as "planned", whether you're thinking of planning for a future pregnancy or you just want to be sure of having a regular and balanced menstrual cycle. But , your ovaries are incredibly intelligent and only want you well. When ovulation is delayed or cancelled, it's because your body is trying to protect you from the added stress of carrying a child (even though that might be what you want most). It simply sees the stress the body is exposed to as a sign that ovulation is not a priority right now.
Using the menstrual cycle as information and a tool
As we were able to read, stress, no matter what form it comes in, can have an impact on our menstrual cycle. Instead of seeing it as something bad, we can use it as a tool to review our health and evaluate how we live our lives. Delayed or canceled ovulation due to stress is your body's way of protecting you. When you begin to think of your menstrual cycle as a sign of health and begin to understand the connection to your lifestyle, it also becomes easier to understand the basis of any fluctuations and to be able to create change yourself.
There is so much power in understanding the body's signals. You could say that every month we get a receipt for how we live our lives. If we have a regular, symptom-free menstrual cycle with confirmed ovulation, it is a sign of a life in balance. Is it the case that you are not living your truth because you do not feel that you are sufficient, that you are living a lifestyle that is not adapted to what your body needs or that you are living a life that you do not want (for example, you are living your parents' dreams instead of your own) then your body will remind you of it through various signals.
It is important to remember that it is not always conscious that we have made the choices that create the stress, but it is something that we are often schooled into . Start by mapping out what stressors you have in your life and take into account both internal and external stress. Start paying more attention to your body's signals by tracking your menstrual cycle and pay attention to how your body reacts to different things in your lifestyle, such as how you eat, exercise, sleep, etc. As you become more aware, you can use the symptoms you experience as a guide for to find the way to a lifestyle that is more in line with your own truth and what your body needs.
As you begin to gain more knowledge and awareness about your menstrual cycle, you can move from thoughts like “why is my ovulation late? To "aha - I ovulated later this cycle for X reason and my period will probably come around then". It saves a lot of energy and worry and gives us powerful information that we can take action on for the next cycle to help the body push through ovulation.
*The Fifth Vital Sign, LIsa Hendrickson-Jack