07 Oct Premenstrual week gotten worse? Could be pandemic stress
- Key findings: If you’ve been experiencing post-traumatic stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, you could also be experiencing more intense premenstrual symptoms and more painful menstrual cramps, research shows.
OCTOBER 7, 2021—There’s no denying that the COVID-19 global pandemic has been challenging for a lot of people. With the disease so widespread, many of us have become ill ourselves and struggled with severe, lingering and possibly even life-threatening symptoms. Or we have family or friends who have been seriously ill or may have lost their lives. Or we’ve worked directly with patients, witnessing firsthand the pandemic’s deadly toll.
Even if you haven’t personally been touched by the disease itself, the ripple effect that a global pandemic has had on jobs, childcare, education, socializing, grocery shortages and other aspects of our daily lives has likely affected you negatively in some way.
Then, of course, there’s the constant distressing news reports of hospitals that are so full they’re turning away patients, new waves of growing cases and different variants emerging. As if that weren’t enough, social media has become a minefield of pandemic posts, making it impossible to avoid even when you want to simply check in on your friends or favorite topics.
Given all this, it makes sense that some of us are going to experience far higher stress. In fact, according to a 2021 meta-analysis of 55 peer-reviewed studies in the journal Psychiatry Research, as many as 22% of us are experiencing pandemic-related post-traumatic stress.1 This is a state of intense stress spurred by a traumatic event, such as being in a natural disaster (such as a tsunami or tornado) or witnessing violence (such as domestic abuse or terrorism). Well, a global pandemic that has killed millions with a disease that can leave its victims gasping for air has the potential to also spur post-traumatic stress.
Symptoms of this type of stress can include heightened fear, nightmares, loss of sleep, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed and/or an on-edge sensation that lasts for a month or longer. Once it takes hold, it can interfere with daily life, relationships and/or jobs or school.
But, if you’re a woman with a menstrual cycle who is experiencing pandemic post-traumatic stress, there’s something else you need to know: A 2021 study suggests that you may be enduring two more stress-related symptoms—a worsened premenstrual phase and more painful menstrual cramps.2
The post-traumatic stress-menstrual cycle connection
In a first-of-its-kind study examining the effect of the pandemic stress on menstrual health, researchers from Kind
ai University in Japan surveyed 871 female high school students with regular, healthy menstrual cycles, asking them about their premenstrual experience and period pain.
This study was part of an annual survey that’s been given to female students since 2009 to assess the impact of premenstrual symptoms on their school life. This means that the study authors were able to compare survey responses from previous years with current surveys to pinpoint any changes during the pandemic.
What they found: The surveys found that 5.6% of students showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress related to the pandemic. When compared to 2019 surveys (before COVID-19 became widespread), those students were experiencing more intense premenstrual symptoms (such as sadness, irritability and sleeplessness) and more intense menstrual cramp pain in 2020 when COVID-19 cases were high.
This study didn’t examine the cause. However, regular everyday stress is known to trigger inflammation throughout the body, including your brain, that can worsen mood. It can also spur muscle tension that tightens the uterus, exacerbating period cramps.
Since post-traumatic stress is far more intense, it would obviously have a greater negative effect.
What can you do?
If you sense that you’re experiencing high stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t try to handle it alone. Talk with a therapist, spiritual advisor, parent, mentor or friend to get help.
Also, try to incorporate stress-busting techniques into your daily routine, such as yoga, tai chi, exercise, meditation, calming music, art-making or music-making.
And, take breaks from news and social media posts about the pandemic to avoid re-triggering painful emotions.
The good news is that this same study found that women without high stress had premenstrual symptoms and menstrual cramp pain similar to pre-pandemic levels. This suggests that if you can work on tamping down stress, you could return your menstrual health to pre-pandemic levels, too.
👋 Copy + paste to share with a friend:
If you’ve noticed lately that your premenstrual week is more difficult and that you’re experiencing more painful menstrual cramps, a new study shows these could be due to post-traumatic stress related to the pandemic. Learn more: MyHormonology.com/pandemic-stress-pms-period-cramps
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(1) Jude Mary Cénat, et al., “Prevalence of symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, posttraumatic stress disorder, and psychological distress among populations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis”, Psychiatry Research, 295 (2021): 113599
(2) Takashi Takeda, Sayaka Kai, Kana Yoshimi, “Association between Premenstrual Symptoms and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms by COVID-19: A Cross-Sectional Study with Japanese High School Students”, The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine, 255 (2021): 71-77