stressGet frustrated when you happily sail through one premenstrual week with few, if any, bothersome symptoms, but then the premenstrual week in your next cycle leaves you struggling with intense moodiness, irritability, anxiety, aches, fatigue, the blues or other plunging-estrogen woes? And the cause of this difference leaves you baffled?

Researchers believe they’ve pinpointed one key culprit behind why your premenstrual symptoms unexpectedly worsen: High stress you experience in your previous cycle.

In a 2010 study in the Journal of Women’s Health, 259 women were examined at eight points across their menstrual cycle (throughout their Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4) for two cycles in a row–and researchers took special interest in gauging their stress levels and intensity of their premenstrual symptoms.

It turns out that women who experienced high stress in the first cycle studied were far more likely to have moderate to severe premenstrual symptoms in their next cycle.

Why this weird delay? The researchers theorize that high stress may alter hormone levels or activate your body’s sympathetic nervous system (responsible for that edgy fight-or-flight response), which then drives up brain chemicals that affect mood and pain–and these changes cause a sort of domino effect that then catches up with you in your following cycle.

So, what can you do with this information?

Some good news actually came out of this same study: The researchers found that women who experienced a decrease in stress from one cycle to the next also experienced a significant drop in premenstrual problems in their subsequent cycle.

This suggests that if you can take action to stop stress from taking over when you feel it start to rise, you could lower your risk of experiencing bothersome premenstrual annoyances later on.

You probably already know the ways that work for you to bring down your stress levels. But, in case you need a few more suggestions, research has shown that meditation, yoga, exercise, being outdoors in nature and talking things over with a trusted friend all help rein in stress and bring you to a calmer, more peaceful place.

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[Photo: bottled_void]