funTend to put fun, relaxation and stress-busting activities at the bottom of your to-do list–then rarely or never get around to doing them?

Here’s why it’s time turn your to-list upside down and start fitting in more of your favorite stress-relieving pastimes:

A 2010 study in the Journal of Women’s Health reveals that high levels of stress during the two weeks leading up to your period makes you two to four times more likely to experience moderate to severe symptoms on the days right before and during menstruation–including sadness, crying spells, anger, irritability, body aches, bloating, back pain, headaches, cravings and cramps–during that cycle as well as the following cycle.

And the news is worse if you suffer from chronic stress: Women who experience high levels of stress during the second half of their cycle two months in a row are an astounding 25 times more likely to suffer intense symptoms premenstrually and during their period.

The researchers aren’t sure what the link is, but speculate that stress could be throwing hormones levels out of whack, making you more sensitive to changing hormone levels or prompting change in brain chemicals that manage mood and anxiety, resulting in more intense bothersome symptoms before and during your period.

But, that’s not the whole stress story.

A 2004 study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that experiencing high levels of stress–especially during the first half of your cycle–makes you more than twice as likely to suffer menstrual cramps during your next period.

The researchers theorize that stress may trigger hormone imbalances and/or a rise in the hormone-like chemical prostaglandin that’s the main culprit behind the pain of menstrual cramps.

The bottom line here: Unchecked stress ratchets up premenstrual symptoms and period woes–big-time.

Which means that if you’ve been stressed out, maybe it’s time to head to an amusement park, go for a run, snuggle with your pet, meditate, treat yourself to new shoes, do yoga, dance or do anything else that helps you relax and unwind.

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