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Quarantine period: You're not imagining it, your period is acting really weird right now.

“I’ve had intense cramps and pain for the first time in my life.”

“I’ve had period pain for 15 years. This week, my period came early with no pain, nothing.”

“I just had my period two weeks ago and now I have it again.”

“Mine was really light and only lasted like for a day when it’s normally more like three or four days. So random!”

“I’m on the pill and my last period came early. The one before didn’t come at all. I thought the pill was meant to stabilise your period, it’s worked for me for so many years.”

“I never get cramps, but yesterday they were so bad I was lightheaded and had to lie down and go to bed early. But I feel fine today.”

“My period came for a day, then went away for two days, THEN WAS BACK BABY.”

“I had the worst pain in years.”

These are just some of the responses I got when I asked women how their periods have been going since coronavirus took over our lives.

Never have I had such a fast, passionate response to a question (especially such a personal question), so I think it’s safe to assume you’re not imagining it. Your period is acting really weird right now.

WATCH: If your period was a person, here’s what she’d be like (hint: she’s a bit annoying and drops in whenever she likes). Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia

COVID-19 and the lifestyle changes we’re adjusting to because of it have affected every area of our lives, and for people with ovaries, that includes your period. Yep, even if you’re on the pill or have had a regular period for years.

Think: abnormally light or heavy periods, bleeding on random days that ghost and then comes back whenever it wants, an increase or decrease in all the fun things like period pain cramps and lower back pain, or even no period at all.

The message is clear: Nothing is certain in these uncertain times. Not even your menstrual cycle.

We’re told the main reason our periods are changing is because we’re stressed, but what does that actually mean? I asked Melbourne-based obstetrician Dr Joseph Sgroi to find out exactly why your period might be changing on you, how stress and your period are linked, what symptoms are ‘normal’ and what you can do about it (if anything).

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But first, a recap of your ‘regular’ menstrual cycle.

To understand how stress affects your period, first we need a quick science lesson on how things normally run. Dr Sgroi explained it’s got a lot to do with your brain, because your brain gives orders to your ovaries, and your ovaries boss around your uterus.

“What normally happens is the brain secretes two hormones: follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH),” he told Mamamia.

“FSH is like fertiliser, it provides hormonal support to the ovary in order to grow a follicle (a sac that can release an egg). Normally what happens over a 28-day period is the FSH causes the follicle to grow like a seedling in a flower box becoming a sunflower. When the follicle is big enough, in comes LH, which causes it to release an egg. The egg goes down the fallopian tubes and fertilisation occurs.

“Follicles produce oestrogen, which stimulates the lining of the uterus to become nice and thick like grass growing, waiting for an embryo to implant into it. In the absence of an embryo implanting in there, the hormone that stabilises the lining of the uterus, progesterone, decreases, and the grass is cut a.k.a the lining sheds. This is your period.”

LISTEN: Lucy Folk has figured out how to hack your period, you can listen to Mia Freedman’s interview with her on No Filter below. Post continues after audio.

Can stress cause period changes?

Now we know how your period normally works, here’s what happens to that system when you’re stressed. Like, you know, because of a global pandemic that’s crapped on your life.

“In times of stress, your body signals that this is not the most appropriate time to become pregnant. Stress can be psychological, which a lot of people are experiencing now, or physical stress like starvation,” Dr Sgroi said.

“What happens is, the brain produces less FSH. This means the ovaries aren’t getting full stimulation, so a big egg-producing follicle isn’t made every month. The ovaries still produce some oestrogen, but not as much without the big follicle.

“Now the ovaries aren’t producing a solid amount of oestrogen, it’s going to cause a fluctuation in the lining of the uterus (what comes out as your period blood). The lining might increase in thickness, but because it’s not being supported, you might shed more lining, more frequently. Equally so, if your body completely shuts down FSH production and the ovary doesn’t produce any oestrogen, you never ovulate and the lining of the uterus stays thin and doesn’t need to be shed. Then, the period may be delayed or not come at all.”

To recap: the brain doesn’t produce as much of the stimulating hormones the ovary needs during times of stress, which can cause your other hormone levels to become a bit erratic. This = irregular period, which can be lots of little periods, a late period, and early period or no period at all.

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What if I’m on the pill?

The same goes. Even if you’ve been taking the pill to stabilise your period for years, you might be noticing some changes to your period symptoms at the moment.

Dr Sgroi explained this is because the pill regulates the hormones progesterone and oestrogen, but doesn’t impact the FHS and LS hormones that regulate how your brain is communicating with your ovaries.

Nothing is certain in these uncertain times. Not even your menstrual cycle. Image: Getty.

Stress and your period - what's normal?

Dr Sgroi said stress may have an impact on your period in the following ways:

  • A late or delayed period.
  • An early period.
  • A missed period.
  • Period spotting or irregular blood flow.
  • Change in period symptoms like:
    • Period cramps.
    • Period pain - abdomen, lower back, thighs, breasts.
    • Bloating and fluid retention.
    • Diarrhoea or constipation.
    • Other PMS symptoms including mood swings, hormonal acne and headaches.

Managing an irregular period.

OK, so what can I do if my period is irregular in isolation?

The bad-ish news is we already know the main things that will help, and they're what you expect. Regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and looking after your wellbeing.

The good-ish news is settling into isolation life without daily stresses and distractions means we're now more aware of how our bodies are feeling.

Dr Sgroi's advice is to think of this time as a bit of a reset because there's a good chance the irregular period you're experiencing is actually a better indicator of what your period is naturally like.

"A lot of those symptoms you might be experiencing you probably do have all the time, but they're being masked by the ordinary stresses you have in your normal life. Now, we can sense pretty much everything because in isolation, we've just got ourselves and our partners and children, and that's it."

If that doesn't help, lean on your regular period symptom management strategies. And get a wheat pack. A wheat pack makes everything better.

Feature image: Getty.

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