Women are hit particularly hard by stress.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America, affecting 40 million adults in the United States or 18.1% of the population every year. But women are more likely than men to report having a great deal of stress, and almost half of all women say their stress has increased over the past five years (compared to 39-percent of men).
Worst of all, stress is uniquely hard on women and our reproductive hormones. Here’s what you need to know about how stress affects your menstrual cycle and how you can protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress.
Stress & Your Menstrual Cycle
When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands pump out adrenaline and cortisol, which gets your body ready to either fight or run away from a real or perceived danger in your environment (the fight-or-flight response). This hormonal cascade is a natural process — and, in instances of grave danger, an extremely useful one. But when this happens over and over again, triggered by everyday stressors like deadlines instead of life-or-death threats, it depletes your cortisol reserve, leaving your adrenals unable to respond properly to stress.
A woman’s stress response is also different based on where she is in her 28-day hormone cycle, called the infradian rhythm. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is naturally at different levels in the first and second half of the infradian rhythm and it is important to tailor our self-care and exercise routines accordingly so as not to further disrupt cortisol and cause even more hormone imbalances.
This stress response, paired with lack of appropriate phase-based self-care, has a lot of negative effects on your hormones. Here are the ways stress damages your hormones and negatively affects your well-being:
- Stress messes with blood sugar. Stress raises cortisol levels and disrupts your blood sugar which, in turn, disrupts your ovulation and period. Imbalanced blood sugar harms your hormones. One of the foundations of the FLO Protocol is using food and supplements to balance blood sugar. Improving your blood sugar is one of the single best things you can do to balance your hormones and heal period problems like acne, PMS, bloating, cramps, heavy or irregular periods, and missing periods.
- Stress lowers progesterone. The stress hormone cortisol blocks progesterone production and lowers progesterone levels. That’s because your body uses progesterone to make cortisol and respond to the stress — and the more stress you experience, the more progesterone your body will ‘steal’ to make cortisol. This messes with your cycle by lengthening your luteal phase and makes your periods start of slow, with a lot of brown spotting and brown blood before your regular flow.
- Stress delays ovulation. If you experience stress around the time you typically ovulate, the increased levels of cortisol can delay or even prevent ovulation. Stress’s negative influence on ovulation makes sense evolutionarily – a pregnancy on top of a stressful period in a person’s life is not ideal. By stopping ovulation, your body is trying to preserve energy to deal with the stress before conception takes place.
- Stress changes the timing of your period. A period of stress after you ovulate can throw your hormones off balance. If you experience a high level of stress after you ovulate, you may experience spotting, an early period, or a period that looks or feels different than your norm in terms of consistency, color, length, or symptoms like cramping.
- Stress can cause your period to go missing. Intense stress can cause anovulatory cycles, or months when you don’t ovulate at all. This means no period, or a small bit of ‘breakthrough’ bleeding (which isn’t a real period, but rather your uterus still needing to shed its lining).
- Stress causes vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Excess cortisol from stress depletes the body of essential vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients. B vitamins, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids are especially susceptible to stress — and are especially important for soothing your overworked adrenal system. Stress causes you to lose the micronutrients you need the most to help calm your fight-or-flight response!
- Stress disrupts up your gut. Stress can interfere with the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut — and a healthy gut is critically important for any woman who wants to balance hormones and erase period problems. That’s because the gut flora, and specifically a colony of bacteria called the estrobolome, help process and eliminate excess hormones from the body — and when your elimination system is sluggish, your hormones will get out of balance.
Why Most Exercise Plans Don’t Work for Women
Women are the biggest consumers of wellness-industry products and protocols. Yet most of the research behind these strategies is conducted on men, and women’s bodies work differently than men’s bodies. Women have unique biochemical needs that go unaddressed by exercise plans built around male-centered research. That leaves women to try different exercise plans, be disappointed, and then try some more. It’s a cycle that causes untold stress, energy, money, heartache, and sanity.
The fitness industry has good intentions. (Many people don’t talk about the gender bias in wellness research. I’m here to change that!) But when different exercise strategies are sold to the public as great for everyone, it can leave women feeling like it’s their fault if they don’t get the results they want. We can start to feel like we must not have done it right or tried hard enough or that we lack willpower.
Lack of willpower is not the problem.
The problem is that women, all too often, are following exercise protocols that benefit men more than women — or, in some cases, protocols that actively work against a woman’s hormones and sabotage her health and fitness goals.
Times up on the gender bias in the diet and fitness industry. As women, we’re biochemically different than men. When we adopt approaches that are designed to work with our unique biological distinctions—when we stop biohacking with the boys—we will start to see results.
The key to biohacking your unique female biochemistry is to understand your 28-day cycle and to match your food and exercise to your natural hormonal shifts. When you sync your self care with your cycle, you’ll experience easier periods, less PMS, reduced bloating, clearer skin, and improvements in weight and body composition. By acknowledging your hormonal reality, you’ll finally be able to look and feel your best.
Is Burnout a Real Thing? What Does it Mean for your Hormones?
That exhausted, depleted, frazzled feeling you have every Friday night (or every night) after work)?
It’s burnout. And it’s a real, diagnosable condition.
That’s according to the World Health Organization (WHO), who last month declared burnout a legitimate occupational phenomenon. Burnout is a result of “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” said the organization, and it negatively influences one’s health.
The condition is characterized by three things:
- Feeling depleted or exhausted
- Feeling cynical or negative about one’s job, or feeling increased mental distance from one’s job
- Being less effective and productive on the job
This news will come as no surprise to anyone with a demanding job or other workplace stressors, like a difficult boss, unsupportive co-workers, an unhealthy work environment, a long commute, and/or the expectation of “being on” 24-hours a day. As the speed of work picks up, and as more of us work around-the-clock, burnout has become a way of life.
But women have a key advantage when it comes to battling back against burnout. We can tap into the natural rhythms of our 28-day hormone cycle and use our natural strengths during each phase to work more efficiently, be more productive (without feeling overburdened), and find more satisfaction—and less stress—in our jobs.
The Hormone-Burnout Connection
The idea that your hormones could help you have an easier and less stressful experience at work might seem far-fetched, but I’m not making this up!
Research shows that our hormone cycles have a direct influence on our mood, energy, creativity, and worldview. So when we plan our activities in accordance with the natural flow of our hormones, we can be top-performing, high-achieving women with energy left over at the end of the day—no to-do list app necessary. (Though we benefit greatly from knowing where we are in our cycle, which is what I designed the MyFLO app to help you do.)
If, however, we ignore our hormonal patterns and force ourselves to work in a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week time construct (one that works for men because of their more quotidian hormonal patterns), we’re more likely to experience burnout—and, as women, that chronic stress shows up in our our cycles, fertility, sex drive, and mood. In other words, working the same way, with the same rhythm, day in and day out makes period problems worse… and that prevents us from taking advantage of the solution, which depends on a healthy cycle!
It’s a bit circuitous, I know, but that is exactly what it is: a vicious cycle. When we don’t practice The Cycle Syncing Method™, our hormones fall deeper into imbalance—and that makes it harder to use our cycle as a powerful tool for escaping burnout.
As women, our strengths, desires, talents, and behavior shifts with our changing hormone patterns each month. Having female hormones does not mean you lose a week a month to PMS and your period. It just means that by noticing these shifts and then working with your hormones, you can make your hormones work for you.
Heal Workplace Stress By Learning To Work With Your Hormones
To harness the power of your hormones, first you need to know what your hormones are doing and when. That’s where the MyFLO app comes in. It allows you track your cycle and tune into which phase you’re in at any given time.
Once you’re familiar with your cycle, you’re ready to practice The Cycle Syncing Method™, which is the method I developed for engaging in phase-based self-care. The Cycle Syncing Method™ involves working with food, movement, and time management to feel and perform your best (you can learn more about every aspect of the practice here), but for today I’m going to focus on how you can engage The Cycle Syncing Method™ specifically to battle workplace burnout.
Here are the four phases of your 28-day hormone cycle and how you can harness your natural strengths during each one to perform better at work, while stressing less!
- When: The week after your period ends
- What’s happening hormonally: Estrogen is on the rise
- What to do: Set your intentions for the coming weeks, clarify your vision and purpose at work, organize what you want to accomplish next. Get moving on new projects. This is a time to really lay the groundwork for what comes next.
- When: Mid-cycle for 3–5 days
- What’s happening hormonally: Estrogen is at its highest point
- What to do: Share your intentions with colleagues, collaborate with like-minded folks, schedule meetings, connect with others, brainstorm to find solutions. This is a time to bring others on board with your vision and to work as a team.
- When: About 10–12 days before your period begins
- What’s happening hormonally: Progesterone is at its highest point
- What to do: This is your ‘get it done’ time! You are at your most organized during this phase and you love getting granular about the details. Make this phase all about accomplishing the activities and goals you outlined during your follicular phase.
- When: The days when you are bleeding
- What’s happening hormonally: All of your hormones are at a low point
- What to do: Slow down, reflect on what’s happened over the last month, and practice gratitude for all the good things you’ve accomplished. Think back on any areas of your work life that feel less than optimal or that need more attention and use them as a starting point for setting intentions during your next follicular phase.
I guarantee that if you start to prioritize projects at work in line with your cycle, you will experience less stress and greater productivity. Burnout will no longer be a way of life.
And if you really want to transform your work life, you’ll engage the other aspects of The Cycle Syncing Method™ in combination with the changes you make at work. This involves food, movement, supplements, and self-care. If you put all these changes into place, you will be unstoppable at work — and you will experience far less stress in your day-to-day life.
How to Outsmart Stress And Heal Your Hormones
Don’t let stress hijack your period. If you are experiencing period problems and stress is playing a role in your symptoms, it’s time to take stress management seriously. A stressed-out cycle is a message. It’s a call-to-action from your body.
Here are my top strategies for healing stress and solving your period problems:
FLO Stress Strategy #1: Focus on food
Your first step is to eat hormonally-supportive foods in a phase-based pattern, which helps soothe and support your adrenal glands, turn the dial down on cortisol production, and break the stress cycle. Not to mention that eating nutrient-dense foods at the right times of your cycle will boost your metabolism, support digestion, blood sugar balance, regulate your cycles, detoxify your system, and increase your energy.
You can leverage food in multiple ways to combat stress and balance hormones, but I recommend starting by emphasizing healthy fats, like avocados and olive oil, to calm your nervous system, and making sure you’re eating a lot of fiber and fermented foods to help support the microbiome. You can read more about using the The Cycle Syncing Method™ with food here.
FLO Stress Strategy #2: Eat a good breakfast
A nutritious and filling breakfast will set you up for a day of stable blood sugar and balanced hormones. It should also bring in all those essential de-stressing vitamins and minerals like magnesium and B vitamins. I have a whole lot of great (and easy) ideas for breakfast for you right here. If you can make a natural probiotic like sauerkraut or kimchi part of your first meal of the day, even better, as that will help heal your gut. Use coconut oil along the way to boost your body’s intake of good fats.
FLO Stress Strategy #3: Exercise
Exercise is one of your best weapons when it comes to battling stress, but only if you do the right type of exercise at the right times of the month. If you’re doing high-intensity workouts during the wrong time of the month, or if you force yourself to workout the same way every day, you will make hormone balance and period problems worse.
To get all the details about exercise and your cycle, go here. But the brief takeaway is this:
The first half of your cycle is the ideal time for high-intensity workouts. The second half of your cycle is better suited for slower, more restorative workouts. In your luteal phase, shift from high intensity bouts of exercise to activities like yoga, walking, and easy bike rides.
FLO Stress Strategy #4: Sleep
Get some! No matter which phase of your cycle you’re in, getting enough high-quality sleep is hugely important in easing stress. Studies suggest that women need more sleep than men. Think of sleep as one of the essential micronutrients you need for a healthy period — and don’t skimp on it!
FLO Stress Strategy #5: Make time for pleasure
Whether this means self-pleasure or spa treatments to you, do what makes you feel good at least once a week. I have some tips for better orgasms and hormone-safe spa treatments including the best recipe for a long, indulgent bath for a relaxing night in. Start scheduling times for self-care into your working week as though it were a meeting or gym session and don’t flake on feeling good. You’ll reduce excess cortisol hormone this way and see the benefits fast.
FLO Stress Strategy #6: Supplements
Anti-anxiety mediations and SSRIs are often prescribed for stress. These drugs are designed to block or manage symptoms, not address root causes, and they do not work for everyone and have a long list of side effects. It’s always preferable to address stress-related symptoms like fatigue, depression, and anxiety with food and natural supplements before turning to pharmaceuticals.
Here are the botanicals I recommend for stress and anxiety:
- Cinnamon – have it as tea, or sprinkle it on your oatmeal in the morning or take it as a supplement. Cinnamon is an excellent blood sugar regulator as it slows down the speed at which your stomach empties after you’ve eaten a meal.
- Holy Basil – you can take the adrenally-supportive Holy Basil as a nourishing, soothing tea. Holy Basil actually functions as an adaptogen, which means it enhances the body’s natural response to physical and emotional stress.
- Oatstraw – take this supplement as a liquid tincture in your tea. Oatstraw is cortisol-calming and adrenally-supportive.
- Ashwagandha – another adaptogen, Ashwagandha is the perfect herbal supplement if you suffer with anxiety. It is well-researched and respected for its ability to lower cortisol levels and prevent stress.
But remember: these supplements will only work effectively to reduce anxiety as part of a broader strategy to support your adrenals, address blood sugar, and balance your hormones.
And here are the micronutrients that I consider absolutely essential for combating stress, balancing hormones, supporting healthy menstrual cycles, and boosting fertility:
- Magnesium: This powerful mineral calms your nervous system and helps balance cortisol. When your stress system is in balance your levels of progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, FSH and LH will follow suit. Magnesium also helps to control insulin production, which reduces sugar cravings and blood sugar spikes, and it helps you get a great night’s sleep.
- B5: Also known as pantothenic acid, this vitamin is crucial for theadrenal glands, the organs responsible for pumping out cortisol. Studies have shown that supplementing with B5 helps stimulate adrenal cells, which in turn, helps regulate your body’s stress response.
- Omega-3s: Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation (which is an internal stressor on the body) and help improve mood.
If you’re ready to stop living with daily, debilitating stress, then it’s time to seek out natural solutions that will support your adrenals, balance your mood, and empower you to take on everything life throws your way. You can’t always control the external stressors around you, but you absolutely can better manage your internal responses. Why not arm yourself with the most effective, safe, and natural tools available?
Stop spot-treating your symptoms and white-knuckling through your anxiety: Order the Balance Supplement Kit and get the daily dose of essential vitamins and minerals you need to kick stress to the curb, once and for all.
FLO 28: THE CYCLE SYNCING® MEMBERSHIP
A Revolution in Nutrition, Fitness, and Time Management for Women
FLO 28: The Cycle Syncing™ Membership is a revolutionary method for women to care for their bodies and find more flow in their lives. You’ll learn how to shift your self-care to support your cycle and play to the unique strengths you have in each phase. When you begin Cycle Syncing, you’ll start to have more energy for everything that matters the most to you. And, you’ll feel more energized, relaxed, happier and more free in all areas of your life.
Front Neurosci. 2015; 9: 37. Published online 2015 Feb 20. Sex hormones affect neurotransmitters and shape the adult female brain during hormonal transition periods. Claudia Barth,1 Arno Villringer,1,2,3,4,5 and Julia Sacher1,2,
Front Physiol. 2018; 9: 1047. Published online 2018 Aug 6. Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression and Anxiety. Thomas Larrieu*† and Sophie Layé*
Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jun;85(6):1552-6. Effect of cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose, gastric emptying, and satiety in healthy subjects. Hlebowicz J1, Darwiche G, Björgell O, Almér LO.
Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Chandrasekhar K1, Kapoor J, Anishetty S.
J Psychophysiol. 2018 Sep;131:67-72. The relationship between the menstrual cycle and cortisol secretion: Daily and stress-invoked cortisol patterns. Montero-López E1, Santos-Ruiz A2, García-Ríos MC3, Rodríguez-Blázquez M4, Rogers HL5, Peralta-Ramírez MI6.
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