Has Lockdown Changed Your Periods?

Are your periods normally regular, but then over the last few months during lockdown you have found them become less regular?  A few of my friends have mentioned this, perplexed as to why their cycle has suddenly changed.

Changes in your body’s level of the hormones (estrogen and  progesterone) can disrupt the normal pattern of your period (hence why young girls going through puberty and women approaching the menopause often have irregular periods).  There are also lots of other things that can affect your cycle however, and some of these relate to our environment / lifestyle, so for me, it’s not that shocking that the change to our lives and emotions that lockdown bought about might have affected how regular our periods are.

Some common causes of irregular periods include:

  • Having an IUD fitted
  • Changing birth control method or using certain medications
  • Too much exercise
  • PCOS
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Stress
  • Dramatic weight gain or weight loss
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Thickening of the uterine lining

Some of these reasons are medical and obviously require seeing a doctor to get the correct treatment.  Equally if you find your birth control has started to negatively affect your cycle it’s always worth speaking to the nurse or doctor about this as there might be a better alternative for you.  But some of these changes, specifically over exercising, dramatic weight changes and stress are lifestyle related.

For instance some women find they have changes in their periods because they exercise too much.  They may need to make workouts less intense, or exercise less often to combat this.

If stress is the problem, learning how to manage stress levels or remove the stressful situations from your life can help.

Extreme changes in your weight can affect your periods with weight gain making it harder for your body to ovulate whilst extreme, sudden weight loss can also lead to infrequent or irregular periods.  It’s important to stress here that losing weight sensibly or gaining a few pounds is not likely to have a dramatic effect to your periods (hence using the word extreme!).

Beyond these well accepted reasons that our cycles can change there are other factors that have been recognised as affecting our cycle, syncing with other women we spend a lot of time with, changes to our alcohol intake / patterns, changes to our diet, inconsistent work schedules (working late / changes in pattern) and changes to our sleep pattern (getting less sleep, going to bed later for example).

When you think about how our lives have changed in lockdown it isn’t overly surprising that some of us have found our cycles a little disrupted – our normal routines have gone out the window.  And with that you may have found your periods have change slightly as a result.

Because when you think about lockdown so many of the factors mentioned above will possibly have come into play for you.

Yes, gyms have been shut, but with many people either working from home or being on furlough / unable to go to work lots of people have had more time to exercise an so changes and potential dramatic increases to training will have been seen by many.  Conversely some people (me included) will have found their activity levels dramatically drop (even with training every day) and that change itself could also affect your period regularity.

I don’t know many people who haven’t reported feeling stress and anxiety about the pandemic at some point, whether your worries centered around Covid itself or the economy or both I think we’ve all felt a greater degree of stress.

Many people will have seen a dietary change- some for the better, some maybe not.  We are eating at home more but being indoors all day means we are more tempted by the fridge more often, therefore changes in diet and potential weight gain will not have been uncommon for many people in recent months.

Many people will also have increased their alcohol intake in lockdown, a mixture of it being cheaper to drink at home, having more time to drink etc. means that alcohol intake patterns will have changed (and increased) for some.

For the majority of people their working environment has changed, working from home, changes to hours and due to the challenges many businesses have faced many people are finding they are needing to work longer hours.  Suddenly not bein able to work is equally a sudden dramatic change to routine.

If you live with other females, you have possibly spent more time with them over lockdown so may have found your cycle sync with them.

And finally sleep.  We should theoretically have been able to sleep more – take away commuting, or work or social plans out of the house and early nights / lie ins should have been possible.  In reality, I found, and most people I’ve spoken to have said similar, sleep has been disrupted.  I’ve struggled to get to sleep until the early hours most nights and woken up frequently, which I put down to a mixture of worry and stress and also not being as active during the day meaning I find it harder to get ready to sleep.  This has meant I’ve probably had a lower quality of sleep in lockdown!

So when you think about it, given the amount of changes to our lifestyle that could potentially affect how regular our periods are that we have found ourselves facing in recent months, it’s not shocking at all that many women have found their once regular cycle has maybe become less regular.

Is this something to worry about?  Probably not, I track my cycle on the Fitbit app an have found that although I’ve had some changes, those changes appear to have settled me into a ‘new regular’ cycle.  I anticipate that as things continue to change as lockdown lifts I might see some more changes as my routine changes (and stress levels will probably continue to remain quite high) but again I will keep an eye on those via tracking and I expect they will settle.

But I’d always encourage you to speak to a doctor if you are concerned.  If the changes to your cycle are affecting your life, you continue to remain very irregular or anything seems out of the ordinary it’s always best to get yourself checked out.

If you have any of these symptoms it is generally advised you consult a doctor:

  • You miss three or more periods a year.
  • You get your period more often than every 21 days.
  • You get your period less often than every 35 days.
  • You are bleeding more heavily than usual during your period.
  • You bleed for more than 7 days (I know this is not unusual for many women but if you have a sudden change in period length it is worth getting it checked out)
  • You have more pain than usual during a period

All in all being aware of your cycle and changes to it is always a positive thing, as knowing your own body is the best way of being able to spot early on if something is wrong and understanding changes you might face can be helpful in that understanding of yourself.

Why Your Diet May Be Like The Gulf War

I remember one evening from my childhood, my nan and grandad were babysitting and we’d stayed up late to watch a Disney film (I want to say the Little Mermaid) and after the film the news came on.  The coverage was about the Gulf War.

I’d guess that meant this was around 1990 so I would have been around eight.  Eight year old me watched the news about this war (with a limited concept of what war meant that was basically confined to the two World Wars) and imagined bombs would soon start falling just like the Blitz.  What I vividly remember confusing me most however was what golf balls would have to do with a war.

This is what happens when you watch or listen to things where your understanding is limited and you put two and two together coming up with twelve.

It’s an extreme example, but in reality how many little misunderstandings over the years have crept into your brain and now exist, as ‘facts’ when they are actually not true at all.

Carbs are bad for you, eating carbs after 6pm will make you put on weight, fat is bad for you, lifting weights will make you bulky.

You think you understand how to eat and train to reach your goals, and on the whole you probably do, but perhaps there’s something in your head that you’ve just misunderstood, something that you are doing which you think is helping but is actually hindering your progress.

Often when having a chat with clients about their diet and setting some goals to work towards, the client will go away and make those changes but weeks later still be clinging onto an idea of something else they also should or shouldn’t be doing, largely because it has a mythical ‘fact’ status in their mind.

So perhaps they’ll have worked all week on hitting a calorie deficit and eating a certain amount of protein (agreed goals), but then even though they’ve done this be upset with themsleves because they don’t feel their macro split is exactly right (idea stuck in the head that precise macro splits are vitally important and not hitting that split means all the calorie deficit wins are pointless).

It takes time and effort to retrain yourself to not revert back to the misconceptions you have lived with for many years, but if you think about it my ridiculous misunderstanding of the word Gulf and Golf is no more ridiculous than some of the ideas we have developed over the years about how we should eat and move.

How to reduce period flow

I saw a tweet this week that’s gone a bit viral about Ibuprofen reducing menstrual flow.

The reason this has created such a buzz isn’t the fact itself (which is never heard of) but that something so simple and apparently accepted by many health professionals to be the case, isn’t known by more women.

General consensus is that this is because we just don’t talk that openly about our periods.

We’ll chat diets, relationships, workouts but don’t often bring our periods up in conversation, even with close friends let alone in every day conversations. So simple things that could make life easier for a large number of women just don’t get shared.

If you’ve not heard about the tweet in question here’s a couple of articles to fill you in.

INSIDER ARTICLE

COSMO ARTICLE

I’ve said it numerous times before but I’ll say it again – the more openly everyone talks about their bodies and health, both physical and mental, the easier it is for people to realise they aren’t alone or odd, that it’s ok to ask for help, that maybe something isn’t normal.

Smear Test Talk

Earlier this week I went for a smear test.

I suspect I’m not alone in dreading this test, from the moment I get the letter reminding me it’s been three years and it’s time to book right up until the moment of climbing on the table.  I know they’re important and a few moments of discomfort are worth it to check I’m healthy but equally it just isn’t the nicest ting and nobody ever really wants to put themselves into situations of discomfort.

Smear tests are used to monitor any abnormal changes early on allowing them to monitor and treat these changes early thus helping to prevent the chance of those changes turning into cervical cancer.  They take roughly ten minutes from entering the room to leaving (the actual test is a couple of minutes if that) and for most women it really is a matter of mild discomfort over any form of painful experience.  However in 2018 it was reported that one in four women don’t book an appointment when they get their reminder letter due to embarrassment, body shape shame or fear of the unknown / pain.  This figure increased to one in three in the 25-29 age range and one in two in some of the most deprived areas of the UK.

Much like periods, I feel like smears are something quite common, all women should have them, if you talk to other women most will admit to disliking them or having anxiety around some part of them but which we often feel silly talking about.

But for someone who writes about health and fitness on a weekly basis, I also feel like it’s important to stress that physical fitness or strength or a balanced diet or calorie deficit is all kind of pointless if you don’t take care of yourself at a more fundamental level.  I admit I stated thinking about his when I got my smear test reminder and as a result as well as booking the smear test also booked in a dental check up and an eye test (fyi I over much needed new glasses and twelve years between eye tests is by far too long!).

If you are nervous about getting our smear here’s some tips I’ve found useful for reducing the stress of the situation and making it more comfortable:

  • Wear a long skirt – reduces the amount of undressing you need to do and can make you feel less exposed.
  • You’ll almost always get a female nurse but if you don’t you can request one.  You can also take someone with you if that helps.
  • Tell the nurse you are nervous – they are used to doing his test and will generally be good at putting you at ease, keeping you talking and more relaxed.
  • Ask for a smaller speculum.  I had a horrible couple of smears when I was younger that really made me dread going, and I read this tip on the internet.  I asked the nurse and she explained that they don’t always work and sometime it can mean them trying then having to use a bigger one anyway.  But they will try if you ask and for me the smaller one worked without issue and now I always ask and it always works fine, to the point I barely feel anything.  If you are really nervous this is an option worth discussing with the nurse beforehand.

So three messages for this blog.

  1. Male or female – be more holistically health conscious in 2020.  Don’t just eat well or exercise but make an effort to look after your body in all ways.  That means things like health check ups, resting when injured and not making a training session a priority over other aspects of your overall health.
  2. Help make 2020 a year to reduce stigma – feel less pressure to avoid conversations on periods, health checks like smear tests, prostate checks, checking your breasts (not much experience here but equally important) because these conversations can help others.
  3. If you haven’t had a smear test and are of an age where you should book an appointment with you GP.