A few weeks ago, whilst out for drinks with a friend that I had not seen for ages, I found myself taking pauses during our conversation to breathe deeply because I was experiencing contractions. I was very certain that I was not with child, but as someone with health anxiety my mind began to wander what this pain could possibly be. So much so that my friend who I was with noticed and asked what was wrong. Upon my telling her she suggested it might be my cycle. I shrugged it off because it was not possibly that, since, at this point, I had been seeing my lady friend for about ten years. I was sure that I knew how my body felt during all the phases of my cycle, thanks to the period tracker. However, as the night progressed, the contractions did also, and they were coming on stronger. An hour or two had passed and I did the usual apology you do right before dismissing yourself to the bathroom and to my surprise my period had made an appearance. There are only a few occasions where women feel joy on seeing their periods, I could not have been happier to run back and tell my friend, who reassured me there was nothing to worry about, that she was right.
For the next few days, my menstruation took a different turn in terms of the type of pain. I had never experienced contraction-like pains and I took it upon myself to find out why. Before carrying out statistical research, I asked the women around me. Most of them agreed with me that their cycle had changed since the beginning of the pandemic. Here are some of the responses that I got. My friend Parisce told me: “My PMS makes me feel like I am on a never-ending rollercoaster of emotions it really wasn’t this bad before.” Meanwhile Nisha said: “My cycle has changed from regular to irregular and when I visited my doctor, she mentioned that many women have been coming in with the same issue since the beginning of the pandemic.”
Dr Anita Mitra, also known as The Gynae Geek from Women’s Health Magazine, asked on her Instagram account if women had seen changes in their periods and/or cycles during the pandemic. 5,677 women responded in 24 hours and 65% replied that they had. A lot of women reported irregular bleeding or heavier, lighter, more painful or no periods at all. The Guardian news reports that a study carried out by bioanalytic company Orreco showed that 53% of 749 women reported changes in their menstrual cycle such as changes in mood and much longer cycles. It has been known for years that stress does indeed affect the cycle of women but from when the pandemic began more women have come forward. Doctors are not sure if this is because we are more aware and more alert of changes within our bodies now or because the pandemic is directly having a huge impact on our bodies.
There are many factors that could impact our periods, particularly through this very tough time. And our bodies are very complex and respond differently. The reason being that stress activates a hormone related pathway known as the hypothalamic – pituitary adrenal axis. A direct correlation has been found between increased levels of cortisol and the activation of the pathway previously mentioned. Cortisol and corticotropin releasing hormones control the body's response to stress and once they are released, they can suppress normal reproduction level hormones leading to abnormal ovulation.
The world has been through a lot and unfortunately, as women, our bodies are paying for it. Our cycles changing are of course a cause for concern, but they are also a warning for us to take each day as it comes and to remember that we are not alone. Many women throughout the world are being affected by this. Let’s make some time to pamper ourselves and do the things we loved doing before. Wishing you and your cycle both luck.
Written by Lucy Gborie