Happier Holidays: Stress and Your Cycle
With the approaching holidays during a pandemic in the middle of flu season after a contentious election, this seems like a great time to chat about a few of the expected signs of stress, and how stress impacts your use of fertility awareness!
First: what do we consider stress?
Stress can be anything that your body perceives as a threat. This could be mental or emotional stress like planning, shopping, organizing, coordinating with in-laws, shifting to online school and kids home 24/7, or straight-up worrying about a deadly pathogen and the well-being of your friends and family. Stress can also be physical: illness, a vigorous exercise routine, a flare-up of a chronic condition, or reducing your calorie intake.
Next: what does stress do to your cycle?
The most common response to stress is a delay in ovulation. In practice, this looks like not detecting peak at the expected time, or seeing many more days of high fertility than usual. For couples trying to avoid pregnancy, this means a longer fertile window than normal. In breastfeeding women, they may see the same delay in ovulation, or conversely, they might see an increase in fertile symptoms, especially if their ability to breastfeed on their normal schedule is reduced.
So you're stressed: what can you do about it?
In reality, take small steps to reduce and manage stress within your level of control.
YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYONE’S HAPPINESS!
Set aside time to pray every day. Eliminate screen time before bed. Delete social media from your phone if you have to.
Let some things go these holidays. Things will be different, and you do not have to please everyone. Focus on the parts of the holiday that bring you and your family joy, and don’t feel guilty if that means eliminating previous traditions.
Build a gentle and routine exercise plan. In my own life, I have found committing to a small change and increasing over time is much more effective than committing to a drastic change. Start small: 15 minutes twice a week of light to moderate exercise, and build from there!
If you have a chronic health issue, check in with your doctor regularly, and follow their recommendations to manage your health. If you notice a change, don’t wait to visit your provider!
If you are breastfeeding, focus on the needs of your body and your baby. Make a point to focus on sitting down to feed your baby. Drink plenty of water, and avoid drastic reduction in your food intake.
Including fat in your diet is important, so have that guacamole! Nuts, seeds, olive oil, and full fat dairy are good to include. It’s certainly OK to have those delicious holidays sweets and treats: remember that moderation is your friend here.
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, whether that’s from a good friend, family, or a therapist. We are designed for community, and that includes the community of medical professionals!
Sometimes when you’re hoping to avoid pregnancy, the abstinence can wear on you from delayed ovulation. It’s important to show affection and love to your spouse even during these times. Have a conversation about the best ways to connect intimately in non-sexual ways, and make a point to listen to your spouse to meet their needs. This might mean sharing a cup of tea and conversation after the kids are in bed, offering a back rub, or working on a home project together. My number one recommendation is to pray together, and find an intention for which to offer the struggle. Some of my go-to intentions are for couples suffering from infertility, and couples struggling against impurity.
Finally: what about my NFP chart?
Keep charting, and if you know stress is lurking in your life, set up a follow-up appointment with your instructor. They will have the best tips for you on how to chart through stress and managing long and irregular cycles. I think we’re pretty good listeners, too. We’ve been there, we know it’s rough, and you give us more intentions to add to our prayer list!
Need an instructor? We have plenty! Find a class with a Marquette healthcare professional at mmnfp.com/learn