Julie McKay, FCP
Stress and Your Cycle Part 1
With the holidays coming up, you probably have a lot on your mind. Whose family are we visiting when? Will the gifts I ordered online arrive on time? What gift will I get for that one person who is so hard to buy for? There are holiday budgets, additional cooking and baking, travel, and family concerns all vying for our attention. Needless to say, stress will often factor into the equation during the holiday season. I love baking Christmas cooking, buying gifts that I think someone will love, and decorating the tree, but there is often stress involved in the preparation and travel that Christmas in particular requires. What does this have to do with charting and the cycle? Stress can do all sorts of things to our cycles. Stress can take different forms. It can be physical, such as jumping from couch potato to an extreme workout routine as a New Year’s resolution. It could be emotional, such as missing at loved one at Christmas time. We can predict some of these potential changes, so they don’t throw us off balance during a busy season in our lives. I always emphasize this with the engaged couples that I teach. I wouldn’t advise trying to predict if your honeymoon will be a fertile or infertile time months in advance. It’s very probable that something will change in your cycle due to stress during the months leading up to the wedding. It’s important to be alert for changes to your cycle due to stress, particularly a double peak.
What is a double peak? This topic is very important for charting and is taught during the normal follow up schedule. Double peaks are usually caused by acute stress, stress that results from some particular life circumstance or event and occurs for a limited amount of time. This stress doesn’t have to stem from something bad. It could be stress stemming from a good thing, such as wedding planning or the holidays. The chart shows two mucus buildups and what looks like two peak days. But wait, is it possible to ovulate twice in a cycle? Nope! Otherwise, the system wouldn’t work. The true peak day is the second one. That’s when ovulation occurs. This may seem like a trick that our bodies are playing on us when we’re already spread thin, but it may actually be our bodies' way of protecting us. Our bodies are amazing. Stress is delaying ovulation. Our bodies are affected by stress, and that stress may be signaling to our bodies that now is not a good time to ovulate and potentially conceive a new life. Our minds and bodies are powerfully connected. While some women may be more likely to observe double peaks during their cycle, such as those who recently stopped taking a birth control pill, are breastfeeding, or have irregular cycles, double peaks can happen to anyone. One study showed that 7.8% of the 564 cycles studied exhibited a double peak.
The good news about double peaks is that they can be predicted by looking at the mucus buildup and seeing if it looks like the normal pattern for you. If it looks unusual, that’s clue #1 a double peak could occur. Are you stressed out or going to be soon? That would be clue #2. Sometimes, there is such a large gap between peak days that it appears you missed your period. In reality, you haven’t missed you period, you just haven’t ovulated yet. Since you haven’t ovulated yet, you won’t have a period until after that 2nd peak. Your practitioner will help you understand double peaks using example charts and a regular review of these concepts during your follow up sessions. It might seem confusing, but you won’t be alone in navigating double peaks. Your practitioner will make sure you have all the knowledge you need to predict whether one might occur in any given cycle. If you’ve been charting for a while, it might it helpful to brush up on double peaks by reviewing the section in the appendix of your introductory booklet.
While it’s important to understand double peaks and how to manage them, there are many other ways that stress can impact your cycle. In a future post, I will dive into other effects of stress on the cycle and how to manage the stress we all experience.