The coronavirus and the resultant lockdown has been impacting our lives in extraordinary ways; conducting our entire social lives on zoom, having to stay two metres away from anyone not in our immediate household and having to plan our shopping with meticulous detail.
But the COVID-19 pandemic may also have had an impact on our periods.
The stress and anxiety we’re feeling while living through a global pandemic can cause shifts in your usual cycle, causing your period to come early, late or not at all.
“Lots of people have been feeling more stressed than usual during the coronavirus pandemic - and this can be a key factor in changes to your menstrual cycle,” explains Dr Simran Deo from Zava UK.
“Being stressed can affect the length of your cycle, make your periods more painful or even make them stop all together.”
The solution to getting our periods back on track, according to Dr Deo, is to try to reduce our stress levels.
And while that is easier said than done with so much anxiety and uncertainty right now, there are a few simple things you can do to help feel a little calmer, such as making time for regular exercise, or trying mindfulness or relaxation techniques or deep breathing and meditation.
“If you're feeling very stressed or anxious and you feel this has affected your menstrual cycle it's a good idea to talk to your GP, who may recommend speaking to a mental health professional as well as carrying out investigations to rule out other possible causes for the changes you have noticed,” Dr Deo adds.
But it isn’t just stress that may have impacted aunt Flo, the change in diet and routine that lockdown has brought could also have had an effect on cycles.
“Many people may have found that they've changed their eating habits during lockdown, and being over or underweight can affect your cycle,” Dr Deo explains.
She suggests trying to keep your BMI within a healthy range - usually between around 18.5 and 30.
Changes to your sleep pattern could also affect your cycle.
“Not getting enough sleep, or a change in your normal routine such as staying up late or working night shifts, can indirectly affect the hormones that impact your menstruation cycle,” Dr Deo explains.
“Poor diet, exercising to excess and drinking too much alcohol may also play a part, so it's important to try to maintain a healthy lifestyle including a balanced diet and regular exercise, even during these difficult times.”
And the loss of our typical every day schedules may have made some women forget to take their contraceptive pill.
“Changes in routine, a busy work schedule and having other things on your mind can all mean forgetting to do things that are usually done routinely, such as taking your daily contraceptive pill,” Dr Deo explains.
“It’s important to remember if you’re on the combined pill and miss one pill anywhere in the pack you’ll still be protected against pregnancy. Just take your missed pill as soon as you remember, even if this means taking two in one day.
“If you've missed two or more pills, you should use extra protection when having sex for the next seven days and you may need emergency contraception.
Like the combined contraceptive pill, the progesterone-only pill should be taken at the same time every day.
“If it is taken more than three hours late (or 12 hours with Cerelle or Cerazette) it might not be effective at preventing pregnancy, so you may need emergency contraception if this happens,” Dr Deo adds.
Can I have a period-free lockdown?
All the change and uncertainty in our lives may also have lead some women to wonder if they need to have a period at all right now.
“Many of us don’t feel our best when we've got our period, and in these already stressful times it can feel like just one more thing to think about. But if it's not convenient to have your period right now there are things you can do,” explains Dr Deo.
“If you take the combined pill it's possible to delay your period by taking the pill ‘back to back’ - in other words, skipping the break when you finish a pack and moving straight on to the next one.
“In fact, the most recent guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggests that for most people, the monthly break isn’t always necessary.
“It is completely safe to do and side effects are unlikely, however you may notice slight break-through bleeding or spotting, if this happens tell your doctor.”
If you're on the progesterone-only pill or aren't on the pill at all, you can try a period delay medication which is available from your GP or via online doctors such as Zava.