How Does Stress Affect Your Period?

Having a period, in general, can already be a stressful thing to experience itself. But you may wonder if being stressed out can impact your period. When you’re going through a stressful time, your body produces a hormone called cortisol. An excess of this hormone can cause your period to be irregular. Feeling stressed, especially when it’s chronic, may cause you to miss a period or have no period at all.  

Did you know the stress you’re under might be affecting your period?

We all get overwhelmed from time to time, but significant stressors such as the COVID-19 pandemic can take a greater toll on the body. In a recent survey of 1,031 women, 46% reported experiencing a change in their menstrual cycle since the beginning of the pandemic (Phelan et al., 2021). 

The study also found that 9% of the women who reported missed periods had never previously missed periods before the pandemic (Phelan et al., 2021). It is thought that one reason for this phenomenon could be excessive stress.

How can stress affect your menstrual cycle?

Stress can have a significant impact on the menstrual cycle. When we are stressed, our bodies produce the hormone cortisol. This hormone can interfere with the production of other hormones, including those that regulate the menstrual cycle. As a result, stress can lead to missed or irregular periods. In addition, stress can make premenstrual symptoms more severe. 

Can stress cause irregular periods?

Many women experience irregular periods at some point in their lives, and there can be a variety of reasons for this. One possible cause of irregular periods is stress. When the body is under stress, it releases hormones that can interfere with ovulation, leading to irregular periods. Additionally, stress can impact the lining of the uterus, making it less hospitable for a fertilized egg. As a result, women who are stressed may find that their periods become more irregular. 

Can stress make you miss a period? 

A typical result of being overly stressed is having missed periods. This is known as functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA). FHA has three leading causes: stress-related, weight-loss-related, and exercise-induced (Meczekalski et al., 2014).

When you miss a period due to stress, it is because of excessive amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. The higher the cortisol levels in your system, the greater likelihood you will have missed periods.

How does stress cause missed periods?

According to the Cleveland Clinic (2020), cortisol interferes with your period because it affects a part of your brain called the hypothalamus. High levels of cortisol can put the menstrual cycle on pause.

Normally, the hypothalamus is responsible for releasing hormones, which then stimulate another part of your brain called the pituitary gland. This connection is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. 

During a typical menstrual cycle, the pituitary gland sends a message to your ovaries to release the hormones progesterone and estrogen. These hormones regulate the timing of periods. When you are under stress, the hormonal signaling process can be altered and cause you to miss your period.

The hypothalamus is affected by all kinds of stress you go through, whether that be a break-up, work stress, or an argument with a friend. Experiencing some everyday stress is unlikely to cause a missed period. But when you are under prolonged stress, you may be more likely to have an irregular period.

Other issues that can cause you to miss your period are excessive exercise, caloric restriction, and other associated symptoms of anorexia nervosa (Phelan et al., 2021).

How long can stress delay your period? 

If you are undergoing stress for only a short time, your period may be only a few days late; but for someone dealing with chronic stress, their menstrual period may be delayed for months.

Can stress make your period come early? 

Irregularities in the menstrual cycle occur amongst 2-5% of women of childbearing age. The percentage is even higher for those who experience chronic stress during their menstrual cycle (Nagma et al., 2015).  

While many cases of irregular periods result from a lack of ovulation due to interference by the stress hormone cortisol, other things may cause an irregular period. These factors include obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and anorexia nervosa.

Having a period that arrives early typically happens as a result of hormonal fluctuations. These fluctuations often occur during puberty and during perimenopause (the transitional time before menopause). 

Can stress shorten your period? 

Yes, stress can affect periods in many different ways, whether that be experiencing a longer period, a heavier one, a missed period, or a non-existent period. According to the Cleveland Clinic (2020), excess cortisol can also lead to lighter periods.

Can your period be worse if you’re stressed? 

While psychological stress can make you miss a period, it can also cause PMS-related mood swings and heavier periods (Phelan et al., 2021). Some studies have pointed to the idea that having a higher perceived level of stress makes the experience of having a period worse. 

When your PMS symptoms are severe, you may be diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). According to Johns Hopkins Medicine (n.d.), PMDD is associated with mental health changes such as depression, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, agitation, and moodiness. These symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily functioning. PMDD can also cause physical symptoms such as bloating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and abdominal cramps, among others.

Can you regulate your periods and get them back on track?

The best way to get your period back on track is to manage stress. This can be done through a combination of lifestyle changes and seeking professional help.

How to lower your stress?

There are many ways you can lower your stress. One way is to exercise regularly. Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. A healthy diet is also important for managing stress. Eating foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals can help improve your mood and energy levels. Some good examples of these kinds of foods are leafy greens, fruits, and nuts.

You can also try relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises. These activities can help you focus on the present moment and let go of any stressful thoughts or worries. If you find it difficult to manage stress on your own, you may want to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor.

When to see a doctor? 

It’s essential to see a doctor when you notice you are experiencing any changes to your menstrual cycle, such as missed or late periods. A doctor can help you figure out exactly what is leading you to have an irregular period. While stress is a common cause of a missed period, significant health problems could be causing an irregular cycle.

Seek help from a doctor if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Painful periods: Some cramping is typical during a period; it is a sign that the uterus is contracting. However, if you’re experiencing significant cramping that interferes with daily functioning, it is essential to seek advice from a doctor.
  • Heavy bleeding: If you are bleeding through a pad or tampon every hour, having clots larger than the size of a quarter, need to change a pad at night, or have a period that lasts longer than a week, seek advice from a doctor. These symptoms indicate heavy bleeding, otherwise known as menorrhagia.
  • A longer or shorter cycle than normal: According to Medical News Today, a regular menstrual cycle should last anywhere from 24-38 days. It is normal for the length of the menstrual cycle to vary from person to person.
  • Severe breast tenderness: Some breast tenderness is a typical symptom to have during a period. However, suppose you have breast tenderness accompanied by other symptoms such as changes in the appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple. In that case, you should seek help from a doctor. Another reason to contact a doctor is if you find a lump in your breast. 
  • Spotting between periods: Spotting between periods can be caused by stress. But in some cases, it can be caused by other things, such as uterine cysts, cervical cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease, or endometriosis.
  • Excessive stress or mood changes: Severe mood changes could indicate PMDD, which may be treated by medication and stress reduction tactics. 
  • Migraine before or during your period: Did you know that four out of ten women will experience a migraine in their lifetime? Half of the time, migraines occur during menstruation. Migraine headaches can also be triggered by hormones during different points of the menstrual cycle, including ovulation, from PMS, and during your period.  

Get help from an online doctor 

As you can see, a lot can go on with your periods. But we don’t want you to stress about them! With DrHouse, you can connect to a board-certified doctor in 15 minutes or less. This way you can find answers to all your period questions in a timely fashion. 

DrHouse is a telemedicine app that allows you to have an appointment with an online doctor. During the video call, the doctor can answer all your medical questions, and determine the cause of your period irregularity. 

An online doctor can also provide you with stress management strategies to help reduce stress’s impact on your menstrual cycle. 

DrHouse hires doctors from the top U.S. medical schools, so we can ensure that you are in good hands.

Seeing an online doctor provides you with quick access to medical care.

With DrHouse, you can also get medical prescriptions and prescription refills. The DrHouse app gives you the means to have all of your medical questions answered, so you can be on your way to feeling better in no time. 

Key Takeaways 

There are many possible reasons a menstrual cycle can be irregular, but stress is a primary cause. Ongoing high-stress levels can cause a variety of problems, such as a missed period, a heavier period, a late period, and worse PMS symptoms. 

If you experience significant mental health struggles that interfere with daily functioning in the days leading up to your period, you may have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This condition can be managed successfully with medication and lifestyle changes. 

With DrHouse, we can quickly get to the bottom of what is causing your period irregularities and provide strategies to help you address stress and any other causes.

Sources:

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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