Can stress affect your period?

There are varying levels of stress in life, from bad days at work to losing a loved one. Can stress affect your period?

Stress is a psychological and physiological reaction to changes in a person’s environment. These changes can be emotional, physical, social or cultural. Stress is a normal reaction that can seem like a constant companion in modern life. Can stress affect your period?

Types of stress

Not all stress responses are equal; stress can have both positive and negative effects on the body. There are activities that can produce significant levels of stress, such as exercise and social activities, that can have positive effects on health.

However, when many people think and talk about stress, they are referring to the chronic or negative forms of stress. Examples of this can be too many demands of work, family or the death of a loved one. People experiencing this type of stress often have symptoms such as feelings of being unable to handle daily life tasks or having limited or no control over their life’s direction. They can become easily angry or irritated. This stress type can have negative effects on a person’s short-term and long-term health.

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Stress and the menstrual cycle

The brain actually controls your period through the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus releases chemicals that stimulate the pituitary gland, which then stimulates the ovaries to release estrogen and progesterone, two period-inducing hormones.

The hypothalamus is sensitive to factors such as sleep, exercise or stress. When you’re experiencing stress, the body makes cortisol, which can create issues with the menstruation cycle process between the hypothalamus, pituitary and ovary. This can lead to the body suppressing the levels of estrogen and progesterone needed for ovulation, causing anovulation (no ovulation, no egg is released) or amenorrhea (no period). Additionally, stress also may affect the length of a period and potentially how much pain you may experience.

How stress affects the menstrual cycle is unique to each person. Additionally, we each respond differently to various stress-causing events in our lives.

What you can do

If you think your period is being affected by stress, you will want to talk to your health care provider. You will want to reach out after you notice three very different periods in a row (different in length, flow, any pain, etc.) or you’ve missed three periods and have ruled out pregnancy.

A provider can help pinpoint what may be causing your missed periods, from stress to other conditions such as thyroid issues or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Your provider also will likely recommend ways to help you build resilience to stress in an effort to lower cortisol levels naturally. Some actions you can take to lower cortisol can include:

  • Exercise
  • Getting consistent, restful sleep
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Talking with friends or family
  • Social interaction and hobbies

Managing stress is helpful not only for more regular periods, but also stabilizing your mood, promoting bone health and heart health.

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