Can Stress Really Delay Your Menstrual Cycle?
You’re running late to a meeting that you were up all night preparing for and spent the last week researching while juggling the rest of your busy schedule and maintaining your home. You know that you’re supposed to start your period soon, so that must be why everything feels so overwhelming, right?
The last thing you need is to go to the bathroom to find your period hasn’t even arrived. What might feel like momentary relief can lead to deep-set panic as your delayed period ends up being straight-up late. Even if you’re not someone who meticulously tracks their period, you can usually tell about when you’re going to start. So if that time passes, it is natural to start sweating over it.
While you should always keep your doctor up to date on any changes in your cycle, it is essential to take a breath and reflect. The busy schedule, hectic workplace, and stress of everyday life could be bogging you down in more ways than you’re aware. Stress can do a lot to our bodies, like lead to acne, weight loss or gain, and even upset pH balance. But can stress actually delay your period?
What Stress Does To The Body
Stress hormones can make the body feel like it is in a dangerous situation. The fight or flight response kicks in, and many symptoms manifest at the first sign of stress. These immediate onset symptoms include:
Elevated heart rate
Shallow or heavy breathing
These are just the immediate effects of stress hormones on the body. Much like with prey animals, stress will cause a chemical reaction that sets our bodies into fight or flight. Unfortunately, we often cannot choose between fight or flight and instead ignore the stress and go on with our day.
This reaction causes problems too. A build-up of stress hormones will wreak havoc on the body by disrupting natural functions. While it may not be immediate, it can cause moderate to severe health problems that will wear away at your system over time. This is why you’ve likely heard the phrase “stress is toxic,” because it can literally poison the body.
If your body is working with the danger signal firing day after day, you’re going to start to notice some issues. It may begin with disrupted sleep or blemishes when your skin is usually clear, but these things can evolve and get worse. You may notice effects like:
An increase in anxiety or depression episodes
Weakened immune response
Heightened blood pressure
Disrupted menstrual cycles
Because our nervous system works in tandem with the rest of our body, every other system is affected when the body is under stress. This means the endocrine, digestive, cardiovascular, respiratory, immune, muscular, and reproductive systems are all subject to stress-related problems and disruptions. So many of us live in a constant state of stress and don’t realize the toll it takes on our bodies.
How Stress Affects The Immune System
Stress hormones can positively affect the immune system in short bursts, but your immune system is in trouble when it comes to the long-term impact. Stress hormones begin to chip away at your immunity over time, weakening it until your body’s response to fight back against illness is delayed. It is like having someone slowly chip away at the fence of your home until there is a big enough hole for animals and other unwanted pests to get in.
If you are prone to candida overgrowth, a weakened immune system may mean that you start having outbreaks of yeast infections. This can be under the arms, breasts, and, most commonly, the vagina. Candida overgrowth can be incredibly painful, and the stress of this condition can further the problem. Your pH balance is delicate, and stress can upset it entirely.
How Stress Affects The Menstrual Cycle
Just like it weakens your immune system, your cycle is prone to upsets related to stress hormones. Stress exhausts the body and weakens the immune system, and your reproductive system is challenged under these conditions. Stress can actively inhibit the menstrual cycle and cause a multitude of issues. These issues could be anything like:
Heavier or lighter periods
Stress hormones imbalance other hormones, which can cause periods to be late, early, or skip a month altogether. This can be incredibly scary for multiple reasons, but especially if you can get pregnant. It raises alarm bells that something may be going on, even if it is just stress impacting your cycle.
This happens because your brain controls your period. It sends signals to your body, directing it when to release hormones and begin your cycle. Unfortunately, with stress, your body produces cortisol, which causes delays, irregularity, and lightness or heaviness of your period.
If stress is causing delayed or missed periods often enough to be concerning, you should consult your doctor as it can cause further issues. A missed period or a few means that your estrogen and progesterone aren’t releasing correctly; this can affect your cardiovascular and bone health and worsen your mood. You’ll want to level this out. In addition to stress making you feel bad physically, it can also have a significant impact mentally.
Stress has also proven to cause more painful periods. It can increase your clotting and cause painful cramping due to the irregularity in your hormones. Passing clots, in general, can be somewhat painful, and the rise in cortisol levels can affect the clotting of your menstrual blood.
This can also have further repercussions when it comes to your reproductive system.
How Stress Affects Your Reproductive System
As stress hormones disrupt the menstrual cycle, they can also cause problems with fertility. Not only can stress reduce libido, but it can also affect ovulation. With cortisol levels affecting the release of estrogen and progesterone, your body can’t get the signal to release an egg. If you’re already struggling with fertility, stress is only going to make it worse.
Stress can also reduce or increase vaginal discharge. In addition to reduced libido, this can make sex uncomfortable if you get too dry. As we’ve talked about, your immune system goes hand in hand with your reproductive system, and you can develop a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis if your pH becomes imbalanced.
How Can You Fix It?
While it can feel impossible to improve your stress when you’re already at your breaking point, there are small things you can do to improve your stress levels. Your health is essential, so you need to prioritize it even with other responsibilities looming over your head. Tiny changes like getting more sleep or making time for walks or yoga can help bring your stress levels down significantly.
Although it isn’t as easy as it sounds, with tightly packed schedules and little wiggle room to decompress, there are little things you can do to keep stress from taking control of your life.
Get Better Sleep
Easier said than done, right? But studies show that having a consistent bedtime routine can help reduce stress levels significantly. Even if you have trouble falling or staying asleep, minor changes to your bedtime ritual can have a significant impact on your health. Some of the simplest things like cutting down your screen time or adding essential oils to your routine can help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer.
Though these methods won’t work for everyone, here are some recommendations for what to do for less stressful sleep:
Aromatherapy: Lavender, rose, and chamomile all have naturally calming properties and will help relax you so you can sleep more peacefully. Essential oil diffusers are popular, but you can also get pillowcases or sprays for your pillows and blankets with these scents if you don’t want the diffuser running all night.
Melatonin: Whether you’re getting it from a vitamin or a sleepytime tea blend, adding a little extra melatonin might help you sleep better. Though we make it naturally to help us sleep, it can be more challenging for some people, so supplementing makes sleep easier and less of a hassle.
Meditation: Taking time out of your evening that would usually be spent scrolling Twitter or Tik Tok and using it to center yourself can improve sleep immensely.
Shutting Off Electronics: Blue light and constant scrolling keep your brain active when you’re trying to settle down for bed. The best thing to do for better sleep is to shut your electronics off 30 to 45 minutes before bed so you can focus on getting yourself ready for bed without distractions.
Take Time For You
This is also easier said than done, but even with a constantly packed schedule, you need to be able to carve out time for relaxation and recovery. This could mean taking a half-hour a day to enjoy a beverage of your choice and read a magazine. It could mean going for a jog or doing yoga to center yourself while boosting endorphins.
Whatever you want to do to take time for yourself and make things feel a little bit lighter, you should do it. You only have one body, and you can’t burn it out before you’ve even gotten to do all the things you want to do with your life. So have a snack, break out your favorite sex toy, binge a little bit of Netflix cause everything will be all right if you just take some time to breathe.
Another great way to regulate your hormones and drive down stress levels is to have a little bit of “me” time. Masturbation or having sex are great ways to release endorphins and reduce stress. The endorphins released from an orgasm have also been known to help with period cramps, regulating sleep, and lowering cortisol levels.
So, find your favorite toy or grab your partner for some fun time between the sheets because it really is good for your health!
If you’re noticing that your menstrual cycle isn’t regulating even when your stress levels have lowered, you need to talk to your doctor. Any disruption in your cycle that lasts should be taken seriously, and your doctor will be able to help you find the root of the problem. Whether it is a side effect of prolonged stress or it is something more serious, they’ll be able to help you get a handle on things so you can start feeling better right away.
Periods can be stressful enough without external stress and anxiety adding to the problem. Your doctor or a therapist can help you regulate the stress in your life and get your period back to normal. So don’t sweat the small stuff and put your health first. Your body and your cycle will thank you for taking some time to destress and prioritize yourself.