Reviewed by

Rebecca Verhofstede - Midwife & Cycle Expert


How Stress Affects Your Period

Reviewed by

Rebecca Verhofstede - Midwife & Cycle Expert

We all experience stress. There’s every-day stress like a bad hair day and then there’s chronic stress that has an influence on your body.

What makes them different? Well, every day stress is normal, and in some cases, a bit of stress can also be helpful (as in, you’re stressed about an upcoming exam, so you study more!)

But can stress affect your period? Yes. Chronic, long-term stress is not so good and too much stress can take its toll on you – and your menstrual health. It can cause acne, headaches, weight gain, hair loss, mood swings, digestive issues and can even mess with your menstrual cycle and fertility. Your body is smart, so it knows that periods of stress aren’t good times to have a baby. If you're not trying for kids you might think that it doesn’t matter to you, but let us tell you something... At Guud Woman we believe every woman deserves a healthy cycle and a healthy cycle is a fertile cycle (this means you need to ovulate on a regular basis).

How Does Stress Affect Your Period?

When your body is stressed, your body will prioritise making more cortisol which is the primary stress hormone. When your body makes more cortisol your progesterone levels decrease because progesterone is the precursor to cortisol. Perhaps this doesn’t sound so bad, but are you wondering if stress can stop your period? And, can stress delay your period or cause a missed period? 

Yes, it can. When hormonal levels go out of whack, it can lead to changes in the frequency and duration of your period and make your menstrual issues worse every month.

The Science Behind Stress and Your Period 

When you’re stressed, your body responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) to help you handle the situation. A system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis controls then kicks into action.

Your HPA axis also interacts with another system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. And it’s this HPG axis that’s responsible for producing sex hormones that play a key role in regulating your period and menstrual cycle. 

If you’re stressed a lot, the repeated activation of your HPA axis can actually change your HPG axis — which can lead to a condition called hypothalamic amenorrhoea (HA).

HA is when your hypothalamus (a region in your brain) doesn’t give the correct signals to produce the hormones you need to regulate your cycle. This causes irregular periods, delayed periods or no periods at all. HA can also be caused by not eating enough or exercising too much. This is because these things cause your body a lot of stress.

What triggers stress? Not only work or emotional problems can lead to more stress but also other factors such as intense workouts, disrupted sleep, too much caffeine & intermittent fasting can put more stress on your body.

Read: The Woman’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting

Stress and Periods: How much stress is too much?

Stress is a problem if you notice any of the following on a regular basis:

- Your period is late

- Your period is early

- Your period stops all-together

- Your period is heavier

- Your period is more painful

- You are spotting between periods

Does stress affect your fertility?

Have you ever heard people say to “just relax” when a couple is experiencing challenges conceiving a baby? Annoying though that comment may be, there may be something to it. Stress and fertility are in fact, closely related. Your clever body has been designed to protect you from danger. It helped our ancient ancestors fight or run from danger. Even though we’re no longer running away from hungry lions, our bodies still react in much the same way when we encounter something stressful. 

Everyday work stress can trigger this response, so if you’re extremely stressed, your body is going to protect you from the demands of pregnancy – it’s number one priority is to help you avoid danger (and you can’t run away from that hungry lion very well if you’re growing a baby!) 

Stress can cause you to stop ovulating, or it can cause a shorter than normal cycle. This could mean that there is not enough time to properly implant a fertilised egg before your period starts. 

What's a girl to do?

You’ve got to find a way to de-stress. Easier said than done, we know, but bringing your cortisol levels down is critical if you’re going to get your hormones back on track.

You can crank down your stress levels by:

  • Making sleep a priority. Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep every night and try to have a consistent bed time.
  • Practice mindfulness. Life, in general, can be stressful, but things like yoga or meditation are proven to help reduce anxiety and lower cortisol levels.
  • Exercise. Aim for at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. If you’re a professional athlete, and you train every day, you may benefit from seeing a doctor who specialises in sports medicine. They will be able to give you advice on how to maintain your performance without disrupting your cycle. At the very least, you need to start prioritising recovery and rest days.
  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine. We’re not saying that you need to give up your morning flat white but know that too much caffeine can make you anxious and jittery. Back off the coffee for a while or try decaf instead.
  • Eat balanced. Because DHA in oily fish, for example, helps maintain normal brain function, and vitamin B6 helps regulate hormonal activity.
  • Magnesium is your best friend: Studies show that magnesium supports normal nervous system function. In addition, magnesium helps with the production of melatonin (= sleep hormone).
  • Have fun! Do something you enjoy every day. Spend time with friends, laugh, listen to music, dance like there’s nobody watching. Letting loose once in a while can do wonders to lower cortisol levels.

When to call in the big guns

  • Most cycles are around 28 days or so, but its common to have a shorter or longer cycle (22-40 days).
  • If you’ve ruled out pregnancy and have missed more than three periods in a row, it’s time to call your GP.
  • If your period is so painful or heavy that it stops you from doing everyday activities, you should also get an appointment with your GP ASAP to rule out anything more serious.

Depending on your medical and personal history, your GP may recommend waiting to see if your periods return on their own. In some cases, you may need treatment for your periods to return.

Looking to get your cycle on track? Need more advice on healthy hormonal balance? Chat with us to help you feel Guud every day of the month.