Can stress make your period late?

You might have heard that one of the primary reasons for a missed or late period is stress. Well, yes, stress can affect everything: your physical health, routine, appetite, mood, and your menstrual cycles too. Pretty much everything related to women’s health can be affected by stress. That’s why it’s vital for you to know how stress affects your menstrual cycle and how it can be dangerous for your reproductive health.

Stress usually causes headaches, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and above all, hormonal imbalance. That is where it begins to affect your monthly cycle. Daily life stressors like meeting deadlines like for an assignment, workplace stress, and relationship conflicts can cause your period to be delayed. Even some severe stressors like losing a job or a loved one can cause your period to stop altogether.

This article focuses on everything you need to know about stress and its relation to menstruation and answers your one question, “why is my period late.”

How long can stress delay your period?

A woman’s menstrual cycle is around 21-35 days, but the average menstrual cycle is 28 days. The number of days a period can be late can vary from woman to woman. The average number of days to consider your period being late is around 5 days or more. 

Every woman will experience a late period once in their lifetime, so it’s okay if you’re going through it right now. 

If your period is 4 days late and this is the first time this is occurring (and you’ve taken a pregnancy test), you are probably fine and have nothing to worry about. If this is something that happens at least 3 times a year or more than you should talk to your doctor to see what could be going on in your body that is beyond just stress. 

Can stress affect Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS) symptoms?

Although most of the research done on the correlation between PMS and stress is inconclusive, it is believed that changes in hormones related to the menstrual cycle and the brain chemical serotonin are to blame for the negative symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome. PMS causes symptoms such as cramps, fatigue, bloating, irritability, sadness, and stress. With that being said, it’s hard to determine whether PMS causes stress or the other way around.

How does stress affect your period?

When a woman is undergoing a lot of stress, her body responds negatively to it. A study conducted by Sommer identifies the relationship between stress and the menstrual cycle. Stress causes a rise in the production of stress hormones, primarily cortisol. Cortisol, in turn, affects the production of other hormones such as the reproductive hormones, estrogen, and progesterone.

Disruption in the levels of estrogen and progesterone delays your period and might even stop them altogether. (1) Stress can affect your period because of various causes.

Here are some reasons for a late period:
  1. Inhibition of progesterone receptors. Cortisol, the stress hormone, inhibits the progesterone receptors, which bind progesterone, a hormone necessary to induce your period. This ultimately affects not only your monthly cycle but also jeopardizes your ability to conceive. (2)
  2. Changes in the flow, length, and color of your period. Hormonal imbalances in stress can affect your period’s time, the color of your menstrual blood, flow, and the length of your period. This means that stress can still affect your cycle even if ovulation has occurred. (3)
  3. Increase in blood sugar levels. Chronic stress might result in the overproduction of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone which under stressful conditions, uses the body stores to produce glucose. This excess glucose ends up in our blood, raising our blood sugar level and may lead to diabetes. Studies have reported that diabetic women experience irregular menstrual cycles. (4)
  4. Delayed ovulation. Chronic stress and high cortisol levels interfere with the normal production of hormones. Interference with hormone production may lead to delayed ovulation, anovulation (no ovulation at all), or absence of menstruation. Therefore, chronic stress not only disrupts your normal menstrual cycles and ovulation, but it might also result in poor pregnancy outcomes such as premature birth. (5)

Can stress cause a missed period?

Most of the time, your period arrives on time, but sometimes periods can be missed for so many different reasons. 

One of the reasons could take you by surprise, which is possibly being pregnant, of course. But other things like sudden weight changes, starting new hormonal birth control pills, or being diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome are a few that could be causing a delay or missed period altogether.

Like stress, depression can also be a reason for a missed period. According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, people who experience high levels of stress are at a higher risk of experiencing depression. Depression can lead to a shift in hormones, which can cause amenorrhea, the medical term for a missed period.

How to destress yourself and normalize your cycle?

Getting in touch with your body and identifying what’s stressing you is the first step if you’re wondering where to begin. You don’t have to rush the healing process, take small steps, and try to overcome the stressors in your life. Managing unhealthy habits and de-stressing may lead to regular menstrual cycles and better reproductive health.

Here are 7 ways by which you can destress yourself and normalize your monthly cycle:

1. Practice yoga

A 2013 study has shown that yoga is very effective in soothing the mind and dealing with menstrual abnormalities. The study concluded that 30-40 minutes of yoga, 5-6 days a week, can help in normalizing hormonal levels that are disrupted by stress, causing your period to be delayed, irregular, or absent. (6)

2. Exercise regularly

Chronic stress may lead to diabetes and weight gain. (7) What’s important is that weight gain, whether due to stress or other factors, might lead to irregular menstrual cycles and flow. A healthy amount of regular exercise might help you in maintaining a healthy body weight, overcoming stress, and having a regular period every month.

3. Take healing baths

A relaxing warm water bath with Epsom salts and essential oils twice a week can help detoxify your body and decrease abnormally high-stress levels. Similarly, packs of mud, clay, seaweed, and charcoal can also detoxify your body, remove oxidative stress, improve healing, and promote good health and wellbeing. (8)

4. Take your vitamins daily

According to a 2015 study, low levels of vitamin D are linked to hormonal imbalances and irregular periods. In addition, vitamin D also interferes with your ovulatory function affecting your reproductive health. (9)

If you want to ensure a normal menstrual cycle and good reproductive health, then you should not skip your daily dose of vitamins. In return, this will not only keep you stress-free but will also keep that flow going.

5. Sleep well

A daily routine of staying up way past midnight, waking up late, or not getting enough sleep may lead to persistent stress and an imbalance in your hormones. (10) Having healthy sleeping habits and getting 7-9 hours of sleep in a day is essential to keep your body stress free and healthy. 

6. Consider taking CBD

CBD has been on the rise for the last couple of years and has been shown to help with stress, anxiety, depression, and inflammation in the body. Studies have shown that CBD oil decreases anxiety by restoring the body’s neurotransmitter system, and also regulating the endocannabinoid system that becomes unbalanced because of chronic stress. For instance, When you take CBD it binds to two receptors in the body CB1 and CB2 and creates a positive response in the body helping relieve people from anxiety and inflammation.

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7. Eat healthily

Many people consider caffeine-containing tea and coffee and alcohol to be the best stress relievers; however, this is not true. Both these ingredients actually increase your cortisol levels in the long run. (11) You should look into incorporating ingredients like maca root (12) and apple cider vinegar in your diet, which not only reduces your stress levels but also helps in normalizing your menstrual cycle. For instance, when you look at your plate make sure it is colorful meaning it has lots of vegetables, fruits, and different types of fats like mixed nuts. Go from eating just greens to a rainbow! The more colorful your diet is, the greater the range of health benefits.

table with healthy foods to help bring back late period or missed period.

Bottom-line

To conclude, stress might contribute a lot when it comes to irregular, delayed, or absent periods. As a result, women suffering from chronic stress not only experience short-term health problems but are at increased risk of acquiring long-term diseases like diabetes, heart problems, and more.

You might have heard the Latin phrase, ‘Mens sana in corpore sano,’ meaning a healthy mind in a healthy body. This phrase signifies how important good mental health is with respect to good physical health. Therefore, ensuring a destressed mind is very important for good health and overall wellbeing.


Works Cited

  1. Dr. Barbara Sommer Ph.D. (1978) Stress and Menstrual Distress, Journal of Human Stress, 4:3, 5-47, DOI: 10.1080/0097840X.1978.9934989
  2. Karalis, K., Goodwin, G. & Majzoub, J. Cortisol blockade of progesterone: A possible molecular mechanism involved in the initiation of human labor. Nat Med 2, 556–560 (1996). Cortisol blockade of progesterone: A possible molecular mechanism involved in the initiation of human labor
  3. Barsom, S. H., Mansfield, P. K., Koch, P. B., Gierach, G., & West, S. G. (2004). Association between psychological stress and menstrual cycle characteristics in perimenopausal women. Women’s Health Issues, 14(6), 235-241.
  4. Cawood, E. H. H., Bancroft, J., & Steel, J. M. (1993). Perimenstrual symptoms in women with diabetes mellitus and the relationship to diabetic control. Diabetic medicine, 10(5), 444-448.
  5. Kalantaridou, S. N., Makrigiannakis, A., Zoumakis, E., & Chrousos, G. P. (2004). Stress and the female reproductive system. Journal of reproductive immunology, 62(1-2), 61-68.
  6. Rani, M., Singh, U., Agrawal, G. G., Natu, S. M., Kala, S., Ghildiyal, A., & Srivastava, N. (2013). Impact of Yoga Nidra on menstrual abnormalities in females of reproductive age. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19(12), 925-929.
  7. Van Jaarsveld, C. H., Fidler, J. A., Steptoe, A., Boniface, D., & Wardle, J. (2009). Perceived stress and weight gain in adolescence: a longitudinal analysis. Obesity, 17(12), 2155-2161.
  8. THIS, INSIDE. “DETOXIFICATION: AGeneral OVERVIEW.”
  9. Jukic, A. M. Z., Steiner, A. Z., & Baird, D. D. (2015). Lower plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D is associated with irregular menstrual cycles in a cross-sectional study. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 13(1), 20.
  10. Huang, Y., Mai, W., Hu, Y., Wu, Y., Song, Y., Qiu, R., … & Kuang, J. (2011). Poor sleep quality, stress status, and sympathetic nervous system activation in nondipping hypertension. Blood pressure monitoring, 16(3), 117-123.
  11. Lovallo, W. R., Farag, N. H., Vincent, A. S., Thomas, T. L., & Wilson, M. F. (2006). Cortisol responses to mental stress, exercise, and meals following caffeine intake in men and women. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 83(3), 441-447.
  12. Mistry, J. Benefits of Maca.