A woman with dark hair and a pink sweater is pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration

Can Stress Delay Your Period?

By Audrey Cabanel
April 17, 2024

As if periods aren’t already frustrating enough with their side effects, stress can have a strong impact on their regularity. To get straight to the point, yes, stress can cause you to have a delayed or irregular period, or even fully skip one. If you’re experiencing an irregular period, we want to provide some resources to help you understand what may be causing your period to fluctuate, and give you access to tools and ways to control your cycle. Whether you are skipping your period by choice or because of stress, you deserve to know the facts and we’re here to give them to you straight.

Can you miss a period and not be pregnant?

When your period is late, one of your first thoughts may be, “AM I PREGNANT?!?!” If you’ve been having sex without a regular form of birth control, you may want to take a test, but if you’ve been using contraception or are not sexually active, something else may be going on. Delayed or skipped periods can occur for a number of different reasons:

  • Stress
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Increased your work out
  • PCOS
  • Hormonal birth control
  • Perimenopause or early menopause
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic conditions (celiac, or diabetes)

Take a closer look at any recent lifestyle changes or factors that may be increasing your stress. Changes to your weight, stress levels, or exercise levels can often lead to period irregularity. If, however, your missed periods are paired with other symptoms like fatigue or pain, you may want to talk to your doctor to further investigate whether your skipped periods are a sign of something deeper.

How much delay is normal with your periods?

It’s important to understand what is categorized as a late period. Usually your cycle should start within 24-38 days of your previous period. If you are 7 days past your expected date, that is usually considered late. While you may have been taught in health class that a “normal” cycle is 28 days, it’s actually pretty typical for your period to not fall on the exact same day each month and to have more of a window where your period may occur.

When you are on the birth control pill, for example, your period frequency can vary. Many women find they stop having a period altogether, or their period lightens significantly. You can also choose to intentionally skip your period while using the pill to avoid painful symptoms, PMS, or a very heavy flow.

If you’ve just started birth control, your body may take time to adjust and you may experience a few missed periods before returning to baseline.

How can stress delay your period?

Let’s dive into stress and the effect it can have on your cycle. To understand how stress can delay your period, we’re going to get into the exciting science behind it.

There’s a part of your brain called the hypothalamus that is responsible for balancing and changing your hormones when responding to stress. When experiencing stress,that part of your brain releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol acts as an alarm that is built into your brain, which increases or decreases depending on your levels of stress. When you are stressed, your level of cortisol rises. These levels of cortisol can remain high for a long period of time depending on the stress you are experiencing. Cortisol can impact the production of other hormones that control various bodily functions, like the ones involved in your period.

During the follicular phase of your cycle, your levels of estrogen and progesterone are lower, triggering your uterine lining to shed—this is your period. However, when these levels of estrogen and progesterone are changed by cortisol, the shedding of the uterine lining can’t happen, which leads to a delay of your period. If you are experiencing prolonged stress—say because of work or a relationship—as opposed to immediate stress, this means your hormones are being affected for longer, which can lead to you having multiple delayed periods or no menstrual cycle at all.

So now that you know the science behind it, stress can be a common factor affecting your menstrual cycle. Because cortisol impacts many functions in your body, it is important to keep your levels of stress low. Easier said than done right? We get it. Be there done. A great way to understand your cycle and stress better is by keeping track (maybe with a journal or on your phone). That way you can keep track of what makes you stressed out or affects your mood, and can better understand why your period is irregular or delayed.

Periods can also be a source of stress, so why not take a break from your period. Our Control Your Cycle products allow you to choose how to do just that—control your cycle! Sometimes periods can be very painful, stressful and come at the wrong time—you have options. Learn more about how to delay your period.

What kind of stress can cause a delayed period?

It’s important to understand the levels of stress that impact your period and to what degree it will change your cycle. If you have higher levels of stress, your levels of cortisol will increase causing your estrogen and progesterone levels to change more dramatically. Which means you will have more irregular or missing periods.

If you are experiencing a high amount of stress over a long period of time, this could mean you are experiencing delayed or missed periods frequently. Even short term stress, like a traumatic incident, can lead to long term impact as a result of the fight-or-flight response. Your cycle can become interrupted as your body responds to a perceived threat and you may experience period irregularity and interrupted ovulation. It is important that if you notice your periods to be increasingly irregular that you consult your physician to be sure what the cause is. While it is typical for stress to affect your cycle, it’s important that you be sure what is the cause of irregular periods.

While stress is a normal emotion to experience, it’s important to notice how it affects you. There is still so much we don’t talk about when it comes to women’s reproductive health, and periods are at the center of that conversation. Mental health and physical health go hand in hand, so if you are having experiences that negatively impact your health it’s important to talk about them and know you can get help.

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