Can stress affect your period?

Young woman lying in bed and suffering from stomach pain

Is stress behind your irregular or missed period? Here’s how to tell.

Stress and periods go together like tea and cake – but not in a good way. As if getting your period wasn’t anxiety-inducing enough (time to get the hot water bottle out, yet again), stress can also cause major changes to your period and menstrual cycle, namely delaying it. A recent study found that high levels of stress can cause irregular periods.

Now isn’t that ironic.

Stressing about not getting or missing your period can actually make you not get your period. It’s a real chicken-and-egg scenario. Or, in this case, stress-about-the-not-fertilised-egg and the not-fertilised-egg scenario.

Stress less and use our period tracker to know when your period is due to start and end.

Can stress bring on a period?

Even if you rarely have to deal with irregular periods, sometimes stress can throw a spanner in the works and mess up your whole menstrual cycle, causing it to be early or late. Stress levels often affect the part of your brain that controls your hormone levels – the hypothalamus – which means the stress you’re experiencing may cause your period to come when you’re not expecting it – which means it’s possible that your period will come early. There’s also a link between women working stressful jobs and having short cycles (less than 24 days).

Can stress cause a missed or late period?

When your body is so under pressure trying to keep you calm and reacting to what’s happening around you, you can become anxious, and then your body’s hormones hold off on critical parts of your menstrual cycle, like ovulation. Think about it from a cavewoman perspective. Stress causes your body to go into fight-or-flight mode, and if you’re running from a giant woolly mammoth, it makes sense that your body would be less concerned about having a baby in that moment and hit pause on keeping your reproductive system ready to go. So although this does introduce a whole new set of stress, your body probably thinks that Cavewoman-you would likely not have time to even think about why your period was late.

In an ideal scenario though, you wouldn’t be so anxious that your body interprets your stress level as running-from-woolly-mammoth-high, but you get the picture.

How long can stress delay your period? Can it stop your period completely?

Stress can delay your period, but the good news is that stress shouldn’t completely stop your period. If you’ve gone more than six weeks (the amount of time it takes to classify a period as fully “missed”) since your last period, it may be time to see a doctor and make sure everything is okay.

Can stress cause spotting?

Absolutely. That fight-or-flight response we mentioned above isn’t limited to just shutting your period down or delaying it for a few days. Stress can also cause spotting, which is when you kind of have a little bit of blood coming out (you might notice it when you use the bathroom or wipe), but not enough to qualify as a full period. This often happens between periods, leading to confusion.

Okay, you’re right, I’ve been under a lot of pressure recently. How do I fix my menstrual cycle so that stress doesn’t impact it anymore?

As great as it would be if there were a way to communicate to your body that you’re done worrying and ready for your period to come, it’s easier said than done. Make sure you’re taking time for yourself to do things you like and enjoy. Yes, ‘doing you’ might just be exactly what your body (including your entire reproductive system and menstrual cycle) needs right now.

And if worrying about whether your period is late or not is the number one thing that’s bothering you and keeping you up at night, it might be worth booking an appointment to see the doctor. Ringing up to make the appointment might be a bit of a pain, but the peace of mind you’ll feel afterwards if you are able to find a cause and remedy it (or at least be soothed by your doctor and told, “It’s no big deal” by someone qualified) may be worth it.

What are some other possible reasons behind my irregular period? What are some common late period causes besides stress?

There are a lot of factors besides stress that can impact your menstrual cycle and cause a delayed or late period, like pregnancy, contraception (both starting and stopping contraception can throw your system off-balance for a while), menopause, weight loss, and too much exercise. Hormone changes could also be a reason why your period is late that you may want to discuss with your doctor.