Medically reviewed on November 22, 2022 by Karen Janson, MS, MD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Feelings of stress, anticipation, or unease can impact the whole body. When a traffic jam or traumatic event triggers your body’s stress response, your brain will produce a stress hormone called cortisol. Long-term activation can lead to mood dysregulation, digestive problems, muscle tension, and memory impairment .
If you have female reproductive organs, chronic stress may also delay your menstrual period.
That said, missing your regular cycle doesn't always mean something is wrong. However, regular disruption of your menstrual cycle can be linked to chronic stress that may suppress normal levels of reproductive hormones in your body .
Your regular menstrual cycle is highly impacted by the level of reproductive hormones in the body. Hormonal imbalance and changes affect a variety of menstrual functions, which trigger :
That said, cortisol—the stress hormone—can impact various reproductive hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, LH, and FSH, which are connected to the brain through the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis . When cortisol is released by the brain, it can disrupt this feedback loop.
To understand how can stress delay your period, let’s first explore how your normal menstrual cycle functions without the interference of cortisol:
When you’re experiencing high levels of stress, the hormones that trigger these steps may become disrupted. As such, you may experience a delayed period. More specifically, cortisol has a strong effect on your body’s ability to make estrogen, which plays a role in the thickening of the uterus lining .
In addition to having an irregular period, low estrogen levels may also lead to :
One study also found that emotional, nutritional, or physical stress can affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which releases epinephrine and norepinephrine during times of stress. In effect, disruptions in the HPA axis are thought to be a primary cause of amenorrhea—the abnormal absence of menstruation for three months or more .
Those who experience amenorrhea are often treated with hormone therapy by a healthcare provider .
While stress may cause a delay in your menstrual period, other common reasons include weight fluctuations, excessive exercise, pregnancy, and menopause .
To determine whether or not your regular period’s absence is stress-related, reflect on your mental health. Oftentimes, feelings of stress are coupled with feelings of irritability, overwhelm, anxiety, and disinterest.
You should also consult with your healthcare provider to receive a personalized assessment of your health. Your healthcare provider may:
The balance of reproductive hormones in your body is delicate, and stress hormones like cortisol can often disrupt this balance and, subsequently, your menstrual cycle. That said, many factors may affect your regular period, including changes in weight and exercise.
To stay in tune and in the know, look to Everlywell.
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