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Young woman experiencing stress and delayed period

Can stress delay your period?

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 [1].

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 [2].

How does stress affect your period?

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 [3]:

  • Maturation and release of eggs in the ovaries
  • Building and shedding of the uterus lining
  • Preparation for egg implantation

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 [3]. 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:

  • Step one – Your regular menstrual cycle starts when your body’s hormones cause you to ovulate, stimulating the release of a mature egg from your ovary.
  • Step two – The egg travels down your fallopian tube toward your uterus, which is preparing for the possible fertilization of the egg [2].
  • Step three – If the egg isn’t fertilized, your hormone levels decrease, and your uterus sheds the tissue it built up. This shedding is often referred to as your period, or menstruation [2].

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 [2].

In addition to having an irregular period, low estrogen levels may also lead to [4]:

  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue, irritability, and moodiness
  • Dry skin

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 [5].

Those who experience amenorrhea are often treated with hormone therapy by a healthcare provider [6].

Are my problems from stress?

While stress may cause a delay in your menstrual period, other common reasons include weight fluctuations, excessive exercise, pregnancy, and menopause [7].

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:

  • Perform a physical exam
  • Check your hormone levels
  • Ask about your stress levels
  • Run any additional lab work they need

Check in on your cycle with Everlywell

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.

At Everlywell, we’re building a world where everyone can access insightful at-home lab tests to monitor their body’s health. Our at-home Sleep and Stress tests and Women’s Health lab tests are affordable and easy to use. Simply follow the instructions, mail in your at-home collection kit, and receive your physician-reviewed results in days.

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References

  1. Stress management stress relief. Mayo Clinic. Published April 8, 2022. Accessed November 4, 2022. URL
  2. What is ovulation? American Pregnancy Association. Published June 13, 2022. Accessed November 4, 2022. URL
  3. William Shaw, PhD; Susan Labott-Smith, PhD, ABPP; Matthew M. Burg, PhD; Camelia Hostinar, PhD; Nicholas Alen, BA; Miranda A.L. van Tilburg, PhD; Gary G. Berntson, PhD; Steven M. Tovian, PhD, ABPP, FAClinP, FAClinHP; and Malina Spirito, PsyD, MEd.Stress effects on the body. American Psychological Association. URL
  4. Low estrogen: Causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed November 4, 2022. URL
  5. Fourman LT, Fazeli PK. Neuroendocrine causes of amenorrhea--an update. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism. Published March 2015. Accessed November 4, 2022. URL
  6. Amenorrhea: Absence of periods. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Accessed November 4, 2022. URL
  7. Stopped or missed periods. NHS. Accessed November 4, 2022. URL
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