It seems as though stress is basically unavoidable: between tight deadlines at work, our swipe-right-swipe-left dating lives, the noisy neighbors next door who jam out to music at 7 a.m., and our roommate who passive-aggressively leaves her dirty dishes in the sink, there are very few moments when we feel like we’re at ease. And the last thing we want when we’re at our most stressed is for our periods to get off their regular cycle. Unfortunately, our bodies react to stress in the same way that we react to our roommate’s dirty dishes—not well.
The truth is that stress can definitely affect our periods. But if we take care of our bodies, we can attempt to lessen the blow. To get a better understanding of what’s going on with our periods (and just how much our stress levels can stress out our cycles), we tapped Dr. Sheila Loanzon, board-certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist. Read on for a few of her top-line tips.
What Happens When Your Period Is Delayed?
First and foremost, it all comes down to the science of the body. “We have a very delicate cycle that occurs,” Dr. Loanzon says. “There's something in your brain called the hypothalamus that controls hormone levels, which therefore controls the period. There are very precise signals that it gives to the pituitary gland, and that tells your body what to do with the reproductive system.” In other words, this part of the brain controls how hormones get interpreted in the body. “It’s letting your body know that everything is stable, safe, and healthy.”
So Can Stress Delay Your Period?
With all that science-y stuff said, stress can definitely delay your period. It can also make your periods closer together. And, in some cases, it can cause spotting between periods. The important thing to note is that stress doesn’t affect everyone’s periods the same way. “It’s so variable,” Dr. Loanzon notes. “A certain stress that could affect one person may not necessarily affect another person the same way.”
What If It’s Not Stress?
Before you jump to any conclusions, know that stress isn’t the only thing that could be delaying or dysregulating your period. If you’re sexually active and not using contraception or condoms, it’s always a good idea to take a pregnancy test (just in case). If you’re on birth control or another form of hormone contraceptive, this could also affect your cycle. According to Dr. Loanzon, these forms of contraception may make the lining of the uterus so thin, there's nothing to shed. Another potential culprit: emergency contraceptive.
If you recently took Plan B, your next period could get delayed because your body is manipulating your cycle in order for it to lessen your chances of getting pregnant.
When Should You Go To The Doctor?
If your period is delayed by a day or two, there’s likely nothing to worry about. But if you’re sexually active, took a pregnancy test and the result was negative, Dr. Loanzon recommends seeing a doctor if you’re still delayed after one or two weeks. “Most delays present themselves within one or two weeks after the missed cycle,” she says. “We get more concerned when someone has missed their period for 3 months. That’s when I would encourage an intervention.” The concern here is that the uterine lining could become thicker and put you at risk for a condition called endometrial hyperplasia.
The general rule of thumb: wait it out a couple of weeks, and then if you’re still concerned, definitely seek out help from a professional. At this appointment, you can expect your doctor to check Thyroid levels and prolactin levels — and, to be safe, they’ll probably ask you to take another pregnancy test. If all tests come back normal, your doctor will likely discuss stress levels and/or any need to regulate hormones.
How Can You Lessen Stress Levels?
While there’s no magical pill or supplement to make all your stress disappear, there are plenty of ways to curb stress from completely taking over your body. First up: diet and exercise. Sure, we might sound like a broken record, but “your body has a better chance of recovering and stabilizing if you have healthy nutrients available to you,” Dr. Loanzon notes. “An occasional hamburger with a beer is not going to be an issue, but if that is your go-to meal every day, then the body's coping skills decrease because there's no [nutrient] reserve for it.”
And it’s not just diet and exercise that do the trick. Getting in the right amount of ZZZs is also key. “It’s an opportunity for your body to wipe the slate clean, reset its cycle, and leave your stress level at a much lower start level when you wake up,” Dr. Loanzon says.