Stress and Periods: How Stress Affects Your Menstrual Cycle-image

Stress and Periods: How Stress Affects Your Menstrual Cycle

Medically Reviewed by Hertility on March 28, 2024

Stress is bad news, period. It can affect the menstrual cycle, and just about every other bodily process. In this article we’ll cover exactly what stress is, the science behind it, how it can impact our periods, and some top tips for managing it.

Quick facts:

  • Stress is a physiological reaction to elements of our everyday lives. 
  • A little bit of stress can be good, but a lot of constant stress is not so good.
  • When stressed your body produces cortisol and corticotropin-releasing hormone.
  • These can affect several processes throughout your body, including disrupting your menstrual cycle.
  • If you feel stress is negatively impacting you, you can book a session with one of our Counsellors anytime.

What is stress?

Stress is defined as a state of worry caused by a difficult situation. It’s always been a part of human life and is a fundamental element for our survival. 

Stress is a natural part of life and impacts us almost daily. Whilst a small amount of stress can actually be good for us (believe it or not), chronic stress and burnout can end up negatively impacting almost all of our body’s processes—including our menstrual cycles.

The bodily changes you feel when you’re stressed are akin to what your ancestors felt when they were running away from life-threatening predators. Except, nowadays, predators take on the shapes of boardrooms, bosses and bills.

Stress is classed as a state of ‘disharmony’, disrupting the carefully coordinated balance that your body is consistently fine-tuning. Usually, your body’s reaction to stress is temporary and it’s able to revert to its previous state.  

However, it’s increasingly common to be exposed to prolonged periods of stress or several different, unresolved stressors, which cannot be adapted to—resulting in chronic stress. This can feel never-ending and all-encompassing, impacting both our mental and physical health. 

This is the type of stress linked to depression, fertility issues and other health problems.

The science behind stress

The body’s reaction to stress is coordinated by something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis).

The hypothalamus, in the brain, helps encourage the production of hormones like cortisol aka stress hormone (1). These kickstart the body’s stress response and divert the brain’s attention away from other processes, like coordinating your reproductive system.

When we are chronically stressed, our cortisol remains constantly high. This can put us in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’, leading to the body being unable to adequately support other bodily functions.

What is a ‘normal’ period?

To understand how stress may affect your menstrual cycle, it’s important to understand what a ‘normal’ or average cycle looks like. A ‘normal cycle’ can last anywhere from 21 to 35 days, depending on the individual.  

A one-off longer or shorter cycle is still considered normal, but if yours are consistently irregular, it’s worth getting checked out as they could be caused by an underlying health condition, such as PCOS.

Can stress affect your period?

Stress can affect your period in many different ways. This is because your menstrual cycle and your body’s response to stress are both coordinated by the same part of the brain—the hypothalamus.

If you have high cortisol it can disrupt the hypothalamus, disrupting the production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). 

GnRH controls the production and regulation of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH), two hormones incredibly important for the regulation of the menstrual cycle. 

If FSH and LH become disrupted, you’re likely to experience disruptions to ovulation and menstrual cycle regularity. This can also disrupt sexual desire and arousal. One study found that women experiencing high levels of stress showed lower levels of sexual desire, linked to elevated cortisol levels.

Can stress delay your period?

Elevated cortisol levels as a result of stress can effectively delay ovulation by blocking the release of LH. Without a surge in LH, you won’t ovulate. This can make your cycles longer and potentially heavier. On the flip side, high levels of stress are also associated with shorter cycles.

Can stress stop your period?

In situations of chronic stress, ovulation can be prevented for long periods of time (known as chronic anovulation), stopping your period altogether.

This can be due to psychological stress but also periods of intense exercise or eating disorders. Missing periods due to stress is called functional hypothalamic amenorrhoea.

How do I know if stress is the cause of my menstrual cycle changes?

Without the analysis of a medical professional or hormone test, it’s not possible to know for certain that stress is the cause of your menstrual cycle changes. 

Lifestyle factors often work in tandem. Changes to your cycle may be because of a handful of interacting factors. That being said, there are steps you can take to get a better idea of whether stress could be behind your period irregularities. 

Tracking your periods and symptoms, either with a period tracking app or just using a calendar or diary can help you understand if stress is linked to your cycle. Make a note of how irregular or regular your periods are and any symptoms like pain, acne and how you’re feeling emotionally, including stress. 

You can also take our Online Health Assessment. Our assessment analyses your biometrics, medical history, periods and lifestyle factors, to calculate your risk profile and help determine the cause of your symptoms.

By looking at the pattern between your menstrual cycle and stress levels, you should be able to spot if there’s any obvious link. Even if they aren’t linked, just being able to rule out stress as the cause of your period troubles is helpful—you’ll then at least know to direct your attention elsewhere.

If you are under stress consistently, it may be difficult to pinpoint that this is what’s causing your irregular cycles. The best way to establish what is going on with your cycles is to look at your hormone health – you can do this using our tailored at-home Hormone and Fertility Test. By looking at hormones such as testosterone and thyroid-stimulating hormone, we can eliminate other things which can affect your cycle, such as PCOS or abnormal thyroid function.

How can we manage stress?

Although experiencing stress might not feel great in the moment, it does serve an important purpose and actually, in small doses, it’s a powerful motivator, helping us to work harder and achieve our goals. 

Although our modern-day stressors might not be as dangerous as the threats facing our ancestors, they do still present their own problems. They’re often much harder to escape from and more complex to deal with. 

Everyone deals with and experiences stress differently. This can be down to the situation, your life experience and the support network you have, among other things.

There really is no one correct way to deal with stress and we all respond differently to coping methods. These can often be very personal and it can take time to figure out what works for you.

For some people, talking about their feelings with friends and family helps. For others, putting how they are feeling into words can feel like added pressure. There are some great tips for dealing with stress on the NHS website. Don’t be afraid to try a few different ones to find what works best for you.

If you’re worried about how stress is impacting your reproductive health, you can always book a call with one of our Fertility Counsellors, for professional mental health support. 

All of our counsellors are trained psychotherapists accredited with the BACP (British Association of Counsellors & Psychotherapists) and BICA (British Infertility Counselling Association).


  1. Good Thinking UK.  Types of Stress [Online]. [Accessed 23 June 2021]. Available from:
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  3. Hamilton, LD and Meston, CM. Chronic stress and sexual function in women. The journal of sexual medicine. 2013;10(10):2443-54.
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Ruby Relton

Ruby Relton

Ruby is a scientific researcher specialising in reproductive science and women’s health, with a BSc in Biomedical Science from the University of Strathclyde and an MSc in Reproductive Science and Women’s Health from UCL—where she received the Anne McLaren Award for academic excellence, featuring on the Dean's list of outstanding students. Ruby's research includes inequalities and diversity in reproductive health, menopause and sports gynaecology.

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