Stress & your menstrual cycle

Getting pregnant isn’t the only thing that can stop your period. For the last few years, I have been conscious about monitoring my menstrual cycle. I came off the pill in 2020 and have been period tracking ever since. In that time, I’ve noticed that whenever I’ve moved around (moving to Melbourne and now travelling around Europe), my period becomes momentarily absent. After being a little over 10 days late, I thought it was time to assess, research, and write about it. Given that I’ve not had sex in about 3 months, it’s a pretty logical conclusion to say that I’m not pregnant. So, let’s explore the effect that psychological stress, anxiety, and change have on the menstrual cycle.

What affects our cycle

There are a number of things that can cause changes to your cycle. This change could be anything from an increase or a worsening of your premenstrual symptoms, to an irregular period, to a loss of your period. With a loss of your period comes a loss of ovulation, too. Our cycles can be altered by weight gain or weight loss, over-exercising, and conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). As feminine women, we are designed to be soft around the edges, to be nourished, and to get adequate rest. Our bodies do not take well to prolonged, intense physical exercise (like marathon training, for example) or not eating the right (or enough) food. But how exactly does stress on our bodies affect the menstrual cycle?

How it affects our cycle

Our menstrual cycle is regulated by what is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA axis. This axis is responsible for the release and regulation of hormones and is intertwined with your autonomic nervous system (ANS). Because the ANS regulates homeostasis in your body, an increase in stress levels can cause dysregulation. When you’re stressed, your brain (specifically your hypothalamus) produces cortisol. Because your cycle is also coordinated by the hypothalamus (via the HPA axis), high cortisol production can take priority over our reproductive hormones like gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH is responsible for the release of two hormones that play an important role in our cycle – follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone. Without these hormones, ovulation and our period can be delayed or even stopped.

Getting back on track

Whether it’s physical or psychological stress, we all experience it. If you know you’ve been training too hard or haven’t been nourishing your body lately, that’s okay. What’s important is being aware of the potential cause and making the necessary changes. For me, I know my body struggles with big changes, like moving to new places or travelling for extended periods. Travel is stressful. There’s a lot more uncertainty, little routine, and you don’t have easy access to high quality foods for every meal. And don’t underestimate the effects of enough good-quality sleep and rest.

If it’s emotional or psychological stress that is worrying you, journalling is a great way to get all your thoughts out. I also love watching sitcoms (laughter is the best medicine, trust me). Tracking your cycle is a tool that I recommend to keep on top of when you ovulate and when your period is expected. If you can see (or you know in your gut) that something is off, that is your time to make some changes.


Kait x

Cover photo by Cottonbro Studio