Stress Can Cause You to Miss a Period

Stress hormones affect menstruation. This can cause your period to either be late or not arrive at all. We explain why this happens and what you can do about it.
Stress Can Cause You to Miss a Period
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Some women have menstrual periods with the precision of a Swiss watch. Others are more irregular. However, if there’s one thing guaranteed to generate shock and concern, it’s seeing weeks go by without the appearance of a period. There are many factors (some more obvious than others) that explain why you might miss a period, but there’s one that’s particularly common: stress.

We know that certain levels of stress and anxiety are optimal. In fact, they act as natural drivers and motivators to mobilize us, help us achieve goals, and face certain situations. Nevertheless, when this accumulation of adrenaline and cortisol is too high and is maintained over time, the body suffers.

Muscle pain, digestive disorders, tachycardia, diarrhea, frequent urination, and, in the case of women, the annoying delays in the appearance of periods occur frequently. That said, amenorrhea doesn’t appear only due to stress and there are more variables that must be ruled out.

Stress alters the functioning of the hypothalamus which can affect the menstrual cycle.

girl who suffers the absence of the menstrual period due to stress
The simple fact that menstruation doesn’t occur intensifies stress even more.

Characteristics and causes of a missed period

The absence of the menstrual period, or amenorrhea, often has its origin in the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. Research conducted by the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute (USA) claims that hypothalamic amenorrhea is caused by psychological stress, excessive exercise, or eating disorders (ED).

Stress is undoubtedly the most recurrent circumstance and the easiest to manage. That’s because, as a rule, any alteration to the menstrual cycle doesn’t go beyond a month (two months maximum). Indeed, it tends to regulate itself and doesn’t cause any major problems. However, there are certain situations that are linked to depressive disorders.

An investigation conducted by the Medical Center, Orlando (USA) claims that there’s a significant association between depression and early perimenopause. In other words, women of 40 years of age or younger can sometimes face early menopause as a result of depression. In all cases, having a proper diagnosis is key.

How does a missed period due to stress manifest?

A woman’s menstrual cycle is often an extremely revealing barometer with respect to her levels of stress, and whether they’re acute or chronic. As a rule, it causes the following:

  • Lack of energy and concentration problems.
  • Diarrhea or constipation.
  • Digestive disturbances.
  • Headache.
  • More hair loss than usual.
  • Jaw, neck, or back pain.
  • Tachycardias.
  • Cognitive alterations such as memory problems.
  • Non-appearance of the symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as breast pain or abdominal cramps.
  • Delay in the onset of menstruation. This further intensifies the feelings of worry and stress.

Why might you miss a period?

As you know, hormones play a determining role in the menstrual cycle. The impact of stress, if it continues for several weeks and is intense, can completely upset the internal harmony between estrogen and progesterone. The main responsible for a delay in menstruation is cortisol, known as the stress hormone.

Cortisol alters the functioning of the hypothalamus. This structure controls the pituitary gland, which is key to the regulation and correct release of hormones in the body.

Due to this hypothalamic dysfunction, the ovaries stop producing estrogen. It completely alters processes such as ovulation and the menstrual cycle itself.

Reducing levels of stress and applying appropriate emotional coping mechanisms or problem-solving techniques can allow hormonal harmony and normal menstruation to be restored.

How many periods can stress delay?

Stress can usually cause you to miss a period for a month or two. However, keep in mind that any irregularity in periods should be mentioned to a gynecologist. That’s because, behind amenorrhea, in addition to pregnancy, stress, or eating problems, could lie endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Woman meditating on the beach to treat her missed period
Each woman must find the mechanisms that allow her to better manage stress on a daily basis.

Managing stress to avoid alterations in health

The absence of a period can appear due to some factors that you can control and others that escape you completely. Sometimes, certain shocking or traumatic events can cause, due to the high emotional load, a period to be delayed by several weeks. It’s perfectly normal and, in this kind of situation, your body will gradually regulate itself.

On the other hand, it’s also common for circumstances such as work pressure or even study to deregulate your hormones and raise your levels of stress and anxiety. In these cases, there are many stress management techniques you can employ. Ideally, you should choose those that best suit your own needs.

For example:

  • Deep breathing, meditation, yoga.
  • Emotional regulation techniques.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Visualization techniques.
  • Troubleshooting techniques.
  • Practicing sport.
  • Contact with nature.
  • Resting and connecting with friends, family, etc.
  • Dedicating time to hobbies.
  • Improving your time management.
  • Taking care of your sleep hygiene.

Finally, it’s clear that you can’t completely remove stress from your life. However, learning to manage it on a daily basis so that it doesn’t become chronic will mediate your physical and mental health. That said, in the event of any irregularity or problem with your periods, don’t hesitate to consult a specialist.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Jacobs MB, Boynton-Jarrett RD, Harville EW. Adverse childhood event experiences, fertility difficulties and menstrual cycle characteristics. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2015;36(2):46-57. doi: 10.3109/0167482X.2015.1026892. Epub 2015 Mar 31. PMID: 25826282; PMCID: PMC4854288.
  • Padda J, Khalid K, Hitawala G, Batra N, Pokhriyal S, Mohan A, Zubair U, Cooper AC, Jean-Charles G. Depression and Its Effect on the Menstrual Cycle. Cureus. 2021 Jul 21;13(7):e16532. doi: 10.7759/cureus.16532. PMID: 34430141; PMCID: PMC8378322.
  • Sanders KA, Bruce NW. Psychosocial stress and the menstrual cycle. J Biosoc Sci. 1999 Jul;31(3):393-402. doi: 10.1017/s0021932099003934. PMID: 10453249.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.