These Experts Explain Why Stress Can Wreak Havoc on Your Menstrual Cycle

There's a lot to be stressed about in life, from relationships to work, even to what is going on in the political world. And that can result in a lot of serious life complications. Stress, both physical and emotional, can affect our body in a lot of ways, and that includes your period.

Physical stress, caused by intense exercise, extreme dieting, or severe sleep deprivation, can impact periods by making them few and far between. "Women who participate in marathon, or even Olympic, training often skip periods sometimes for months at a time," says Dr. Wendy Goodall McDonald, an OB-GYN who practices at Women's Health Consulting in Chicago." This is our body's way of trying to discourage pregnancy during times of physical stress and strain. The brain literally stops communicating in a normal fashion with your ovaries, the evidence of which can be seen in hormone testing (hypothalamic hypogonadism)," says Dr. Goodall McDonald.

It is important to note that while fertility is reduced in these times, it is not eliminated. "The absence of a period is NOT a reliable method of birth control," says Dr. Goodall McDonald.

Stress works on a physiologic level to change cortisol levels. "Interestingly, there is a link between stress hormone control in the pituitary gland of our brain and other hormones released by the pituitary," says Dr. Natalie Rochester, an OB/GYN at UCHealth Women's Care Clinic — Greeley. Key hormones that regulate ovarian function, ovulation, and menstrual cycle are released from the pituitary. "These hormones are necessary in certain amounts to prepare the body for pregnancy, to trigger release of an egg, as well as helping maintain/prepare for early pregnancy. They also control our menstrual cycle regulation and timing," says Dr. Rochester. "Just with other endocrinologic disorders, stress and stress hormones can interfere with menstrual cycle regulation and changes. Changes in hormone levels can lead to early, late, or even skipped menstrual cycles," says Dr. Rochester.

Emotional stress sends similar stress hormones throughout our bodies. "I commonly see women have an unexpected period, spotting, or have a heavy or irregular period when preparing for a big moment in life (think moving to a new state/country or for a big presentation at work)," says Dr. Goodall McDonald. "I call this your 'periodic weirdness' moment to explain unexpected bleeding in times of emotional stress," says Dr. Goodall McDonald, who tells her patients, "Every woman is entitled to periodic weirdness every now and then. But if it persists, we should check it out."

The point is, a one-off period that is few and far between is every woman's right. If every month is a surprise or a mystery, however, this is something you should look into. Contact your doctor.