Life is stressful, and when you add in trying to conceive, it reaches entirely new bounds. Those stressors can impact everything from your desire for sex to your period.
If the stress is short-lived, you may miss a period or be a few days late. But if your stress lingers, it can impact more than one cycle or even tie into other physical symptoms.
How does stress affect your period?
"If you go through a time of high stress, your body reacts with an increase in stress steroids and alterations in your hormones that can temporarily cause changes in your period," explains Dr. Dara Havemann from Dallas IVF. “Stress, whether from personal or professional challenges, can trigger a cascade of physiological responses, including the release of stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones, in turn, can disrupt the intricate balance of reproductive hormones.”
For instance, chronic stress can lead to dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis, which controls the release of hormones like cortisol. This can affect ovulation and menstruation.
Other reasons for irregular or skipped periods
While stress can undoubtedly influence your menstrual cycle, it's not the only factor. Dr. Havemann highlights that your period may skip cycles for various reasons, including rapid weight gain or loss and changes in hormone medications such as birth control or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Various other circumstances, such as illness, excessive exercise, and medical conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can also lead to menstrual irregularities.
Stress and fertility: What’s the connection?
For individuals trying to conceive, the relationship between stress and the menstrual cycle can be particularly problematic. Dr. Havemann emphasizes that while stress can influence your cycle, it's essential to differentiate between everyday and extreme anxiety. Normal daily pressure is unlikely to affect your fertility dramatically.
"Stress that can impact your cycle is extreme stress," Havemann shared. "If you are told to 'stress less and you will get pregnant,' this is antiquated advice that will only delay you seeking a fertility evaluation." Seeking medical guidance early on is crucial for addressing any underlying fertility issues and receiving tailored support.
Understanding the potential link between stress and menstrual changes can empower you to adopt proactive strategies to manage stress effectively. Stress-reduction techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, regular exercise, and adequate sleep, can help modulate your body's stress response.
Managing stress when trying to conceive
Recognizing that not all stressors can be eliminated, building resilience can play a pivotal role in maintaining menstrual health. Nurturing a strong support network, seeking professional help when needed, and prioritizing self-care are essential steps in managing stress's potential impact.
Whether aiming to conceive or simply striving for optimal well-being, acknowledging the role of stress is key. By embracing stress-reduction strategies and seeking medical guidance, you can navigate stress challenges while prioritizing your menstrual health, fertility, and overall vitality.
Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo is a writer, public speaker, infertility advocate, author of the blog “The 2 Week Wait,” and a proud in vitro fertilization (IVF) mom of 2 boys. This article is based on her own fertility journey.