A late period is no laughing matter—a trigger for a flood of emotions whether you’re very much wishing you are pregnant or hoping you’re not. While the reasons for a late period are many, the wrench in your regular schedule is always inconvenient: how are you meant to plan around your cramps, bloating and PMS? No one likes to get caught without a cup, tampon, or pad once the red tide sets in.
We know that health issues like PCOS, low body weight, thyroid issues, and chronic illness can delay or prevent periods from arriving regularly. But is it possible that the main culprit behind a late period is simply stress?
The answer is a resounding yes.
How Stress Affects Your Period
Stress affects our bodies in the same way it did our distant ancestors who frequently had to escape life-threatening situations, says Stephanie McClellan, M.D., an OB/GYN and chief medical officer at Tia. It puts our bodies on “high alert” disrupting everything from digestion to our normal experience of pain.
The reasons behind these systemic shifts are prehistoric. “When the stress pathway is activated, there are very specific commands coordinated by the brain, stress hormones, and the immune system intended to improve the chances of survival,” explains Dr. McClellan.
Among those to get temporarily shut down? You reproductive system. Stress causes a surge in cortisol, which sets off a chain reaction in your body: contact between the brain and ovaries is disrupted, and your period is late or might even disappear altogether. “High cortisol surges can make the uterine lining less receptive to the healthy implantation of the fertilized egg,” says Dr. McClellan, adding that this can also influence your fertility.
You may also notice period cramps feel worse when you’re stressed. “Pain perception is often increased when one is stressed, anxious, or depressed, so period cramps that are usually manageable may feel worse,” says Jennifer Braverman, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Colorado’s department of obstetrics and gynecology division of maternal-fetal medicine. “Stress also makes it harder to cope with the mood changes many women feel around their periods.”
How to Get Your Cycle Back On Track
If you’re experiencing late or missing periods, it’s important to figure out the root cause of the situation.
“There can be many causes of late or irregular periods, including anovulation (where a woman doesn’t produce an egg each month) or oligoovulation (where a woman produces an egg some months and not others),” says Dr. Braverman. Benign brain tumors (called prolactinomas), obesity (due to the production of estrogen), and being underweight or exercising too much can also affect your cycle in this way.
If chronic stress is behind your temperamental periods, the fix is simple: work on minimizing your stress.
This can of course be easier said than done but Dr. Braverman recommends moderate exercise, warm baths or showers, and plenty of rest. You can also try things like meditation, eating foods thought to help lower cortisol, and practicing yoga to help get your period back on schedule. And that’s one less thing to be stressed about.
Originally Appeared on Glamour