Contents

Top things to know:

  • Having a few drinks over the holidays (or in moderation any other time) probably won’t affect your cycle
  • People may drink more before their period
  • People who chronically consume excessive amounts of alcohol can develop cycle irregularities or amenorrhea

Any person at the office holiday party can attest: alcohol can definitely affect your body, both in the moment, and potentially the next morning. From reduced inhibitions, to distortions of reality, to a hangover that makes you regret every choice you’ve made in the last 24 hours—alcohol can have an impact on your mind and body, including your menstrual cycle. In moderation, alcohol probably won’t affect your menstrual cycle, but there is a lot of conflicting research. Let’s dive into it:

Will having a few drinks throw off my cycle?

Research (as usual) is conflicting here and there is no clear answer. Some studies note relationships between alcohol consumption and cycle irregularities, but generally only when alcohol is consumed chronically at high doses (1–3). When looking at moderate drinking, there may be no measurable change in menstrual cycle function (4). In fact, in one study, people who abstained from alcohol had more cycle irregularities (5).

So, if you drink alcohol in moderation over this holiday season it probably won’t throw your menstrual cycle out of order.

Women who consume chronic amounts of alcohol, however, may experience many different types of menstrual disorders, including amenorrhea (not getting a period for 3 months or more), irregular cycle lengths, and anovulation (ovulation does not happen within the menstrual cycle)(1–3,5).

Your cycle may influence how much alcohol you drink

There is some evidence suggesting alcohol consumed in your luteal phase (the second half of your menstrual cycle) may have more of an effect on your mood, than during the follicular phase, by both increasing feelings of depression and anxiety, while at the same time increasing feelings of enjoyment from the effects of alcohol (6). Researchers suspect that people who experience symptoms of premenstrual syndrome may tend to drink more alcohol premenstrually (6,7). However, other studies note no change at all (7,8). More research is needed.

Alcohol and hormones

Drinking alcohol affects the body’s hormone levels. After drinking, multiple studies have measured increases in estrogen levels, and sometimes increases in testosterone and luteinizing hormone (LH) (4,5,9,10). One particularly rigorous study examined how drinking affects hormone levels during different phases of the menstrual cycle (10). Multiple hormonal differences were measured, such as increases in androgen levels during the follicular phase, and increases in estrogen levels around ovulation, which persisted throughout the second half of the cycle (10). This effect has been shown to be stronger after binge drinking (4). However, the hormonal effects of moderate drinking did not to lead to changes in menstrual cycle function (4,10).

Alcoholic hepatitis and liver cirrhosis are associated with binge drinking, chronic heavy alcohol consumption, and female biology—could this be due to our hormones (11,12)? New preliminary research on mice suggests that when higher levels of estrogen are present, there is more activity in the reward centre of the brain, which may make alcohol feel more rewarding (13).

There is also some evidence to suggest that drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol may be associated with delayed menopause, but more research is needed here too (9,14,15).

Can alcohol affect your fertility?

A recent study suggests that there could be a weak association between low to moderate alcohol drinking and decreases in fertility (16). Other researchers have linked higher alcohol consumption to infertility, and some found no connection between alcohol and fertility at all (3,5). One reason for how alcohol could impact fertility is through increased levels of estrogen, which could inhibit follicular development and ovulation—but this is still only a theory (17).

Although there are many different studies researching the effects of alcohol, it’s difficult to draw hard conclusions on how or if alcohol affects your cycle. A couple of drinks this holiday season likely won’t cause any menstrual irregularities. But, be conscious if you’re in your luteal phase, as you may drink more than usual.

Download Clue to track when you drink alcohol and how it relates to your cycle.

4 Things That Can Throw Your Period Out of Whack

You know that taking hormonal birth control or, you know, getting pregnant will affect your period. But other less obvious factors can also influence your cycle.

Usually, when you notice a change in your period, there’s nothing to worry about, says Dr. Scott Sullivan, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Medial University of South Carolina.

“The first thing I tell people who come in worried about a change is that, most of the time, everything is fine,” he says. “Oftentimes, if you just wait three to six months, whatever changes are seen will straighten out.”

If you’ve noticed a recent change, one of the common culprits below could be to blame. But remember, the best way to figure out what’s behind any unusual symptoms is to visit an OB-GYN for an exam.

1. Diet
While overdoing it with spicy food for a couple of nights in a row won’t impact your cycle, sustained diet overhauls can affect your period. “In general, if your nutrition is poor and you’re not getting enough calories, periods tend to go away for a while,” says Sullivan. “If you’re gaining weight, it’s really unpredictable. With certain people, they become heavy and frequent. With some people, they become really irregular. So on that end, it’s a little more unpredictable.”

2. Exercise
In most cases, starting a new exercise routine shouldn’t really affect your period. But an extreme new regimen—say, training for a marathon or triathlon or even doing intense interval training regularly—can cause you to menstruate less frequently or not at all.

“That can really shut a period down because of the intensity of the workout or the weight loss associated with it—or just the hormone changes from intense exercise,” says Sullivan. “It sends a signal to the brain and ovaries to take a temporary pause. That’s not dangerous, it’s not unexpected. The biggest problem with that is you can have low estrogen in those settings and you can lose bone mass over time, but that’s often offset by the exercise.”

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If you’ve been following an extreme exercise routine and go more than a year without having your period, Sullivan says it’s important to check in with your doctor to avoid any long-term side effects.

3. Stress
This can impact your period more quickly than other lifestyle changes.

“If your brain is stressed, it’s putting out stress hormones,” says Sullivan. “You may not be sleeping, and your heart rate is likely up. That can really affect your period. It usually throws off the timing.” In other words, your cycle may suddenly become shorter or longer than what you’re typically used to.

Read more: Offering Women Period Leave is a Double-Edged Sword

While anxiety can be difficult to “cure,” Sullivan says that, when your stress levels return to normal, your period should, too.

4. Smoking and excessive alcohol intake
“These tend to make periods more irregular and change the timing for people,” says Sullivan, who notes that the most important thing is to know your baseline. That way, if anything changes, you’ll notice and be able to check in with your doctor about it.

“Learn your own body’s rhythms and what’s normal for you,” he says. “There’s a wide range of what’s normal.”

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Write to Robin Hilmantel at [email protected]

Everyone experiences stress, and for many it’s not an enjoyable experience. It isn’t inherently bad, although research suggests that depending on the type of stressor (i.e. the reason for stress) and the timing of the stressor, it can cause changes to a person’s menstrual cycle.

What is stress?

Stress is a normal psychological and physiological reaction to changes in someone’s environment, which could be emotional, physical, social or cultural (1,2).

Activities that intentionally promote acute levels of stress, such as exercise and willful participation in social activities, can actually have long term positive effects on a person’s health (3–6).

When most people talk about stress, however, they are usually referring to chronic and/or negative forms of stress, such as having too many demands at school/work or the death of a loved one (1,7). People experiencing chronic stress may feel that they are unable to handle daily life tasks, have limited-to-no control over the direction of their life or more easily become angry or irritated (1). This type of chronic stress can negatively affect a person’s short-term and long-term health (7–9).

Biological relationship between stress and the reproductive system

Stress activates a hormonal pathway in the body called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (10). Activation of HPA axis is associated with increased levels of cortisol and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) (2, 10, 11). The HPA axis, cortisol, and CRH help control stress response in the body. CRH and cortisol release can suppress normal levels of reproductive hormones, potentially leading to abnormal ovulation, anovulation (i.e. no ovulation), or amenorrhea (i.e. absence of menstruation) (10–12). Furthermore, abnormal levels of CRH in reproductive tissue have been associated with negative pregnancy outcomes, such as pre-term birth (10).

Research on stress and the menstrual cycle

Stress from extreme or traumatic events has been linked to dramatic changes in normal menstruation. War, separation from family and famine have been anecdotally linked to amenorrhea in physician and epidemiological reports (13–15). Although these studies and case reports are informative, they are not scientifically rigorous and cannot rule out other associated factors, such as malnutrition, that occur during war or other tragic events. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse have been associated with the development of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (16) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) (17). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has also been associated with PMDD (18).

Daily life stress may also affect the length of your cycle.

One study of stress in female nurses found associations between high stress and anovulation as well as high stress and longer cycles (19), though these findings may be in part due to rotating shift work (working nights), which is common for nurses (20). Conversely, high stress but low control jobs, where the person has little control over their work tasks and other key decisions, have been associated with shorter cycles (21). These studies may have found different results because the stress of study participants may not have been equal. Differences in the level and length of stress exposure could cause people’s bodies to respond in different ways. For example, in one study, peri-menopausal (approaching menopause) people with high stress were no more likely to have altered cycles than low stress people after one year; however, high stress was linked to shorter menstrual cycles after two years (22), indicating that symptoms may not present immediately.

Menstrual pain has also been associated with stress.

Dysmenorrhea (i.e. painful menstruation) has been linked to working in jobs that are low control, are unsecure and have low coworker support (23). Stress from the preceding month may also affect the frequency of dysmenorrhea (24), so someone might not experience painful menstruation as a result of stress until their period the following month. People with a history of dysmenorrhea may be more likely to experience this effect (24). Similarly, people experiencing stress earlier in their cycle were more likely to report severe symptoms during the time leading up to and during menstruation (25).

As mentioned, the different effects of stress may be, in part, due to timing. Higher reported stress during the follicular phase (i.e. from the first day of menstruation until ovulation) has been strongly associated with changes in normal reproductive function (24, 26). In one recent study, those reporting pre-ovulatory stress (during the follicular phase) were less likely to become pregnant as compared to those not reporting stress during the same time (26). This suggests that stress may cause the body to delay or entirely suppress ovulation. This idea is supported by research examining menstrual cycle variation. The length of the luteal phase (i.e. post-ovulation until menstruation) tends to be consistent across and within women (27), whereas the length of the follicular phase has a stronger association with the variation in the total length of the entire menstrual cycle (28). This means that the follicular phase, as opposed to the luteal phase, is more likely to change in length. Therefore, the effects of stress on ovulation may be one of the biggest factors related to changes in cycle length due to stress, though it is unclear how this would be related to other stress-related changes in the menstrual cycle, such as painful menstruation.

Stress management

Some stress in life is unavoidable, but you can learn to manage your stress. Exercising, getting restful sleep, having a healthy diet, confiding in friends and family and having healthy social activities can potentially reduce the effects of stress on your health (3–6, 29). Stress that causes long-term changes in your mood or sleep or that causes chronic physical pain may be serious. If you are experiencing high levels of chronic stress, you may want to consider speaking to your healthcare provider.

Clue can help you track your stress, energy, sleep, and exercise in the Mental, Energy, Sleep, and Exercise sections.

Not sure whether stress is affecting your cycle? The best way to take care of yourself is to know your body.

© iStock/JulyProkopiv

Modern life is full of stressful situations and triggers that can negatively affect the mood of women, here we explore the 5 factors affecting menstrual cycle.

Once a month, most women have to juggle all of the emotions that invade their minds and hearts in the lead up to menstrual periods. How stress affects menstruation is quite difficult to assess. However, untreated stress, combined with increased hormone levels, can wreak havoc in daily lives, as well as cause women to suffer from other mental health issues like insomnia, loss of appetite and anxiety. In fact, chronic stress and anxiety are so closely related that it is easy to mistake temporary stress for a chronic anxiety disorder. Here Madeleine Taylor explores the many stressful situations and factors affecting menstrual cycle.

Factors affecting menstrual cycle

Having a regular cycle when it comes to menstruation is really important to women’s health. Women tend to plan important events like holidays, birth control (pregnancy), and even important work meetings around their monthly period.

So, when a woman is just about to board the plane for her yearly dream vacation in the Bahamas, the last thing she needs is for her period to turn up. Yet it happens far more often than initially thought, which means that managing stress and anxiety can usually rectify an irregular cycle.

Here are the five primary ways that stressful situations affect the menstrual cycle and, what can be done about it.

The delay in ovulation

When you are stressed in the lead up to ovulation, it makes is really difficult for certain hormones to be triggered and released on schedule. This will result in delayed ovulation, meaning your period will not be on time or predictable.

The main problem with delayed ovulation is that it puts a huge spanner in the works when it comes to planning events around your period. In addition, this can lead to further stress, as you will probably start worrying that something is wrong and before you know it, you have ended up in a vicious cycle of anxiety.

Delayed ovulation also poses a significant challenge to women who are planning to get pregnant, especially if they have struggled with fertility issues in the past.

A longer cycle

No one wants their period to last longer than is absolutely necessary, but this is exactly what can happen as a side effect of stress. When you are going through delayed ovulation, you will unfortunately likely have to endure a longer cycle than usual, and you could also experience a heavier flow.

The onset of your next cycle would also be late, so you would essentially be left guessing as to how long your period will last and when it will actually turn up. In today’s uncertain times, we certainly don’t need to be adding more unpredictable and stressful events into our lives!

Your period stops entirely

Stress situations can have a powerful effect on the menstrual cycle including the amount of bleeding, the level of cramps, and, in some cases, your period could stop altogether.

This is more common if you are dealing with a reduced appetite as a result of stress or anxiety, as being underweight can also cause your period to stop.

You will not ovulate

While you will still bleed each month, you won’t actually be ovulated. This can be a huge issue if you are trying to conceive, as it may look like you have your period as usual, yet you will not be able to get pregnant.

One of the most reliable ways to figure out, whether you are ovulating or not, is to chart your cervical mucus to see if it peaks or not; if it doesn’t, then you might not be ovulating and you should consult a physician to rectify the situation and obtain professional advice.

Your PMS gets worse

Throwing stress and anxiety into the mix of fluctuating hormones and mood swings isn’t exactly a recipe for success. Many women struggle with PMS and sometimes it gets so bad that it can result in heavy menstrual bleeding, anxiety attacks, and bouts of depression.

If you have noticed that your PMS has got a lot worse recently, then you need to take a serious look at the stress levels and triggers in your life in order to be able to restore normality.

How to manage stressful situations the natural way

Aside from affecting our period, stress can greatly affect many other aspects of our lives in a negative way. This is why it is of utmost importance to take steps to ensure that you have your stress under control. Regardless of how old you are, you should never underestimate the fact that stress is usually the root cause of a wide range of serious medical conditions, which include:

  • Hypertension;
  • Increased risk of stroke;
  • Increased risk of heart attack;
  • Depression; and
  • Insomnia.

There are also many more issues that are not always so apparent.

Thankfully, you are not alone and many women around the world have had great success managing and eliminating stress from their lives by using the following tool to help them live a more harmonious life.

CBD oil for stress

Based on recent news, it seems that this natural tincture is capable of treating virtually any illness on the planet. And while there will be some exaggerations and also scepticism with regards to its efficacy, many people have been able to significantly reduce stress and anxiety via the use of cannabis oil.

It is now entirely legal for medical use across the U.S., although it must only contain very low levels of THC (the compound of cannabis that makes you high) in certain states.

CBD Oil does not give psychoactive effects

When you use CBD oil for therapeutic purposes, the cannabinoids present will cancel out the psychoactive effects.

So, essentially you can enjoy all of the healing properties of the marijuana plant, without the disruption of being stoned and feeling as though you just want to stare at the ceiling all day.

Not only does nature’s miracle herb manage the symptoms of stress and anxiety for you, but it also works to fix other issues like insomnia and period pain. Certain strains will even help you to control the monthly munchies that many women seem to get during the time of their period.

Final thoughts

CBD oil is an incredibly potent remedy for stress, but you have to form a partnership with it, in order to experience the maximum benefits. What I mean is that a degree of self-healing will also come from your own willpower and, of course, your lifestyle.

If you are dealing with your stress by downing three bottles of wine every night before chowing down on a KFC, then you are subconsciously counteracting anything positive that you are doing for your body. Any medicine—be it pharmaceutical or natural—should be complemented with an active, healthy lifestyle.

Above all, however, if you are concerned about your health in any way, you should visit your doctor.

Madeleine Taylor
SundayScaries

Stress causes late periods by the way it disrupts your hormonal patterns. Your hormones need to meet certain levels and follow certain patterns in order to trigger both ovulation and your period. If stress gets in the way this can disrupt the cycle. Stress causes a rise in stress hormones — specifically cortisol — which affect the production and interaction of other hormones.

Your hormonal cycle is a chain reaction. If one stage of your cycle does not occur as it should, the following stages will not receive the correct triggers. When your ovary releases an egg, the ruptured egg sack produces progesterone. The increase of progesterone in your body encourages the buildup and eventual release of the lining of your uterus, aka your period.

When cortisol is elevated, this gets majorly interrupted. Here are the 5 specific ways stress can affect your period:

  1. Disrupts Insulin – Stress raises cortisol levels and disrupts your blood sugar which, in turn, disrupts your ovulation and period.
  2. Lowers Progesterone – The stress hormone cortisol blocks progesterone production and lowers progesterone levels. Your body actually uses your progesterone to make more cortisol to react and respond to the stress. This not only messes with your cycle, but it can make it difficult for you to conceive.
  3. Delays Ovulation – If you experience stress around the time you typically ovulate, the increased levels of cortisol can delay or even prevent ovulation. This one makes sense evolutionarily – a pregnancy on top of a stressful period in a person’s life is not ideal. Your body in a way is trying to keep your energy available to address the stress before conception takes place.
  4. Changes timing of your Period – Stress post-ovulation can cause a hormonal imbalance too. If you do ovulate and stress comes later in your cycle, it can potentially cause spotting, an early period, or a period that looks or feels different than your norm (in consistency, color, length, or symptoms like cramping).
  5. Period can go missing – Even if you do eventually bleed, a late period may not be considered a period at all – it’s more of a breakthrough bleed. You didn’t ovulate, so it’s not a physiological period – however, your uterus still needs to shed the lining it has built up.

How to Outsmart Stress And Finally Fix Your Hormones

Your body is brilliant and your late period isn’t just a nuisance you can ignore; it’s your body’s way of telling you that it’s under constant or chronic levels of stress and unable to operate optimally. In order to perform all the countless functions it needs to do to keep you alive, it shuts down ovulation in an effort to conserve resources and energy. If you’re not trying to conceive, maybe you think this lack of ovulation is no big deal. But think again: when your body doesn’t ovulate, it sets the stage for more hormonal symptoms and period problems – everything from PMS, to acne, to cramps. A late period is more than just an inconvenience — it’s a precursor to a long list of other serious health issues.

I’m an advocate for listening to your body and a late period is your body saying something loud and clear, but what exactly is your body trying to tell you? A stressed out cycle is a message. It’s a call-to-action from your body.

Once you period is late, there’s not much you can do to make your period come when you want during that cycle. But you can avoid future late periods by taking action today. How? Simple. Your body isn’t just brilliant; it’s resilient. By nourishing it with the proper micronutrients and lifestyle support, you can absolutely heal your hormones, eliminate your symptoms, and get your period back on track.

When you eat in a hormonally-supportive way, you soothe and support your adrenal glands, which turns the dial down on cortisol production and breaks the stress cycle. Not to mention that eating nutrient-dense foods at the right times of your cycle will boost your metabolism, digestion, and help you lose weight with blood sugar balance, regulate your cycles, detoxify your system, and increase your energy.

If you’re ready for the type of in-depth guidance necessary to kick stress to the curb and reclaim your hormonal health, it’s time to sign up for MonthlyFLO, a three-month program that will show you how to tap into your body’s unique rhythm, feed yourself at all four phases for optimal hormonal balance, and get more done with less effort. Get started now and stop letting all those daily stressors mess with your beautiful body.

Love and ovaries,
Alisa

Monthly FLO: The Cycle Syncing System™

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MonthlyFLO is the first-ever woman-centric health system that syncs with your unique rhythm. It gives you the foundation for solving any hormonal issues you may have over your lifetime.

Using the principles of functional nutrition, MonthlyFLO is a specially-sequenced food therapy program that recalibrates your endocrine function. Over three months, you will be guided step-by-step to make simple, cumulative food and lifestyle changes that balance your hormones naturally.

Stopped or missed periods

Contraceptive pill

You might miss a period every so often if you’re taking the contraceptive pill. This is not usually a cause for concern.

Some types of contraception, such as the progestogen-only pill (POP), contraceptive injection and intrauterine system (IUS), particularly Mirena, can cause periods to stop altogether.

However, your periods should return when you stop using these types of contraception.

You may start missing periods as you approach the menopause. This is because oestrogen levels start to decrease, and ovulation becomes less regular. After the menopause, your periods stop completely.

The menopause is a natural part of ageing in women, which usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55. The average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51 in the UK.

However, around 1 in 100 women go through the menopause before the age of 40. This is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian failure.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles, which are underdeveloped sacs in which eggs develop. If you have PCOS, these sacs are often unable to release an egg, which means ovulation does not take place.

PCOS is thought to be very common, affecting about 1 in every 10 women in the UK. The condition is responsible for as many as 1 in 3 cases of stopped periods.

Other women worry that suppressing their period might lead to an unnatural buildup of the uterine lining. Dr. Erin Saleeby, the chairwoman of OB-GYN at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center, said that using continuous birth control prevents that from happening.

“You don’t have a proliferation of that tissue,” Dr. Saleeby said, “and it’s just not there at the same level that you would quote-unquote ‘need to bleed.’”

A woman who wants to suppress her periods should talk to her doctor about her options. One method involves standard oral contraceptives, which are still the most popular method of birth control. To skip a period, a woman can just skip the placebo week and start a new pack without a break. Since this will require using 17 packs a year instead of 12, Dr. Lawson said that doctors can write the prescription in a certain way to make sure the extra pills are covered by insurance.

Dr. Lawson added that one birth control brand, Seasonale, is designed for period suppression — this method is designed to produce about four periods a year — and doesn’t require extra packs.

Other options include NuvaRing, a vaginal ring that releases a low dose of two hormones, estrogen and progestin, and can be used continuously to stop periods. Similarly, the Mirena intrauterine device releases progestin and helps lighten the uterine lining. Dr. Lawson said this is a method she often recommends because women can leave it in for years without worrying about pregnancy or heavy periods. She said about 25 percent of women who use this method will experience induced amenorrhea — or the absence of menstruation — after one year, and 50 percent after two years.

Depo-Provera is an injectable form of birth control that contains a time-release dose of progestin to prevent pregnancy, but also lowers the frequency of periods.

But regardless of the method, making the choice to stop a period doesn’t necessarily mean the transition will be perfect: Breakthrough bleeding or spotting can be common, Dr. Saleeby said. As far as risks, Dr. Saleeby said that there are no known risks for using birth control continuously beyond the side effect profile that already exists for the drug.

What are some reasons you might stop getting your period?

You may have heard the word “menopause” before, or perhaps heard this transition in a woman’s life referred to as “the change.” Just as girls start their period as they go through puberty, women stop getting their period (menstruating) when they go through menopause. This typically happens when women are between 40-60 years old, and is a normal and healthy part of female development.
Women stop getting their periods for other reasons as well. When you are pregnant, your menstrual cycle is put “on hold” in order to support the growth of a baby. However, there are a number of other reasons that womens’ periods may stop, usually temporarily. These can include stress, weight loss, increased exercise, or hormonal imbalances. Also, it often takes several years for girls’ periods to become regular. So if your period “goes missing,” the best thing you can do is talk to your healthcare provider, who will be able to evaluate your situation and help you get back on track if necessary.

Stress and Your Menstrual Period: A Cycle That You Can Break

(If you’ve been dealing with amenorrhea for a few months, however, your doctor may ask about your health history and perform various tests, including checking hormone levels. Pregnancy, cysts, tumors, hormone deficiencies, and factors other than stress can cause more than one missed period.)

How Stress May Affect Menstruation

Not much is known about the relationship between stress and periods. However, stress certainly plays a role in suppressing the functioning of the hypothalamus, which controls the pituitary gland — the body’s master gland — which, in turn, controls the thyroid and adrenal glands and the ovaries; they all work together to manage hormones.

Ovarian dysfunction may lead to problems with estrogen production, ovulation, or other reproductive processes. Estrogen is an important hormone that helps build the uterine lining and prepares the body for pregnancy. If the ovaries aren’t working properly, side effects may involve the menstrual cycle, including missed periods or irregular periods.

Getting Back on Track

Because stress can affect the part of the brain responsible for producing hormones, it can throw hormonal levels out of whack, which can lead to changes in the frequency and duration of your menstrual period.

Reducing your level of stress or finding effective coping mechanisms may help your body revert to a normal menstrual period. Talking with a therapist or possibly taking anti-anxiety medication can lower stress and help you manage stress symptoms, eventually allowing your system to return to regularity.

It’s not possible to completely eliminate stress from your everyday life, nor would you want to. Finding healthy methods to cope with excessive stress is the best way to not let it wreak havoc on your body’s natural functioning.

Find more information in the Everyday Health PMS Center.

Whether you get your period every 28 days like clockwork or have a flow that prefers to come and go as it pleases, having a period go MIA often feels like cause for alarm. Your mind runs wild with thoughts of pregnancy tests and ultrasounds and watching your baby graduate college – an imaginary life that you’ve created and nurtured and helped grow all because that little bit of blood you were hoping to find this morning didn’t make it’s appearance. Whether pregnancy right now is your goal or you’re holding off temporarily or forever, a fetus in utero is certainly not the only cause of a period gone rogue. Here are 6 reasons, besides being pregnant, that your period could be late.

1. Stress

If you’ve been running yourself ragged at work or dealing with other stressors, especially traumatic ones, your period could be late. This is called hypothalamic amenorrhea. “The hypothalamus is the center of the brain and controls reproduction. It produces a hormone that signals the production of other hormones needed for ovulation,” according to Shady Grove Fertility. So, if you’ve been stressed about something – big or small – do your best to find some time for relaxation. If you’ve experienced a traumatic situation, you should call your doctor and seek a professional opinion.

2. Being sick

The amazing things your body does are all intertwined on some level. When one system isn’t working as well as it should, the others are affected, too. It’s like a game of survival – which bodily process is the most important right now? If you have a common cold, the flu, or some other type of illness, your menstrual cycle is likely the first to be shut down in order to get the rest of your body back up to speed.

3. Weight fluctuations

Say hello to your hypothalamus again (the center in the brain that controls reproductive hormones, like estrogen). When you experience extreme fluctuations in your weight, the amount of estrogen released can impact whether you get your period or not. If you lose a lot of weight quickly, your body won’t produce enough estrogen. Too much weight gain and your body will have too much estrogen. Either way, this could be a reason your period is late.

4. Change in your schedule

Minor changes in your schedule aren’t going to have an impact on your menstrual cycle but intense ones, like switching to the night shift or having jet lag from traveling across the world (you jetsetter, you!), can. The good news is that it’s temporary. Once your body acclimates to your new schedule, your periods should resume as normal. If they don’t, it’s worth calling your doctor about.

5. Hormonal Imbalance

Hormones, of course, play a large role in your menstrual cycle. They determine the heaviness, the length, and even whether your period comes at all. If your hormones are out of whack, you may not menstruate. One cause could be PCOS. Another could be endometriosis. If you suspect this is the case, call your doctor. They’ll be able to put you on a path to help regulate symptoms.

6. Your birth control

Yes, even if you don’t skip the sugar pills, your birth control could be editing your menstrual cycle. Whether you have an IUD, get Depo shots, or are on the pill, the hormonal changes caused by birth control can sometimes eliminate or lessen your period. While this can sometimes be a welcome side effect, it’s good to know that it’s actually the cause of a late or nonexistent period.

If you think you’re pregnant, it’s always a good idea to take a test. Otherwise, talk to your doctor about your late period – they can provide valuable insight and ease your mind.

Elena Scotti/FUSION

“STRESSFUL WEEK.” That’s how I started my journal entry on August 9, 2010. I had just turned 25, I was not on birth control, and my period was nine days late.

Every tampon-free trip to the bathroom that week was followed by disappointment, terror, and then panic. All I could think was, “Please don’t be pregnant, please don’t be pregnant.” The stress of potentially having an accidental baby took over every minute of my life.

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Finally, a wonderful, much braver friend of mine hauled herself to a CVS at midnight and bought me a pregnancy test, since I was too embarrassed to do it myself. It was negative.

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What I didn’t realize at the time is that a period can be late for a slew of reasons that have nothing to do with pregnancy, and my anxiety only exacerbated whatever was going on in my body. In fact, nearly everything—from what we eat to how we sleep to traveling abroad—can affect our menstrual cycles, which is why so many women, at some point, find themselves in the state of panic I did five years ago.

In hopes of quelling future fears, I spoke with women’s health experts about some of the most common things that can make our periods late. Here’s what you should know.

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Diet

Our monthly menstrual cycles are regulated by a complex system of hormones involving the brain, pituitary gland, and ovaries. These hormones interact with each other like little messengers, telling the body when to do things like ovulate and shed the uterine lining. And anything—anything—that messes with the system can mess with your period.

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One big culprit? Changes in our diet, said Jessica Shepherd, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Illinois and a practicing OBGYN. For example, suddenly deciding to go vegan—or to stop being vegan—can interrupt your monthly cycle. This is because the food we eat has a direct impact on our hormone levels.

For example, foods high on the glycemic index such as sweets, white bread, and fruit juice can increase insulin production and change the way the female sex hormone estrogen is metabolized—which in turn can affect our menstrual cycle. Another example? Not eating enough protein can affect the body’s insulin and estrogen levels, which can also throw our hormones out of whack.

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Stress

Stress can majorly affect our periods as well—thanks to a little guy named cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.”

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Here’s how it works: When we become stressed or anxious, our bodies release both cortisol and adrenaline as part of our ancestral “fight-or-flight” response. While adrenaline makes our heart beat faster and boosts energy, cortisol works to suppress systems including our immune response, digestive system, and reproductive system.

This suppression is beneficial if you’re running for your life—you want all your energy to go toward survival. But in today’s world, the stress you feel is more likely coming from a boss than, say, a lion, and instead of getting released in some epic fight, it just builds up. Over time, that build-up can suppress the hormones necessary for reproduction, delaying the shedding of the uterine lining and thus delaying your period.

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Big life changes

Sometimes stress accumulates gradually—and sometimes it happens all at once, which can also lead to a late period. “Traumatic events in life such as a divorce, losing a job, or a death in the family can also affect the menstrual cycle,” Shepherd explained.

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The last thing you need in one of these scenarios is to let the stress of a late period add to your distress.

Sleep

Your sleep pattern can have a major impact on your menstrual cycle, since sleep deprivation—or even irregular sleep patterns—can wreak havoc on the endocrine system, and in turn, hormone function.

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This explains why something as trivial as jet lag can make your period late, said Barb Dehn, a San Francisco-based nurse practitioner who specializes in women’s health. “We think it’s because of the interruption of REM sleep,” she told me, explaining that the exact mechanism isn’t fully understood, but experts agree it comes down to hormone regulation.

Weight

Another hormone disrupter? Changes in our weight.

Gaining too much weight, for example, can alter the body’s response to leptin, a hormone that helps us feel satiated when eating. While seemingly unrelated, leptin can also affect our periods, since “a change in leptin levels can cause a change in the reproductive hormones,” Shepherd explained.

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Losing too much weight can also affect our menstrual cycle. Cross-country runners, gymnasts, and professional athletes often miss periods when their body fat percentage drops below healthy levels. Similarly, extreme exercise and restrictive diets generally interfere with the body’s reproductive system.

Drugs

Drugs, both prescription and street, can also delay a period—though women who use street drugs are more likely to experience these irregularities.

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“Women who recreationally use cocaine or methamphetamines may see missed or irregular periods,” said Dehn. Why? Cocaine inhibits the reuptake of serotonin, norephinephrine, and dopamine—three neurotransmitters that also help regulate the “complex feedback system” that is your reproductive cycle, she explained.

Illness or an underlying medical condition

It’s clear that our behavior can disrupt the delicate balance that is our reproductive cycle—but what if your behavior hasn’t changed? You’re sleeping fine, you’re eating the same, and you haven’t started taking any drugs?

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Illness is another factor to consider. If your body recently fought off a virus or infection, your menstrual cycle could be delayed—again thanks to stress, since an infection can act as a stressor on the body. However, a delayed or irregular period could also be the sign of an illness.

For example, some STDs may initially look like an irregular period. “If someone has an STD like trichomoniasis or chlamydia, they might see bleeding or spotting because the cervix is inflamed,” Shepherd explained.

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A missed period could also be a sign of a more serious problem such as fibroids, polyps, a thyroid disorder, or an endocrine disrupting condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. While about 7% of the women in the U.S. of childbearing age are believed to have PCOS, the condition is under-diagnosed, said Dehn. PCOS can cause you to miss your period, or on the other end of the spectrum, it can cause extremely heavy and irregular periods. Other symptoms include excessive weight gain, facial hair, acne, and insulin resistance.

Birth control

And finally, there’s hormonal contraception. When you first start on birth control, your periods may decrease or disappear altogether, because—you got it—anything that affects your hormones can affect your period.

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“Birth control is essentially putting your body on a regimented amount of hormones,” explained Shepherd. “In the beginning, there’s this push and pull, in which your body says, ‘No, I’m in charge,’ and the birth control pills are like, ‘No, we’re giving you these hormones,’ and sometimes there’s a struggle.” Eventually the birth control will win out.

Once the hormonal birth control takes over—especially if you use a “long acting reversible contraceptives,” or LARC, such as an IUD or implant—many women stop having periods altogether.

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Note that, while on hormonal birth control, women are less susceptible to major changes in their menstrual cycle due to stress, illness, or the other factors we’ve discussed, since the body’s hormones are being regulated by the contraceptive. Women using non-hormonal birth control, however—such as a copper IUD—are still highly susceptible, since the IUD does not regulate hormones.

When to see a doctor

If you miss a period one time, it’s actually not that big of a deal—consider some of your recent life events to see if diet, stress, sleep, or illness might have played a role. That said, if you’re sexually active and concerned you might be pregnant, you can always take a pregnancy test just to calm your nerves.

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But when pregnancy is ruled out, the experts I spoke with said that three is the “magic number”—once you’ve missed or had irregular periods for three months in row, you should see a healthcare provider. At that point, your doctor may test you for STDs and other conditions.

“We put a guideline on it,” said Shepherd. “If someone has irregularity for three months or more, then yes, you should see your doctor.” She advises patients to track their period with a period tracking app or on a calendar.

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And finally, Dehn stressed that women should never be afraid to get checked out by a physician for a missed period—regardless of their sexual history, drug use, or a possible unplanned pregnancy. “We have heard it all before,” said Dehn. “Our job is to take good care of you and to help make the best choices for you.”

Taryn Hillin is Fusion’s love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.

6 reasons your period may be late, other than pregnancy

Periods may be annoying, but at least they’re predictable — sort of. If yours is a little delayed this cycle, and you’re not trying to get pregnant right now, your first instinct is probably to freak out a bit. But don’t.

There are actually many things that can delay your period that have nothing to do with being pregnant. For instance, many medications list delayed periods as a side effect, especially psychiatric drugs that can elevate your levels of prolactin. (This hormone is produced in low levels by your body at all times, but it becomes elevated during and right after pregnancy to help you produce breast milk.)

“Usually women get told because it’s a relatively common side effect” of these medications, explains Raquel B. Dardik, MD at the NYU Langone Medical Center. “So it’s not usually much of a surprise.”

However, other culprits might seem to come out of nowhere.

Before we get to those, we need to quickly mention a few caveats: in most of the cases to follow, we’re talking about just one late period. If this has happened to you three or more times in a row, that’s a sign that you should check in with your doctor to make sure you’re not dealing with irregular periods, which can be caused by more pressing matters like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or fibroids (benign uterine tumours).

Also, if your period is over a week late and you know you’ve had unprotected sex this cycle, it’s time to take a pregnancy test.

1. Stress

One of the most common causes of a later period is, unfortunately, stress. That’s because when you’re stressed, your level of the hormone cortisol increases. And, says Dr. Dardik, “that can delay ovulation or suppress it altogether.”

Of course, “that’s sort of a double whammy,” Dr. Dardik says, because you’re already stressed and being worried about a missed period isn’t exactly going to help that situation. So if you’ve been through some trying times or experienced heightened anxiety recently, give yourself a break and be patient.

2. Birth control pills

“It’s hard to reassure somebody that not getting period doesn’t mean they’re pregnant when they’re on the pill,” Dr. Dardik says. “That’s the most common phone call that I will get.”

However, the truth is that hormonal birth control is the other major cause of period weirdness. Dr. Dardik explains that the dose of hormones we get with the pill is very low these days. That causes the endometrial lining to grow very thin, which is a good thing because it makes your period very light. But the pill can also make it too light, even to the point that there’s really nothing to shed — and no period to have.

But that’s not a huge health worry because, as we wrote previously, you really don’t need a period anyway..

3. Emergency contraception

The morning after pill is “a big dose of progesterone,” Dr. Dardik says. That hormone surge prevents ovulation and it “can delay your period for up to a week,” she explains. But if your period is at least a week late, this is definitely a situation in which you’re going to want to take a pregnancy test to calm your mind.

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4. Your thyroid

The thyroid is a little butterfly-shaped gland that sits in your neck. It’s here that your body produces hormones that affect many bodily processes, including your period.

If your thyroid is overactive (a.k.a hyperthyroidism), you’re more likely to have lighter periods. And with hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) your periods may be especially heavy. But both conditions can cause irregular cycles that may end up delaying or skipping your period.

Thyroid issues also tend to affect your energy levels, moods, and even your heart rate. So if your thyroid is at the root of your period issue, you probably also have other symptoms. Although thyroid conditions may be particularly confusing to diagnose, treatment is usually quite straightforward. Check in with your doctor if you think this might be your issue.

5. Extreme circumstances

Stress certainly counts in this category. But if you’ve been through other extreme situations recently, your period may be out of whack.

That could include life changes like major surgery or significant weight loss associated with an eating disorder, Dr. Dardik says. It could also include a traumatic experience, such as sexual assault, a loss of a loved one, or a really bad car accident. So if you’ve been through a major life moment, consider that your late period could be a symptom of that. Check in with your doctor to pin it down and if you’re really having trouble, don’t be shy about seeking the help of a mental health counsellor.

6. Travel

If you’ve been travelling, chances are you’ve been stressed. That alone can delay your period. But also, if you happened to be travelling across the International Date Line, it’s possible that your period tracking got a little out of whack too — you might not actually be that late!

Read more from Refinery29:

Money Diary: A Week In Copenhagen On A 43k Salary

How To Make Your Desk Into The Most Productive Space Ever

Finally, Some Good News For UK Property Renters

“I’m late.” These two words have a pretty powerful connotation. Say them to any fellow adult with the proper gravitas, and the person you’re talking to may assume you’re pregnant. Late periods and pregnancy, in many people’s minds, are inherently connected. One must mean the other, right? Wrong.

True, a late period can be an indicator that you’re pregnant, but it can also be attributed to many other things — or sometimes nothing. “Menstrual cycles vary significantly when you are in your teens, breastfeeding, or going through perimenopause,” Anna Druet, chief scientific researcher at female health app Clue, tells Allure. “Beyond those times, it’s still very normal for cycles to vary, to an extent.”

Before you even begin to get concerned about a late period, know that the timing of yours could vary by up to seven to nine days from one cycle to the next. “Your body is not a clock, after all, and your cycle is constantly adapting to your environment,” Druet says. “It’s much more common to have some variation than to be completely ‘regular.’”

But that time of the month could be delayed for a specific reason. Ahead, eight things that might be keeping your period at bay.

1. You’re super stressed.

Stress doesn’t just affect your mind. It also affects your body, and that includes your cycle. “Stress…activates hormonal changes in the body, encouraging the release of the hormone cortisol,” Druet says. “Cortisol can lead to the suppression of reproductive hormones, causing a delay in both ovulation and the period.”

2. You’re on new meds.

Did you start taking a new birth control or other medication that affects your reproductive hormones? If so, that could be affecting your period. “Some hormonal medications, such as birth control pills, may make the lining of uterus very thin and can also affect the release of reproductive hormones, menses in some cases,” Aaron Styer, a reproductive endocrinologist and co-medical director of Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) Boston, tells Allure.

Aside from birth control, Druet flags thyroid medications and steroids as meds that can potentially delay your period, as they “influence the hormones that control your cycle.”

3. You’ve been exercising excessively.

If you’ve really ramped up your workout routine, you could see the effects in the timing of your period: Expending a lot of energy may signal to your body that it’s time to ramp down the production of fertility-related hormones. “Excessive exercise can affect the delicate cross talk between the brain and ovaries,” Styer says. “As a result, the hormone signals from the brain may not be as efficient as usual in directing the selection of an egg from the ovary.” That may mean your period is delayed, or that it won’t happen at all that month.

Plenty of women who work out may experience somewhat irregular cycles, but if you stop getting your period altogether for three months or more — a condition called amenorrhea — it’s important to see a doctor. Amenorrhea is linked with increased risk for osteoporosis.

Tampon and CalendarGetty Images

4. You’ve been sick or are dealing with a medical condition.

Illness can certainly influence the timing of your cycle, Styer says. The common cold may not be enough to shift your cycle, but both temporary sickness (for example a severe flu) and chronic conditions (such as polycystic ovary syndrome) can throw it out of whack. Druet names thyroid disorders and uterine polyps or fibroids as other conditions that can have the same effect.

5. Your weight or diet has dramatically changed.

Styer says that if you’ve lost or gained a high amount of weight, your cycle may be affected. Your changing diet may also be the cause of a late period, Druet notes. “Severely restricting the amount of calories you consume — or not getting enough calories for how much you exercise — can cause the reproductive hormones to stop, whilst weight gain can cause estrogen to rise,” she says. “Both…can affect the menstrual cycle.”

6. You’ve been crossing time zones.

Did you take a big trip recently? Travel to a far-off land can definitely affect your cycle. “Since the timing and release of reproductive hormones from the brain is dependent upon light, extensive travel across many times zones may temporarily affect the timing of ovulation and cause a delay in when a period may come,” Styer says.

7. You’re getting closer to menopause.

“Women in their 40s and early 50s who are approaching menopause a normal increase in the frequency of prolonged time intervals between periods,” Styer says. But don’t rule it out if you’re not yet in your 40s. Some women do experience ovary function loss before then.

Period on and off

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