In females, the onset of puberty is marked by the beginning of the menstrual cycle, typically between the ages of 10 and 16. On average, a woman has her period every 28 days. However, most women experience a shorter or longer amount of time between periods, as well as a variation in the number of days between periods each month. This disparity can be attributed to many factors. Included in this is the effect that stress has on the menstrual cycle.
Like the other functions of the body, the menstrual cycle is regulated by the brain. Located within the brain is the hypothalamus. This gland dictates when an egg is released by an ovary. The hypothalamus also sends a signal to the uterus that prompts it to thicken its walls in case conception occurs and a pregnancy ensues. If pregnancy does not occur, the egg and uterine lining are shed during a female’s monthly period.
While these functions take place regularly in a healthily functioning body, they can be halted by many different factors. These include sickness, a dramatic fluctuation in weight and stress. The reason for this is that the area of the brain that is responsible for controlling the menstrual cycle is affected by these issues. Stress, whether it is caused by a dangerous situation, relationship problems, difficult work or other external factors, can wreak havoc on the menstrual system. This is because when the body is placed under stress, it secretes cortisol. This hormone diminishes the release of estrogen and progesterone, which are the hormones necessary for regular menstrual cycles to take place. Also, stress to the body in the form of poor nutrition alters the proteins in the brain, rendering the hypothalamus incapable of managing the release of an egg by the ovaries.
The extent to which stress can have on a woman’s menstrual cycle can vary. Some women experience lighter bleeding and decrease in the length of bleeding when they undergo stress, while other women experience a complete cessation of bleeding. A return to a normal menstrual cycle does not usually occur until stress-inducing factors are alleviated. Every woman’s body responds to stress in different ways, and no two women’s menstrual cycles will respond identically to the same stressful situation. It should be noted that continued stress can have detrimental effects on a woman’s body, and it is important for women in these situations to find ways to get rid of stress in their lives. Once the stress has been reduced or eradicated, a normal menstrual cycle should resume.