Did you know that stress can affect your fertility?
We know there are two basic phases to the monthly cycle every woman experiences. During the follicular phase, the ovary brings an egg (or two) towards maturation in ovulation. In the luteal phase, the body either prepares for a long haul of 9 months supporting a newly-conceived baby OR the shedding of the lining of the uterus in the process called menstruation, when the cycle then repeats itself. The length of the cycle hinges on the ovulatory event. Menses typically follows about 14 days or so after ovulation.
If you have regular cycles, ovulation will happen near the middle of the cycle, and therefore menses will begin again about four weeks after it last began (give or take a day or two). But what if it doesn’t? What if your period doesn’t show up and you know you’re not pregnant? Then what?! What happened?
Enter: your body’s response to stress.
In the last year there have been numerous stressors present (global pandemic, financial distress, job uncertainty, anyone?) that impact your body’s ability to ovulate. But stress doesn’t have to be something traumatic or global – it can be something as simple as traveling for the holidays to visit family (or have them visit you), something as slight as changing the way you work out, something emotional like the grief of losing a loved one, or something as mundane as preparing for midterms or final exams when in school.
Let me illustrate: in October 2019 there were a myriad of external and internal stressors taking place in my own life. I had just started menses when we found out my husband’s best friend from high school died tragically in a car accident. My husband traveled home for the week to attend the funeral and support the family, while our girls and I stayed home. My boss was given a promotion, leaving our office staff facing a third person-in-charge transition in as many years. I developed two infections and began medicated treatment. On the eve of traveling out of state with my husband sans children for a little getaway for our anniversary, I found out my last remaining grandparent had passed away at the age of 93. Upon returning from our out-of-state travel, we immediately got on a plane with our girls and flew to my hometown for the funeral (which included sprinting through the Chicago airport trying not to miss our connecting flight!). WHEW!
I have always, always, always had regular cycles. Being able to pinpoint ovulation through my observations led to my confidence in knowing exactly when to expect menses to start. In the midst of the craziness that was that month, however, I wasn’t as diligent about making my observations and was confused when my period didn’t start when expected. I had taken a few pregnancy tests that were negative, but still my period didn’t come. Finally, on day 44 (!!!) I started bleeding and was able to see clearly what had transpired in that cycle: the effects of stress!
Sometimes it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees when you’re in the thick of constant life stressors. When you know that you are in the throes of emotional, physical, or mental stress, do what you can to mitigate it. Take deep breaths to increase oxygen flow, get some fresh air and sunshine, go for a walk and get your endorphins up, listen to soothing music, give your best girlfriend a call, and/or (my personal favorite!) take a nap.
If you are trying to achieve pregnancy, maximizing intercourse during the fertile window is key. But stress can affect this fertile window by delaying ovulation. If you are trying to avoid pregnancy, you may have to spend a few more days holding hands with your significant other rather than having intercourse as you clarify what your body is doing by observing the signs of a delayed ovulation.
What can you do to prepare for these effects? Begin charting your cycle! When you learn to chart the signs of the different phases of your cycle, you become that much more aware of how your body reacts to external or internal stimuli. Charting your cycle can help you can be prepared for when stress enters the scene and you wonder why you haven’t started your period yet!
Want to learn more? Download the Chart Neo app and begin taking note of your cyclic location. Need more guidance? Sign up for our monthly subscription of either Connect or Confidence and have access to monthly chart reviews and our Secure Messaging Center with one of our fertility coaches! You can learn more about our programs by scheduling a Discovery Call.
Written by: Deb Martinek, CYC Fertility Coach