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Stressed out cycle

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Tina asks:

I just recently found this site and I am grat3ful that I did. I'm about four to five days late with my period and I'm freaking out. My cycle is normally 28 days, and it's been that way for a year now. I have been stressed out this month because of my finals, graduation, and college stuff, so I know it's a possibility that stress is causing this, but I'm still freaking out. I am sexually active, but my boyfriend and I are always careful. We always use protection, we even check to see if the condom had broken or not. And it wasn't. I keep getting stomach aches, and I haven't been getting any cramps, which are normally a sign to me that I'm about to get my period, or any other symptoms that I normally get. I'm just not sure what's going on and I would really just like some advice on what to do or not to do.

Heather Corinna replies:

If you always use condoms properly -- and it sure sounds like you do -- then it's reasonable to presume that you have not had a risk of pregnancy.

Condoms used alone -- when they are used properly and consistently -- are really very, very reliable forms of birth control and STI protection.

Especially with the stomach aches, it sounds to me like you certainly have a lot of stress right now, and like that stressload could be messing you up, including making your cycle all wonky. So, what I'd suggest -- per your period and just in general -- is that you do all you can to really manage those stresses right now. Even if your period was on time, it's really important for physical and mental health to manage your stresses.

So, things like:

  • Getting enough sleep: you have finals, so that probably means late nights of studying, but if you can squeeze in an extra hour or two, it would be a big help,
  • Watching your caffeine, sugar and junk food intake: even just being sure to drink extra water to mitigate some of that and to eat some extra fruit or greens is god news,
  • Exercise: even just (though with some forms of yoga, it's hardly a "just") some yoga, stretching or a short walk on study breaks can help keep your body more balanced when studying makes you more sedentary than usual,
  • Relaxation: whatever it is that helps you relax, whether it's meditation, listening to some music, taking a bike ride or a long shower, make time for some relaxation every day...

...can all make a pretty huge difference. It's so easy when we're juggling a lot and are so stressed out not to notice the toll it can take on our bodies, or even realize all the general stuff we need to do for our health and well-being has been cut out or diminished.

Of course, it can also help when you're SO stressed and also worried about a pregnancy -- even if there's no real reason TO worry about it -- to just take a pregnancy test so you can get that worry out of your head. For $10, you can't beat that bargain when it comes to one small thing that can make you feel a lot better so quickly.

You can also try an herbal emmenagogue if you're interested. It's not guaranteed, but sometimes some combination of herbs can help some women with late or missing periods. Teas which contain ginger, parsley, blue cohosh, yarrow, mugwort, sage, juniper or angelica all have properties which can help with a sluggish cycle. You can also just ask someone working in the herb and vitamin section of your natural foods store if they have any pre-packaged teas for that purpose: most do.

Even if after doing all of this, you find that you're not getting your period, you may just have skipped this cycle: that can happen every now and then, and one time isn't something to sweat. But if after two or three cycles you're not back to normal, then it's smart to check in with your reproductive healthcare provider.

written 27 Jun 2007 . updated 13 Dec 2012

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