Can Stress Cause Spotting? Anxiety And Your Cycle

By: Margaret Wack

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Debra Halseth, LCSW

When you're already suffering from stress and anxiety, the last thing you want to worry about is a late period of unexplained spotting. But anxiety can have a significant impact on your period, delaying menstruation, causing unexpected bleeding, or even stopping your period altogether. Changes in your menstrual cycle are one of the first indicators that you might be suffering from an underlying issue, so it's important to stay on top of any changes that may occur.

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Stress And Spotting

While it might be alarming to find blood in your underwear when you're not expecting it, spotting and breakthrough bleeding is pretty common. Spotting can happen for a variety of reasons, from serious illnesses to minor changes in your life. Stress and anxiety have been shown to disrupt the menstrual cycle in a variety of ways, including spotting and unexpected bleeding.

While it's still unclear exactly how and why stress and anxiety can impact your cycle if you're experiencing spotting and irregular bleeding while under extreme stress, there's a good chance that the two are related. The good news is that reducing stress and anxiety can get your cycle back on track!

Other Ways Anxiety Can Affect Your Cycle

Anxiety can wreak even more havoc than spotting, especially in combination with other stresses on the body. If you're experiencing changes in your menstrual cycle due to stress, it's always a good idea to get a second opinion from a medical professional.

Late Or Missed Periods

If your period's late and you're not sure why there's a good chance that stress might have something to do with it. When you're under a lot of stress and anxiety, you can have a delayed period, or even skip your period entirely. Stress can also make your cycle longer or more irregular, often due to one or more missed periods.

No Periods

While not experiencing any period at all is definitely alarming, ceased periods, also called amenorrhea, can be another side effect of stress and anxiety. If you're not having your period at all, or have missed the last several periods, you should check with a doctor to make sure that nothing more serious is going on.

Heavier Bleeding

Even if you have your period and your cycle is regular, you may still experience side effects of stress and anxiety during menstruation. You may experience heavier bleeding and more intense pain, fatigue, and soreness. Your period may also last longer.

Other Symptoms Of Anxiety

Anxiety has many other physical side effects other than its effect on the menstrual cycle. While everyone experiences anxiety differently, there are a few common symptoms to watch out for. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms along with spotting or other changes in your menstrual cycle, it's a good indication that you could be suffering from higher than normal levels of stress and anxiety.

Excessive Worrying

Excessive worrying is one of the most common signs of stress and anxiety. You may feel like your mind is racing, and you're unable to control your thoughts. You might also experience intrusive thoughts about particular worries or stressors, even when you're trying to focus on other things. If you're not able to stop thinking about things that are worrying you, it may be a sign that something more serious is going on besides minor stress. Always reach out to a professional if you're struggling with your mental health.

Fatigue And Lethargy

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If you find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and are struggling to make it through the day, it could be a symptom of stress and anxiety. Fatigue and lethargy are very common symptoms, whether you're temporarily stressed out or experience persistent anxiety. Fatigue and lethargy can also have a compound effect on other symptoms, like anger, guilt, and hopelessness.

Feelings Of Hopelessness

Feelings of hopelessness are common symptoms of stress and anxiety. You might feel like there's no point in trying anymore, or like bad things will happen no matter what you do. Feelings of hopelessness can often have their root in real-world stressors like financial insecurity, political unrest, and personal and professional disappointments. You may feel as if nothing you do matters, and as if you're powerless to effect any real change upon the world.

Anger And Irritability

If you're feeling angry and irritable even when you're not sure why, it could be a symptom of stress and anxiety. Stress can cause you to lose your patience more quickly, become overwhelmed even by small things, and snap or lash out at the people around you. Stress can also cause you to superimpose anger at other things onto the people and things around you. Even if you're not usually an angry person, stress can make you feel like your emotions, and angry reactions are out of control.

Muscle Tension And Soreness

Stress and anxiety often cause you to tense up your muscles, resulting in tension, soreness, and pain. If you're prone to clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth under stress, it can cause headaches throughout the day. Stress and anxiety can also wear out your body, resulting in physical exhaustion at the end of the day, even if you haven't done anything in particular.

Changes In Appetite

If you're eating more than you used to, or struggling to eat throughout the day, it could be a symptom of stress or anxiety. Stress can cause your appetite to plummet, make you feel like you have a nervous or upset stomach, and make you crave food less. If you're in the throes of stress and anxiety, it's also common to try to comfort yourself with food and overeat if you notice that your appetite has changed recently and you're not sure why it could be because of stress.

Changes In Sleep Patterns

Stress and anxiety can also have a significant impact on sleep. Some people struggle to fall asleep on time or sleep at all, and can struggle with restlessness and even insomnia. Other people find it difficult to get up in the morning and sleep for much longer than the recommended number of hours per day. Stress can also cause low-quality sleep that's frequently interrupted.

Feelings Of Guilt

If you're suffering from stress and anxiety, you may experience persistent feelings of guilt, even when you've done nothing wrong. This guilty feeling can significantly affect your quality of life, and result in intrusive thoughts even when you're trying to focus on other things.

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Other Reasons For Spotting

In addition to stress and anxiety, spotting can happen for a variety of reasons. If you're worried about spotting, it's always a good idea to seek the help of a medical professional to make sure there's not something more serious going on.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy is another common sign of spotting. After an egg is implanted in the uterus, you may experience implantation bleeding, which looks and feels similar to spotting. If you think you might be pregnant, you should take a pregnancy test and seek help right away to decide on the best option for you.

Excessive Exercise

Excessive exercise can disrupt your cycle, cause spotting, or even stop your period entirely. When your body is under too much stress from exercise, changes in your menstrual cycle can be one of the first signs that something is wrong. While exercise is, in general, beneficial, you should avoid taxing your body to the point where there are serious health side effects.

Weight Changes

If you've gained or lost a significant amount of weight recently, it could affect your period. Significant weight gain or loss can mess with your cycle, causing spotting, delayed, or even absent periods. Whether you're trying to gain or lose weight, make sure to do so gradually and use healthy methods.

Other Health Issues

In addition to the causes listed above, your cycle can be disrupted by a variety of other health issues, including changing birth control, problems with your thyroid, PCOS, and other health issues. Changes in your cycle can be one of the first signs that something is wrong, so it's important to listen to your body and ask for help if you need it.

When To Seek Help

If you're experiencing spotting or other issues with your cycle, it could be a sign of an unhealthy amount of stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety can have plenty of negative side effects and can have a significant impact on your quality of life. The good news is that stress and anxiety are very common, and can be treated and managed in a variety of ways.

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Do you think you might be suffering from stress and anxiety? Professional therapists can help you to manage your anxiety, develop coping strategies, and improve your mental health. With BetterHelp's diverse selection of online therapy services, you can reap the benefits of therapy from the comfort and privacy of your own home. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why does stress cause spotting?

Emotional stress can lead to spotting. Women who are under a lot of stress may have vaginal bleeding in between periods as a result of the effects of extreme stress on the body. This is due to an increase in cortisol levels, which can throw off the balance of estrogen and progesterone in your body (hormones associated with periods), causing you to experience spotting, to miss a period, or other changes to your cycle. If you're experiencing spotting or abnormal vaginal bleeding and you're under tons of stress -- find ways to reduce your stress immediately. Reach out to your primary care physician or mental health provider for support.

What does it mean when you’re bleeding but not on your period?

If you're bleeding and you're not on your period, this is most likely breakthrough bleeding or period spotting. Spotting is bleeding between periods that can be activated by elevated levels of a stress hormone.

Can stress cause spotting when on the pill?

Many women report having spotting or breakthrough bleeding between periods. If you're spotting or having an abnormal amount of unexplained bleeding or bleeding in between periods -- this can be a sign that your body is saying "I'm stressed."

Can you spot due to stress?

Yes. Women who are under large amounts of stress can experience bleeding that occurs outside of a normal period. This is often referred to as breakthrough bleeding. Breakthrough bleeding is normally a small or intermittent amount of bleeding that occurs as a response to high levels of stress.

Does spotting mean I’m pregnant?

In some cases, spotting can indicate a pregnancy. Implantation bleeding that occurs when an egg is implanted inside the uterus can often look like spotting. If you're spotting in between periods and you think you may be pregnant –take a pregnancy test, and seek the advice of a medical professional.

What does pregnancy spotting look like?

Pregnancy spotting often looks like regular spotting. This can be confusing for a woman who is unsure if she's pregnant. If you're trying to get pregnant or if you suspect you might be pregnant talk to your doctor.

Why have I been spotting for a month?

If you've been spotting for a month and you're under stress, consider revamping your day to reduce the amount of stress (as much as possible). Spotting for an extended period of time can indicate high levels of stress, pregnancy, or other changes in the body. It is recommended that you speak with a medical professional.

Is spotting for 2 weeks normal?

This depends on your cycle. If spotting in between periods is a normal part of your cycle, then this may be normal for you. However, if you're not prone to spotting and you've been spotting for two weeks or more, this can indicate a more serious issue. Speak to a medical professional about your concerns.

What STD can cause a woman to bleed?

The presence of some STD's can wreak havoc on a woman's body and cause bleeding. If you're concerned that you have (or may have been exposed to) an STD -- seek medical attention immediately.

Is it normal to spot while on the pill?

Many women have fluctuations in their menstrual cycle after starting the pill. If you're experiencing regular spotting after taking the pill, it is advised to reach out to a medical professional about your concerns.

Why am I spotting while on the pill?

The hormones affected by taking the pill can cause changes in your body. These changes include spotting for some women. If you've recently started taking the pill and now you're having issues with spotting, talk to the prescribing medical professional about the potential side effects of the pill.

What happens if you bleed while on the pill?

Spotting and bleeding while on the pill are common for some women. This is one reaction taking the pill has on the body. While bleeding after taking the pill is no cause for concern for some women, if you're having this issue (and it's unusual for you) reach out to a medical doctor.

How can you stop spotting?

Seek advice from your primary care doctor. Your doctor can complete a series of physical exams and tests. These tests can help rule out other underlying medical conditions that can be contributing to your spotting.

Does spotting count as period?

In most cases, spotting doesn't count as a period. Spotting is something that usually happens in between periods. However, if you're a woman who normally has very light or irregular periods, you may confuse spotting with your normal menstrual cycle.

Can anxiety cause spotting between periods?

Women who suffer from chronic anxiety and high levels of stress may notice they spot more often in between periods. This is due to the high levels of pressure your body is under. Experiencing stress or anxiety for prolonged periods can throw off your body systems -- including your period.

What is spotting a sign of?

Spotting is your body's way of telling you that it's undergoing a change. That change can be positive like pregnancy, or the beginning of womanhood. It can also be related to medical issues in the body and mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Why does spotting happen?

Spotting can happen for a variety of reasons. Pregnancy, high levels of stress, menstrual changes, and others are reasons why spotting happens. If you've suddenly started spotting and you have concerns, reach out to your primary care doctor for support and advice.

Can I take a pregnancy test while spotting?

Yes. You can take a pregnancy test while spotting.

Can anxiety cause spotting?

Anxiety can cause period spotting. When you experience spotting, it is important to note if you have been under a large amount of stress or not. Bleeding between periods can be no cause for concern, or it may mean that something needs to be addressed with your body. When this happens to you, pay attention to what you are doing and how you feel. Changes in vaginal discharge should always be noted, whether they involve vaginal bleeding or not.

What is the cause of spotting?

There are multiple possible causes of spotting or bleeding between periods. When your body has a fertilized egg, there is a chance you will see spotting. It is considered to be an early pregnancy symptom. If you start spotting but then you are experiencing vaginal bleeding, but it isn’t time for your period to show up, you should meet with a doctor to seek medical advice or treatment. You may be experiencing vaginal bleeding that is of a serious nature and caused by uterine fibroids, ectopic pregnancy, or pelvic inflammatory disease. If you are spotting right before you expect vaginal bleeding, this is to be expected.

Can stress cause breakthrough bleeding?

Breakthrough bleeding, or bleeding between periods can be caused by stress, but it is often fine. Unless you are also in pain, it is probably nothing that needs to be investigated by a doctor. It is important to pay attention to your vaginal discharge and note when you experience vaginal bleeding, so you keep track of your cycle. When you use this approach, you will be able to notice when your menstrual cycles are irregular, and you can get additional information about your health. Do everything you can to remember to take your birth control pills as well, if you depend on them as your only birth control method. You must take them as directed for them to work properly and keep your hormones at the levels they need to be. You can always talk to your doctor about birth control options, vaginal bleeding, and whatever else is concerning you, so you will know exactly how stress can affect your cycle and the vaginal bleeding you experience.

What does spotting look like?

Spotting looks like just a few drops of blood as vaginal discharge that you may see between periods. It is a bit different than bleeding between periods, since bleeding would amount to more than just a few drops. It can be caused by hormonal birth control or birth control pills, stress, or show up as an early pregnancy indicator. If you feel like you are experiencing vaginal bleeding or bleeding between periods, this is much different than spotting.

When should I worry about spotting?

There are many possible reasons why a woman can experience spotting, which is different from vaginal bleeding. She may have a sexually transmitted disease, be using hormonal birth control methods including birth control pills, have uterine fibroids, an ectopic pregnancy, or have an issue with a fallopian tube. However, many times, you don’t need to worry about bleeding spotting, because it isn’t caused by abnormal uterine bleeding. You should seek out a doctor when you are also experiencing pain or fever. They will be able to provide you with medical advice diagnosis, so you can get the medical care you need if something serious is going on. If your vaginal discharge includes vaginal bleeding when it is not the right time, this is something that you should worry about as well.

When should I go to the doctor for spotting between periods?

You don’t need to visit a doctor for spotting between periods unless it is painful, or you have a fever as well. You may need to go to the doctor if you have bleeding between periods, or abnormal vaginal bleeding in general. Many times, spotting is something to be expected, but other times it is serious. Stay informed of health news to be able to spot the differences between normal vaginal bleeding or spotting and inflammatory disease. Normal vaginal bleeding is no cause for concern, and should be happening on a regular basis, whenever you are taking note of the dates on a calendar. This is a good way to note any serious changes and can allow you to be aware of bleeding between periods. If you experience vaginal bleeding after you have gone through menopause, you should seek out emergency care.

What does breakthrough bleeding look like?

Breakthrough bleeding can look like spotting does, or it can look like normal vaginal bleeding, although it will be less heavy than your menstrual flow, since it is a type of bleeding between periods. Essentially, it is a light bleeding that can be fine. If you are concerned about it however, you can talk to your doctor about medical advice on how to stop it or to learn if you need to pay attention to this vaginal discharge. Keep in mind that it is common to have a bit of bleeding between periods when you are taking birth control oral contraceptives, especially ones that contain estrogen and progesterone.

How long does spotting last?

Regardless of the reason behind spotting, it should not last for more than 1 to 3 days. This bleeding between periods can be quite common, as there are many reasons why it can occur. Keep in mind that it may be occurring because of your birth control pills. Consider other forms of birth control if this bleeding bothers you and you suspect hormonal birth control is the cause. Other causes of bleeding between periods include pregnancy or an underlying health issue, so take note of any uterine bleeding, no matter what time of the month it occurs, so you can be proactive about your health. Vaginal bleeding is something that is not often talked about, but it is a normal aspect of many women’s lives, as they go through their childbearing years. When you notice vaginal bleeding after you have experienced menopause, you may need medical care.


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