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How Does Exam Stress Affect Periods?

how does exam stress affect periods?

Exam season is upon us once more, as thousands of students across the UK begin to sit GCSE, A-Level and end of year university exams. For many, the stress of exams is probably inevitable, but have you ever wondered how this can affect the menstrual cycle? Or how having a period itself can be stressful during exam season? WUKA experts discuss the affects of exam stress on the menstrual cycle, with tips on how to manage both stress and your period at school.

How does stress affect the menstrual cycle?

Most of the time, stress is short lived and easily managed, but sometimes it can become chronic, and it can start to negatively impact on many areas of your life.

When we’re stressed, changes take place within the body. These are normal physiological reactions to a stressful situation, which can be emotional, physical, social or cultural. These stresses occur daily- when we hit the gym, when we watch a sad movie, when we’re running late for the bus. 

Put simply, the body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode, and physical reactions- such as a racing heart, sweaty palms and thumping heart- are all signs that your body is fighting a perceived ‘threat’. 

Chronic stress refers to the type of stress that isn’t resolved quickly- such as exam stress. When we experience chronic stress, we might notice symptoms such as headache, irritability, insomnia and stomach pain. And when it comes to the menstrual cycle, we might notice that our period becomes irregular- perhaps arriving a day early, one or two days late, or we might miss one completely. 

Exam stress might be more than just feeling nervous ahead of an important test; for some, its effect can be felt every single day in the lead up to not just the exam itself but results day too. Stress affects us all in different ways and to different extents, and there can be many different ways to experience it.

How Does Exam Stress Affect Periods?

Can exam stress cause a missed period?

A study carried out in 2017 amongst students at Cambridge University found that over a third of menstruating students had missed a period during their course, with nearly half putting it down to stress. 36% said that they’d missed a period more than once, and many students reported that this usually happened during exam season. 

These findings are supported by this 2022 study into cycle irregularity among students in Saudi Arabia, which also found that menstrual ‘abnormalities’ occurred during exam season.

The bottom line? Exam stress can cause disruptions to your cycle, which could result in a missed period.

Can stress delay your period? 

Sometimes stress can delay your period, so it turns up a few days later than normal, making your entire cycle a little longer than usual. But studies like this one have found links between stress and longer cycles, while studies like this one have found that long-term stress can make your cycle shorter. 

Overall, its clear to see that whether your period is delayed or whether it comes a little sooner than expected, stress certainly has a lot to answer for!

Other causes of irregular periods

Of course, stress is only one potential reason why your period might be a little erratic. There can be other causes of irregular periods, such as illness, breastfeeding, pregnancy, hormonal birth control, weight loss/ gain, perimenopause and over exercising. 

Tips for managing exam stress

It’s probably easier said than done, but taking steps to manage your stress levels during exam season is a really good idea. 

Here are our top tips for managing exam stress:

  • Use your study time to do things you enjoy too. Yes, studying is important, but its also essential to maintain a healthy balance between that and some down time too. So make some time in your schedule for a session at the gym, a night out with friends or a morning getting a massage. 
  • Talk about how you feel, especially with others going through the same experience as you. Sharing your thoughts and feelings can be so beneficial. 
  • Take breaks when you need them. Even if you planned to study for three hours today, it’s still ok to take a break if you’re struggling. 
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself is crucial right now, so make sure you’ve got a meal plan to hand that will fuel your body and mind.
  • Form a study group. Sometimes it’s easier to revise with friends, and the shared experience will help too.
  • Make a study timetable- and make sure you add breaks!
  • Prepare everything you need the night before the exam. Pack your bag, get an early night and make sure you’re ready to go.
  • Breathe. Mindful breathing can be so helpful when you’re feeling stressed and your mind is racing. Take a moment- even if mid-exam- to just calm your breath and focus on the moment.
  • Take your time. Don’t rush through your exam to get it over with. Read your paper carefully and take a moment to compose your answers. You can do this.

Tips for managing your period during exams

So we know that our cycle can be a little unpredictable when we’re under stress, and there’s always the chance that your period could be due smack bang in the middle of exam season anyway- so it makes sense to be prepared and do what you can to make it as easy to manage as possible. 

Here are our top tips for managing your period during exams.

How Does Exam Stress Affect Periods?

Period pants

We cannot stress this enough! Not only are period pants way more comfy than pads and tampons, but they’re able to absorb more period blood too. A pair of heavy flow basics will hold up to 20ml of blood, which is around 4 tampons worth. This means you don’t need to leave your exam halfway through to change, and you don’t need to smuggle a tampon up your sleeve if you do manage to get a loo break either. 

And alongside being super comfy, period pants are also eco-friendly- and we know this means a lot to you. 

We recommend our Teen Stretch™️ because they’re multi-size, which means that not only do you always get the perfect fit, but they can accommodate period bloating and other changes to your body shape too.They’re super soft, with no VPL, and they’re designed to gently support you in all the right places. These pants are also available for Super Heavy Flow, designed to hold up 60ml blood- plus they can be worn for up to 24 hours. Peace of mind so you can focus on your paper, not your period.

Another great option is our Flex detachable- again, these are multi-size, but they have detachable straps which means that you can easily change them when you need to, without undressing fully. So they’re good for changing your pants in small cubicles if you need to, and perfect for anyone with limited mobility.

Don't risk being told you can’t leave the exam hall to use the loo. Don’t risk the fear of leaks putting you off the exam. Don’t risk suddenly getting your period in the middle of your exam and not knowing what to do- just wear a pair, and be prepared!

Be prepared- use the bathroom!

It goes without saying, but mums know best. And when you’re told to go to the loo before you leave, it’s actually very good advice! 

Nerves can make us need the loo more too, so especially if you suffer with an anxious tummy (or you’re on your period and you know you always seem to poo more at that time of the month!) make sure you go before you start your exam. 

Cycle tracking

Tracking your cycle can help hugely, even if exam stress has things going a little off track for a while. If you track your symptoms too, you will be able to know more quickly if your period is on the way and you might need protection for your exam. 

And then see our first tip: period pants. You just wear them like normal pants, so it’s really no big deal if you pop them on before your exam and your period doesn’t arrive. At least you we’re ready just in case!

Hydration

How Does Exam Stress Affect Periods?

Staying hydrated is always a good idea, but it can massively help with easing period pains too. The last thing you want to focus on during your exam is the cramps in your tummy rather than the paper in front of you. 

Healthy diet

Eating a healthy and balanced diet is always important, but during this time it’s vital. Making sure you have a good breakfast is a great idea, to fuel both your mind and your body ahead offer important day. Even if you feel you can’t face it, sometimes an empty stomach can make you feel worse, so try a smoothie at least if the thought of solid food isn’t appealing. 

Sleep

Prioritising sleep is crucial if you want to wake up and kick ass! There are so many drawbacks to being sleep deprived, including foggy head, irritability, inability to concentrate… none of this is ideal when you have an exam to sit!

Keep a regular bedtime and wake up time, and make sure you stick to it as best as you can.

Natural remedies for cramps

Period cramps are never fun, and especially during an exam. Sadly, you won’t be able to take a hot water bottle in with you, but you can use one before you go in- and don’t forget paracetamol too! 

There are also some natural remedies that you can try ahead of your exam:

  • Essential oil massage- lavender is great for calming, and rose geranium is known to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Avoid processed foods, alcohol and fizzy drinks. Anything high in sugar or salt will make cramps worse.
  • Drink herbal tea- chamomile is good for relaxing muscle spasms, and ginger tea is known to help ease digestive complaints.
  • Yoga- see our post from Anja about the best yoga positions to ease cramps.

Related posts:

How Does Stress Affect Your Period?

Surviving Your Period at School 

Why We Launched WUKA Teen Stretch 

Talking to Your Daughter About Periods: a Guide for Dads

WUKA vs Tampons and Pads

Why Does my Tummy Get Upset During My Period?

FAQs

Can exam stress cause a delayed period?

Stress can make your cycle a little erratic, and this can sometimes mean your period is delayed by a few days. Don’t worry too much about it, but speak to your doctor if you’re concerned. Most cycles will settle down again quickly, especially once exam season is over. 

Can exam stress cause early periods?

Just as exam stress can cause your period to be late, it can also be the reason why it turns up early too. Again, this isn’t usually a cause for concern, but speak to your doctor if you’re worried. 

How can I ease period pain during my exam?

Take paracetamol ahead of your exam, and try drinking chamomile or ginger tea too. It helps to make sure you drink enough water and eat a balanced diet too, and don’t forget to prioritise sleep so that your body is fuelled and rested enough to help you through