Emotions During Your Menstrual Cycle: Everything You Need to Know
Uwe Porters - Mid-wife / Pregnancy & Postpartum Expert
When we’re teenagers, sudden moments of moodiness or irritability are often blamed on “raging hormones.” It’s an old cliche, but there’s truth to it too.
Our hormones play a huge role in our mood and emotions.
As adults, our hormones are different every day. In fact, each phase of our cycle brings different levels of hormones which impact everything from energy to sleep to hunger and mood. When you understand the different phases of your cycle, you can start to predict how you might feel - or at least determine the reason you feel low for seemingly no reason at all!
Knowing how hormones impact your emotional state is important. When you listen to your body, you start to be able to predict how you might react to things. With hormones racing, you might be more emotional or feel triggered at certain times of the month versus others and these are important things to know. It can give you the advantage of awareness. And this is a little bit like a superpower!
What Changes During My Cycle?
Hormones are always changing throughout your cycle. Every day, they might be a little different. Hormones like estrogen, testosterone and progesterone are the main ones that fluctuate throughout your cycle. Hormones impact everything including:
- Your mood
- Your hunger levels
- How much energy you have
- Your ability to concentrate
- Your physical strength
- Your sleep
- Your sex drive
- Your skin and hair
Given this pretty extensive list, it’s not surprising that you might feel a little off at certain points during your cycle. As hormone levels rise and fall, it causes changes in pretty much every aspect of your physical and mental self.
How Hormones Impact Your Emotions
So why do hormones have such a huge impact on the way you feel? Hormones make a big difference in your emotional state - good and bad - so it should come as no surprise that regulating your hormones can improve your mood. Here are some of the key hormones responsible for how you feel.
Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone and the one that tells your body when it is time to release an egg. That’s a super important role in and of itself, but research has shown that estrogen plays a big role in mood too. That’s because estrogen works alongside serotonin, dopamine and other mood-changing brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. When these brain chemicals are altered, it can cause huge changes in mood.
Progesterone kicks into action when your body is most fertile. This helps the egg implant in your uterus if it meets a sperm. It’s also the hormone that helps maintain a pregnancy by helping to keep the uterine lining nice and thick. Progesterone can actually help improve your mood. It acts like a natural antidepressant and can help lower anxiety, help with mood swings and can even help to relieve postpartum depression.
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone but don’t think that it’s only relevant for men. Everyone has testosterone and when you have your period, it’s testosterone that helps get your ovaries ready to send out an egg. There’s a common belief that testosterone increases your sex drive and you can sometimes see products advertising boosts of testosterone for increased libido, especially for women during menopause. Research does show that testosterone may improve sexual function in some women, but the data on effectiveness is pretty limited.
Phases And Feelings
Here’s what’s going on inside you throughout the month and how your changing hormones are likely to make you feel and act.
Week 1 (days 1-7) Menstrual Phase
On Day 1 of your cycle, your estrogen levels are at their lowest so if you feel like you don’t have energy, this is normal. Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of your period so you may also be struggling with cramps, feeling tired, achy or just generally grumpy. All normal. Your boobs might feel sore and heavy too, so even a hug might not be what you’re looking for right now!
As the days go on, your estrogen levels will go up, so you’ll start to feel sharper and more focused. This should be encouraging if you have work to do, especially if the past few days have been a bit of a write off! Remember not to be too hard on yourself this week. If you’re tired, rest. Yes, even if you signed up for a cycling class or promised your friend you would go on a run with them. It’s OK to reschedule. Also, when you’re hungry, eat! This is your body telling you something.
Want to know more about how to eat according to each phase of your cycle? Check out our blog post called Hack Your Cycle with Food.
It might also help to tell the people closest to you about what phase of your cycle you’re in. We know that it has historically been taboo, but wouldn’t it be easier if people understood where you’re coming from a bit? Or if you snapped out of nowhere, how helpful would it be for other people to know that you’re just dealing with some wild hormones? It’s important to remember that your body has an impact on your mind, so above all else, remember to take care of yourself during this phase of your cycle.
Week 2 (days 8-14) Follicular Phase
Week 2 of your cycle, aka the Follicular Phase is likely to be the “happy” time of your cycle. These two weeks are usually good compared to how you feel toward the end of your cycle.
During this part of your cycle, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is secreted which is what starts the production of follicles in your ovaries. It’s also the time that a hormone called estradiol starts to rise. This can help reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol which could be, in part, why you’re feeling a bit lighter and happier during this phase.
You might also feel full of energy thanks to the fact that your estrogen and testosterone levels are on the rise. You may also feel a bit more interested in sex and willing to try a new activity. We say, go for it!
Week 3 (days 15-21) Ovulatory Phase
Now, estrogen levels are starting to dip a bit but you’re still probably feeling pretty good. By the end of the week, your hormone levels will have leveled out which might bring a sense of calmness. Because this is ovulation week, you might also notice an increase in your sex drive. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective as this is the most likely time of the month you can get pregnant. What’s happening exactly? During ovulation, the hormone estradiol is ramped up to maximum levels. Estradiol makes insulin more effective and insulin is what tells your body to release more testosterone. Testosterone is one of the hormones that impacts sex drive so it’s no wonder that you might be feeling a little more “in the mood,” than usual. Experts believe this is nature’s way of encouraging women to have sex during their most fertile time of the month.
Week 4 (days 22-28) Luteal Phase
Hello PMS. The luteal phase is when you might start experiencing the tell-tale signs of premenstrual syndrome. That’s because estrogen, progesterone and testosterone all fall off a cliff during this phase and that’s what causes you to feel lower than usual.
Because of the radically changing hormones, your moods might be a bit wild. If your partner's chewing is suddenly so irritating you think you might punch a wall, just take a deep breath and try to remember that hormones might be at play here. Sometimes things that never bothered you before will feel monumentally annoying during this phase. It’s normal, but tricky to manage. These feelings can sneak up on you!
The sudden dip in estrogen might also disrupt your sleep, too (yup, this hormone contains sleep-regulating serotonin). Want to know more? Check out our post called Sleep and Your Cycle: How are They Connected?
The yucky feelings that come in the days before your period might have you looking for creature comforts to feel better - like junk food and alcohol. Don’t fall into this trap. Of course, it’s OK to indulge a little bit, but try to take extra good care of yourself during this phase. If you’re craving something sweet, try dark chocolate (with at least 80% cacao). The magnesium content can also help with sleep so it’s a double win! If you want coffee or caffeine, try a spiced herbal tea instead. Want a cocktail or glass of wine, swap in a tasty kombucha or mocktail. You’ll feel better for it!
What If Something Doesn’t Feel Right?
It can be tough to perfectly pinpoint all the ups and downs of your cycle. We live busy lives and most of us are not tracking things on a daily basis. If you are feeling off, try checking in with your body to see where you’re at. It might provide some helpful insight. Not sure how to track your cycle? Check out our post with some of our top period tracking apps for inspiration.
It can also be helpful to talk to someone you trust. We know it can be hard to open up about your cycle but sometimes sharing how you’re feeling or what phase of your cycle you’re in with a trusted friend or your partner can feel very cathartic and help you get the support you need. It can also help to feel like you’re not alone with some of the craziness of your own hormones. After all, every woman will have experienced hormonal changes to some degree.
But most importantly, you’ll very likely get reassurance that everything you’re experiencing is normal. That said, if you don’t feel like the things you’re experiencing are normal, consider asking for help. If your low moods continue for weeks, you feel out of control, chronically depressed or your period pain is impacting your ability to do normal, day-to-day things, tell someone. You can also talk to us. We have experts in hormonal health who are here to listen and provide support. Remember, we are here to help you and you should never have to deal with these things alone. To talk to our experts, just head to our support page and start a live chat.