“I’m feeling super hormonal”, “My PMS makes me a nightmare”, “I just cried through three hours of Will & Grace reruns”.... Sound familiar? We all know periods can wreak havoc on our time-of-the-month personalities, but how much are hormones actually affecting our mental health? Well, it turns out, the answer is kinda complicated.
Your #mood throughout your cycle
First off, your hormones definitely have an effect on the way you ~feel~ throughout all stages of your cycle (not just at your most PMS-y). During your first phase, the follicular phase, you’re releasing a lotta estrogen, which does a bunch of cool stuff, including making you feel on your A-game, ramping up your sex drive, and making you feel more social, active, and flirty (go get ‘em, girl!).
Post-ovulation, your luteal phase brings with it a spike of the hormone progesterone, which builds up the uterine wall. When you don’t become pregnant, progesterone levels decline – this drop in progesterone is what causes your classic PMS symptoms: tiredness, bloating, sore boobs, bad moods, anxiety, and an intense need to listen to Carly Rae Jepson’s E•MO•TION on repeat.
As you’re well aware, these kinds of PMS-y mood changes are pretty run-of-the-mill for people with periods, *but* they are still worth talking about. Gabbing about how our hormones affect our mental health and moods can be a tricky line to walk, because the idea that women are just hysterical, hormonal, and crazy is pervasive and, well, sexist. The connection between mental illness and periods has been long misunderstood by the medical profession. In fact, a recent study disproved the theory that periods *don’t affect the cognitive ability of women*. Basically, the study proved that having your period in no way affects your memory, ability to reason, make decisions, or judgment.
But, there’s definitely a conversation to be had about how our hormones do affect our mood and our mental health!
What about PMDD?
While, for most of us, PMS is an inconvenient, uncomfortable, but manageable part of our cycle, for some bleeders there can be something more serious going on. We’ve spoken about premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) before, but, essentially, it is a severe manifestation of PMS symptoms that stop you from living your daily life. PMDD sufferers can also feel symptoms of depression, anxiety, lethargy, and lack of interest in usual activities tied to their menstrual cycles (aka, they come on 7-10 days before your period, and usually let up when bleeding starts).
So, are specific hormones to blame for PMDD? Well, science just isn’t sure. Margaret Altemus said in a 2011 study that there are simply too many factors to consider to say for *sure* that’s it’s estrogen, for example, causing a woman’s PMDD, and not “a more complete set of hormonal changes,” like puberty or menopause. Researchers at the National Institute of Health found that women with PMDD actually had the same hormone levels of women with common PMS, and investigated further to see if there was something going on at the cellular level. They found that women with PMDD had an “intrinsic difference in their molecular apparatus for response to sex hormones — not just emotional behaviors they should be able to voluntarily control.” In English? Women with PMDD are not overreacting to something that’s all in their head.
OK, whaddabout the pill tho?
Another place the discussion around mental health and birth control has been popping up a lot lately is on the topic of hormonal birth control and how that might affect our moods ( for a refresher on how the pill actually works to stop us from getting pregnant, check out our birth control 101 article). The potential negative effects of hormonal birth control on our moods are well-documented, both scientifically and anecdotally (as in, switching birth control brands until you find one that doesn’t make you cry into your cereal every morning). But, before you throw out your birth control or march to your doctor’s office and tell them to remove your Mirena like, RIGHT NOW, take a breath.
Remember, what doesn’t work for your best friend might work okay for you, and vice versa. It’s important to stay informed, but also not get too caught up in the scary headlines, or put too much weight in a single study. If you think your form of birth control might be causing you emotional distress or anxiety, remember: you have options! There are a bunch of different choices and brands out there of both hormonal and nonhormonal birth control, as well as ob-gyns who can work with you to find one that works best for you and your body.
Backlash aside, it’s definitely worth chatting to your ob-gyn about the effects that your hormonal birth control could have on your mood, positive *and* negative. Our fave ob-gyn, Dr. Angela, has even had patients who have treated their PMDD mood disorders with the birth control pill.
And don’t forget about the taboo!
As we’ve seen time and time again, the stigma that surrounds menstruation can also have severe and potentially life-threatening effects on the mental health of young people across the world. Whether it’s the gut-wrenching embarrassment of leaks on the back of your school skirt, or a boyfriend who told you your period wasn’t “clean” – the stigma of periods can turn that time of the month into a mental minefield. A tragic example was seen earlier this year in India, when a young girl took her own life after alleged period-shaming by a teacher. Less extreme, but no less serious examples—such as girls all over the world missing school because of shame and fear of leaks due to inadequate menstrual hygiene products—demonstrate the damaging effects that period stigma can have on our mental health.
So, what do you think? How does your period affect your mood or mental health? Have you switched your birth control because of the impact it had on your mood? Let us know in the comments!
If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts for any reason, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1.800.273.8255. For a list of suicide prevention hotlines across the world, follow this link.