Your body is a complex machine, and hormones are the chemical messengers that keep this machine running smoothly.
Hormones regulate virtually all bodily functions, from your appetite and energy levels to your mood and mental well-being. However, hormonal imbalances can throw this finely-tuned system off, leading to a variety of mental health issues.
Menstrual cycle & hormones
As a woman, you experience a complex interplay of hormones during each menstrual cycle. Two hormones, estrogen, and progesterone, play a significant role. In the first half of your cycle, estrogen levels rise to prepare your body for ovulation. After ovulation, progesterone levels rise to prepare your body for a potential pregnancy. If no pregnancy occurs, both hormone levels drop, leading to menstruation.
The menstrual cycle and mood
These hormonal fluctuations can impact your brain chemistry and influence your mood. Estrogen, for instance, is linked to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of well-being and happiness. As your estrogen levels rise and fall, so can your mood. This is why you might notice mood changes or emotional sensitivity at certain points in your cycle.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
About a week or two before your period starts, you might experience a group of symptoms collectively known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). These can include mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. PMS is likely connected to the drop in estrogen and progesterone levels at the end of your cycle.
A more severe form of PMS, known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), affects about 5% of women of reproductive age. Symptoms of PMDD are so severe that they significantly interfere with a woman’s daily activities and relationships. These can include extreme mood swings, depression, hopelessness, anger, anxiety, low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, and even suicidal thoughts.
There are risk factors that can make some women more susceptible to experiencing mental health issues related to hormonal changes. These can include:
- Personal or family history of mental health issues: Women who have a personal history or family history of mood disorders such as depression or anxiety are often at a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues during periods of hormonal change
- Traumatic life events or high levels of stress: Stressful life circumstances or events, such as the loss of a loved one, relationship issues, or work stress, can exacerbate the impact of hormonal fluctuations on mental health
- Physical health problems: Certain physical health conditions, such as thyroid disorders, can cause hormonal imbalances that affect mood and mental health
- Poor lifestyle habits: Unhealthy habits such as lack of physical activity, poor diet, inadequate sleep, and substance use can worsen the impact of hormonal changes on mental health
- History of menstrual or hormonal problems: Women who have had severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS), postpartum depression, or other hormone-related conditions may be at higher risk
- Menopause and perimenopause: The hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause can increase the risk of mental health issues, particularly in women who had mental health concerns earlier in life
These risk factors do not guarantee that someone will experience mental health issues due to hormonal changes, but they can increase the likelihood. It’s important for any woman experiencing mental health concerns to seek help from a healthcare provider.
Coping with hormonal changes
Understanding the link between your menstrual cycle and mental health can help you manage their impact. Here are some strategies:
- Tracking your cycle: By tracking your menstrual cycle, you can anticipate hormonal fluctuations and their potential effects on your mood
- Lifestyle adjustments: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, sufficient sleep, and stress management techniques like meditation can help regulate your hormonal balance and improve your mental health
- Professional help: If you’re experiencing severe mood swings, depression, or anxiety, it’s essential to seek help from a healthcare professional. They may recommend treatments like hormonal therapy or antidepressants
- Psychotherapy or counseling: Speaking with a mental health professional can be beneficial in navigating the emotional challenges related to hormonal changes
- Support groups: Connecting with others who are going through similar experiences can provide comfort, reduce feelings of isolation, and help you learn new strategies for coping
Your menstrual cycle involves a complex dance of hormones that can have a profound impact on your mental health. However, understanding these connections can help you navigate these challenges.
If you’re struggling, remember that you’re not alone and there are resources available to help. Please consult with a healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your mental health.
Dr. Sirichet Anekpornwattana (Fertility doctor) (1 June 2023)