As women with menstrual cycles, we know that our hormones- and their shifts through the month- influence our moods. We can feel Suuuuper Awesoooome in parts of our cycle, or suuuuper crappy. We can have amazing clarity (like, RuPaul ‘Drag Race’ style honesty) in parts of our cycle, and also be really soft and quiet. Each of these phases and emotions is influenced by (but not completely!) our hormones.
I want to take a quick look at which hormones influence us, and when, so we can begin to listen to our bodies, our hormones, and our cycles and learn how to care for ourselves better throughout our cycle.
‘Pre-ovulation’ is basically Days 7-13 of your cycle (if you have a 28-day cycle). Pre-ovulation is a time when your body is feeling really good – energized, enthusiastic, coming out of the blah/blue/bleck of your bleeding days. Your estrogen levels are rising, and so is your serotonin along with it. You’re feeling like yourself again, in this stage. This is the part of your cycle when you also feel like you can create and meet new goals.
If you don’t have enough estrogen- due to peri-menopause or other hormone imbalance- you’re likely to feel emotionally fragile, have poor memory, perhaps depression or anxiety, trouble sleeping, achy joints, and loss of interest in exercise. To name a few.
This is around Days 14-21 of your cycle (again, may differ if you have a cycle longer or shorter than 28 days). During this phase you feel like you fucking own the place. Because you do. Estrogen and testosterone are at their highest (which is one reason Sex Surge ladies may notice they want sex EVEN MORE closer to ovulation), so you feel like you’re ‘on’ + sexy + capable + focused + able to get shizz done.
The low-estrogen symptoms above apply here as well (see above). If you’re low in testosterone, you may also notice a lack of focus or ambition during this time, not to mention a lowered libido. This is one of the most frequent changes in peri-menopause (opposite of the Sex Surge)- loss of libido as the cycle begins to break apart.
As ovulation heads into the pre-menstrual phase, you may notice that you feel like you’re ‘coming down’ in some way. Totally normal! Estrogen has dropped off radically, as has testosterone. You’re living on the fumes of progesterone, but those dwindle as you head towards your period. You may notice that you feel blue, anxious, and start turning inwards. You may also notice bouts of clarity (‘Bitch on Wheels’ I sometimes call her), but also low self-esteem/self-doubt. This is the phase where any new goals you have suddenly seem impossible or get dropped.
These moods and feelings are mitigated by progesterone. If you have adequate progesterone, you will notice less of these symptoms. With adequate progesterone, the PMS phase often feels like a gentler ‘come down’ from ovulation and not a wild PMS ride. Having adequate progesterone has made a huge difference in my cycle- I still yell a bit, I still get a few back cramps, but I’m 90% less bitchy than I used to be.
Welcome to your period: Day 1-7 of your cycle. If you’re not pregnant, you’ll get your period. (To be honest, I get why the first day of our bleeding is called Day 1, but really, it feels like Day 1 should be the day your period ends- amIright?) At our house, we call this, “bleeding time” (because that’s what it is and I don’t want either my son or my daughter to be deterred by monthly blood. It happens, and we call it what it is.)
In this time, our progesterone has dropped to the point that bleeding can happen; estrogen and testosterone are at Level Nil on Day 1, but will rise starting around Day 3. Most women have symptoms associated with their period- at this point in life, you probably know what yours are. And they may also be changing as you enter peri-menopause.
Because your bleeding time is really the low spot for all hormones, there’s no ‘low levels’ of anything here. With peri-menopause there are worries when the cycle is too long (too much bleeding) and that may require extra estrogen. Your bleeding time will change as you head towards menopause- tracking it can be helpful.
Making Use of Your Moods
Just a couple of things to think about here:
1- Not everyone’s cycle is 28 days long. Adjust for these phases related to your own cycle length. Paying attention to your general mood can help you see which phases are longer or shorter for your particular cycle.
2- It is a myth that a woman in leadership can be radically swayed by her monthly hormonal cycle. Women may have hormonally-related mood changes, but so do men. If anything, women in Western society are taught- clearly and early- to handle the difficulties of their period without letting anyone notice. If you work with women and don’t know where they are in their cycle, this is proof of the point. (Also, sometimes we get pissed off because people are stupid; nothing to do with PMS.)
3- Tracking your cycle can be super helpful, not just for optimizing your hormones, but also for knowing when to do important tasks (maybe you should edit that report during PMS when you’re sure to be ruthless with your thoughts and grammar!). Even noticing what sort of mood you’ve been in for a few days can help you decipher your cycle a bit- and know how to take better care of yourself, too!