I think most women resonate with the idea that mood changes and physical symptoms come before your period. I’ve yet to meet a woman whose unfamiliar with the term “PMS”, whether or not she experiences severe, moderate or any premenstrual symptoms herself. True or not, it’s kind of a running joke that as a woman’s period approaches, she’ll become irritable, wolf down carbs and chocolate, and feel emotionally so on edge that just about any chick flick would leave her weepy.
Many people are familiar with common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). These include moodiness, fatigue, changes in appetite and social withdrawal. Many even have a vague sense that hormones are involved in these changes. What many don’t know is significant hormonal changes happen throughout the ovulatory cycle—not just right before our period starts. Although less prominent in social folklore, these hormonal shifts also produce emotional and physical symptoms. (And some of them are actually really beneficial). While not experienced by all women, these symptoms are common enough to be documented in several scientific studies.
Do you know about these intriguing effects of hormonal changes?
Estrogen and progesterone play a large role in ovulation and preparing the uterine lining for pregnancy. But their fluctuations throughout the cycle also affect women’s brains and behavior. For instance, women repeatedly demonstrate greater empathy than men, as well as superior social and verbal skills. During the time in our cycle when more estrogen is being produced, women are much better at the things women typically excel at, like coming up with new words and implicit remembering. Similarly, there is evidence that a region of our brain involved in memory storage and social abilities—the hippocampus—gets bigger during this time in our cycle. Earlier in our cycle following our period, when levels of progesterone and estrogen are relatively low, women tend to have greater spatial awareness, a skill that men typically excel at more than women.
Women also report improved mood and an increase in sexual desire around the time of ovulation (the release of a mature egg). Other studies suggest the content of our dreams changes throughout our cycle. Even the likelihood we will be successful at quitting smoking seems to be influenced by what cycle day we set as quit day. If we are into dream analysis or want to kick our smoking habit, these studies may be very intriguing. But even the seemingly more mundane effects of hormonal changes can provide practical insights to any woman who’s interested.
What can you do about these hormonal changes?
So what does all the above chatter mean practically, for you and I maximizing our cycles? I’m glad you asked.
Understanding how hormonal changes can affect our mood, our energy, and our productivity empowers us. How does it empower us?
1. By helping us understand why we feel a certain way.
Hormones can have a very real effect on our emotions. Knowing how these changes affect us personally can empower us by telling us where these emotions might be coming from. With some familiarity about hormonal changes and related effects, we can more readily answer the question: why might I be feeling this way today? Might it have something to do with where I’m at in my cycle?
During low moments, which often come just before and during our period, it can be helpful to know that we will not always feel this way. Especially if we’re experiencing mild symptoms due to normal hormonal changes, they are temporary. (The duration and severity of PMS symptoms matter. To learn more about what’s normal for PMS and what may point to a hormonal concern, consider taking a FEMM class).
2. By giving us knowledge to more effectively plan ahead.
Knowledge of hormonal changes can also help us plan ahead. When possible, we can favor our more creative pursuits during the middle of our cycle, when women typically experience rising estrogen. (Learning to chart your cycle with FEMM can help you identify this estrogen rise more precisely). And we can avoid scheduling important events or leaving big assignments for the end of our cycle when dropping hormones can leave us feeling tired, moody or socially withdrawn.
Taking Charge of your Hormonal Changes
When we hear jokes about premenstrual moodiness, hormonal changes can feel like the opposite of empowerment. But when we understand these hormonal shifts and how they affect us, it can give us the essential knowledge we need to plan for and take care of ourselves in each phase of our cycle. This can mean doubling down on rest, exercise, and good nutrition when our hormones are low. It can also look like pursuing our most creative and lofty endeavors when estrogen is high, and our creative juices are flowing most freely.
At ArborWoman, we believe empowerment that embraces ALL of you – including your natural hormone cycles – is the best kind of empowerment. When you learn to chart your cycle with FEMM, you learn how to track patterns, including physical and emotional symptoms, of your cycle. Once you’ve got your patterns down, there’s less “Why am I so grumpy/sad/antisocial today?” and more “I knew I wasn’t going to feel well today, so I planned a relaxing night in.” Read more about our FEMM classes on our services page, or contact us at [email protected] to sign up on your own or with friends!