The last thing we want to hear when we’re feeling particularly irritable or short-tempered while on our period is “is it your time of the month?” It’s a question that mostly evokes rage in the person being asked it, and so if we weren’t feeling angry before, we definitely are now! In modern times, it can feel as though there’s pressure as a woman to uphold the idea that menstruation doesn’t affect our mood, for fear of being viewed as ’emotional’ or ‘weak’, but the fact of the matter is that most women experience emotional turbulence throughout their menstrual cycle – and this isn’t something we ought to have to conceal. Managing the physical symptoms (sore breasts, aches and pains, cramps, diarrhoea, the list goes on…) is difficult enough, without the psychological pain and the added pressure to try to behave as though everything is normal.
Hormones and mental health
It has long been thought that hormones play a huge role in our mood, and therefore our mental health – and for good reason. Interestingly, but also sadly, women are almost twice as likely to develop depression than men – a difference that begins at puberty. It’s thought to be caused by the dip in oestrogen and other hormones that happens in the luteal phase of your period (the run-up to ovulation).
This could explain why so many women experience postpartum depression, perimenopausal depression, and either a dramatic improvement or sharp deterioration in mood after taking hormonal birth control. We even have a term for the low mood women often experience in the luteal phase of their cycle – PMS, or pre-menstrual syndrome.
Severe mental health concerns related to the menstrual cycle
While most of us can weather a little PMS, though it can be very unpleasant, there are conditions in which the menstrual cycle can severely impact the sufferer’s life. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (or PMDD) is often referred to as ‘severe PMS’ and can result in a severely low mood, high anxiety levels, increased irritability, feeling overwhelmed or even feeling suicidal. This can start from up to two weeks before you begin to bleed, and is obviously rather unpleasant. Again, this is likely linked to the oestrogen rise and then a sharp drop in the run-up to menstruation.
However, as oestrogen behaves differently in different women, the specific amounts and its behaviours are impossible to measure. It’s thought that it isn’t necessarily the actual oestrogen levels causing the change in mood, but the constant and rapid changes themselves. This could account for why women who have recently given birth sometimes experience prolonged low mood with postpartum depression, and why many women report feeling consistently happier after the menopause – one group have just been through sharp changes in hormone levels, and the others have had consistently low levels of oestrogen for a while!
How to take care of your mental health on your period
It’s important to take care of yourself while on your period – and not just physically, but mentally too. Use a period tracker or a journal to pinpoint the time during your cycle in which your mood changes, and try to switch up your routine accordingly. Avoid caffeine to keep anxiety at bay, make sure you get exercise (something as simple as a brisk walk will do) to increase endorphins and help stave off that low mood – and, most importantly, be kind to yourself. Some people find that using natural period products that are chemical free, like Mama Designs reusable sanitary pads help them have a more manageable period.