From bloating and tenderness, to moodiness and break-outs, we deal with extreme bodily changes every cycle. It’s no wonder that sometimes our periods can impact our mental health, in more ways than one. The question is, why?
Periods affect your mental health
There’s no two ways about it. Periods affect mental health in numerous ways. From the physical symptoms, to the varying levels of hormones that course through the body. Each aspect of the menstrual cycle impacts mental health.
Your experiences of menstruation can be as unique as you, which is why it’s so important to know what your version of ‘normal’ is.
Getting to know your menstrual cycle may sound strange, but it can help you notice when things have gone awry and understand why.
Feelings of elation and productivity, to apathy, moodiness and depression, or anxiety, are all commonplace. This is because your menstrual cycle is made up of four phases; menstruation, follicular, ovulation and the luteal. And, each one affects your body and mind differently.
One way for you to know what’s what and keep on top of your symptoms is period tracking, which you can do by using apps, or calendars, to log your symptoms during the different phases of your cycle. This way you can spot patterns and know when to chalk up your mental health experiences to your period, or something else.
When your period, or bleed time, begins.
Menstruation is when the body expels the thickened blood lining from within the uterus. This shedding can take place over 3-7 days, but varies from person to person. Generally, pads, tampons and free bleeding are the most common ways we deal with the ‘shedding’ stage of our menstrual cycle.
It’s important to remember that menstruation can be tough on the body, both physically and mentally.
Dealing with the aftermath of the luteal phase, combating bloating, cramping and water retention, can also take a swipe at our self-esteem.
During this time it's best to rest, stay hydrated and keep the hot water bottle nearby.
Or, the feel-good phase of your menstrual cycle.
This is largely because of the hormone estradiol, which rises in the body, helping to dampen the effects of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. In the meantime, you might feel inspired, happier and more ready to take on new responsibilities or challenges.
During the follicular phase, which starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation, the hypothalamus, (which lives inside your brain), prompts the pituitary gland, (also in the brain), to release something called the follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH. This hormone signals to your ovaries to start producing cysts, home to immature eggs.
More often than not, only one egg will mature. Usually taking place around day 10 (if your cycle is 28 days long). When the follicle grows and the egg matures, it prompts your lining to begin to thicken, preparing your uterus for pregnancy.
Hot, horny and sexy.
Now that the mature egg is ready to be released, rising levels of gonadotropin-releasing hormone, (GnRH), swing into action. This hormone prompts the pituitary gland to produce raised levels of luteinising hormone (LH) and FSH. And, two days later your body will begin to ovulate. This is known as the ‘fertile window’ of your menstrual cycle.
And, thanks to the cocktail of hormones swimming through your bloodstream, including increased levels of testosterone, it’s likely that you’re feeling a little bit hot under the collar. As testosterone is known to fire up your sex drive.
You may find yourself a little bit more self critical than usual, too. And, according to the Journal of Consumer Psychology, you may end up splurging on clothing, makeup and other items to make you feel more attractive.
For many, this is the most challenging phase in the cycle.
During this phase the body produces higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone, to thicken the lining of the uterus in preparation for a fertilised egg. If the egg sticks, or implants, the little follicular node the egg travelled from, will continue to produce hormones to help the body prepare for pregnancy.
And, if the egg remains unfertilised, the womb lining sheds and the cycle starts all over again.
Because of the raised levels of progesterone and oestrogen in the body, it can make you feel particularly irritable. It’s commonplace to experience mood swings and increased anxiety, too.
This is also known as Premenopausal Syndrome (PMS), or in severe cases Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, (PMDD).
Knowing the difference between the two is very important. While PMS is common, affecting up to 90% of people with periods, PMDD can be much more disruptive, making it difficult to work, socialise and have healthy relationships. In some cases, PMDD can lead to suicidal thoughts.
If you have any concerns about the severity of your symptoms, speak with your GP immediately.
Looking after your body and mind during your cycle
The key to looking after yourself when your mental health is impacted by your period, is knowing exactly what you need for each phase you’re in.
Eating foods that nourish you, lowering your alcohol and caffeine intake and moving your body can help alleviate some symptoms. Masturbation is also encouraged as a great pain reliever for menstrual cramps and headaches, or if you’re having trouble sleeping.
Choosing the right period care is crucial, too.
The truth is, that we all have our own rituals to ease the latter half of our cycle, when things get a little tougher. It may be something simple, like a hot bath, a meditative moment, or even a pizza on the couch. Self care is what you make it to be and usually, being mindful will give you an idea of what your body is calling out for.
But, if you’re experiencing worsening symptoms, mentally or physically, you must always reach out to your GP.