There’s science backing up the widespread belief that your menstrual cycle influences your behavior. Feeling moody or irritable during your period has a biological basis that’s linked to hormone fluctuations in your body. While PMS is a widely recognized condition, most people don’t fully understand how the menstrual cycle actually affects behavior. The truth is that hormones can affect a woman’s mood the entire month—not just right before and during her period. And contrary to popular belief, not all of those changes are negative. In addition, there are strategies to help deal with the symptoms you experience.
Hormone Levels Fluctuate
Behavioral tendencies throughout the menstrual cycle are tied to the variations in hormones that occur throughout the month. During these fluctuations, you might notice a change in mood or even your physical health. The following are the different phases of your cycle and how they can affect your well-being.
The Follicular Phase
This is most likely the “happy” part of your cycle. This phase begins when you start your period and typically lasts for about two weeks. During this time, a hormone called estradiol begins to increase. Most women feel energetic and joyful during the follicular phase, especially when comparing it to the luteal phase.
The Ovulatory Phase
During this phase, the luteinizing hormone, which will eventually induce ovulation, begins to rise. Some scientific studies have shown that women have an increase in libido and a higher pain tolerance during this phase. Women may also feel more attractive during this time as well.
The Luteal Phase
During this phase, there is an increase in the hormone progesterone. Women typically feel moodier and more stressed during this time. This phase occurs just before your period.
Effects on Other Health Issues
Besides the general physical, mental, and emotional changes you feel throughout the month, existing health conditions can also be affected by your menstrual cycle’s fluctuating hormones. The following are some of the issues that may be affected by hormonal changes:
- Depression: PMS can make depression symptoms worse. Additionally, women with a history of depression are more likely to experience PMS or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe form of PMS.
- Anemia: If you have heavy bleeding during your period, you may develop iron-deficiency anemia. Those who are already anemic may become pale, tired, or weak due to period-related blood loss.
- Asthma: Your asthma symptoms may worsen during certain phases of their cycle.
How to Deal with Hormonal Fluctuations
There are a few ways to combat the unpleasant feelings you have during the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle, many of which center on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you’re dealing with PMS and other hormonal fluctuations:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Get energy from nutritious foods like vegetables, unprocessed proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains. Avoid excess salt to reduce bloating.
- Drink plenty of water. More fluids will help to reduce bloating and keep you hydrated when you’re lacking energy.
- Avoid alcohol and reduce caffeine intake. Acting as a depressant, alcohol can worsen your mood and impair cognitive function. Caffeine can increase anxiety so try to cut back on it when experiencing PMS.
- Exercise regularly. Exercising produces endorphins while helping boost your mood and giving you more energy.
- Get enough sleep. When you’re more rested, you’ll have fewer problems with fatigue, clumsiness, concentration, and memory.
Taking Birth Control for PMS
Another way to deal with fluctuating hormones near the end of your menstrual cycle is to take hormonal birth control. This can help to level out your hormones throughout the month so the mental, emotional, and physical changes are less severe. They also stop ovulation, which can help to alleviate PMS symptoms.
Normally, progestin levels rise and estrogen levels fall when an egg is released from the ovary. This signals to the body that it needs to prepare for a possible pregnancy by releasing FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone). But when you use hormonal birth control, those hormone fluctuations are minimized. Instead, it delivers consistent levels of estrogen and progestin to the body in order to suppress the production of FSH and LH.
If you have particularly troublesome PMS symptoms each month, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking birth control pills continuously (skipping the placebo pills at the end of each pack). This can alleviate some PMS symptoms and cause you to skip your period entirely, although you may have some breakthrough bleeding as your body adjusts. You can also consider taking birth control pills that reduce your periods to just four times per year.
Any type of hormonal birth control may be used to help alleviate the symptoms of PMS, including:
- Pill: Combination birth control pills like Tri-Lo-Sprintec and Introvale, rather than the progestin-only pill, are usually recommended for women trying to manage their PMS symptoms.
- Ring: As with the pill, you can skip your periods when using the ring.
- Patch: Consider skipping periods with the patch to help alleviate PMS symptoms.
- Implant: The implant causes some women to stop getting their period, which can reduce PMS symptoms.
- Intrauterine device (IUD): Choose a hormonal IUD (not a copper IUD) if you want to ease the symptoms of PMS.
Each brand of hormonal birth control has its own benefits and potential side effects to consider. For example, you may want to take a pill that reduces PMS symptoms and that helps treat your acne. Maybe you want to use a form of hormonal birth control that makes PMS easier to handle but doesn’t require frequent doses or replacements, like the implant or IUD.
Additionally, some pills are formulated specifically with PMS and PMDD concerns in mind, making them a better fit for your needs. For example, Yaz has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of PMDD. Talk to your healthcare provider to figure out what type of hormonal birth control works for your health and your lifestyle.
While hormone fluctuations are a natural part of the menstrual cycle, there are strategies you can use to deal with the physical and behavioral changes they can cause. Use this guide to manage your menstrual symptoms effectively every month.