It's true that hormone fluctuations can cause mood changes over the course of the menstrual cycle and during pregnancy and perimenopause. Still, it's important not to write off times where your emotions were high as "just hormonal."
How can we flip the script from “I’m so hormonal” to “My emotions are trying to communicate something”?
Picture this: you’re having an unexpectedly emotional reaction. Your mother calls and makes you cry, or you get really heated during a conversation with a roommate, or your partner says something innocuous that sends you into a spiral all day.
Then, the following day, you see blood lining your underwear, and you brush off the entire episode. “I was just hormonal,” you tell yourself.
For people who get periods, this narrative likely sounds familiar. After all, it’s pretty easy to chalk all of our big feelings up to hormones.
Historically, female-presenting people have been encouraged to ignore our feelings: we’ve been called everything from hysterical to hormonal, and our emotions have been entirely dismissed in the process.
While it’s true that hormone imbalances can affect mood, it’s also important to acknowledge the ways in which structures of power have influenced us all to push aside and disregard those often-messy feelings.
Just because you were at a certain point in your cycle doesn’t automatically mean that your emotional response was unjustified.
Instead, it’s time to scrutinize the idea that your feelings should be ignored because of your hormones, and to admit that we are a little more complex than our society might suggest.
What does the science say about how your period affects your mood?
As part of your
menstrual cycle, your hormone levels fluctuate. During the luteal phase, your ovaries are flooded with progesterone; next, when the uterine lining begins to shed, your estrogen levels skyrocket and then plummet to rest much lower than their previous levels.
This turbulence means that a slight hormonal imbalance is a regular symptom of your cycle. The same type of imbalance can be caused during perimenopause, the period leading up to menopause.
This jumble of hormones absolutely has an effect on mood: symptoms of these stages of the menstrual cycle often include depression, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, and anxiety.
When in your hormone cycle do mood swings occur?
Hormonal mood symptoms usually occur during the luteal phase of your cycle.
Learn more about the various stages of the menstrual cycle here.
If you find yourself feeling irritable and moody for longer than the luteal phase, or your negative moods are making daily functioning difficult, it might be worth checking with a doctor. It's possible you may have an underlying
hormonal imbalance. How does being pregnant change your hormonal levels?
Estrogen and progesterone levels are significantly impacted during pregnancy—much more so than during your period.
>>Oova INSIGHT: Did you know? During pregnancy, your body produces more estrogen than it does during the rest of your life combined!
The placenta requires high levels of estrogen to develop properly. Because of this, your body is flooded with those same hormones that can alter your mood throughout your pregnancy.
This is why media has so many stereotyped depictions of demanding, irrational pregnant women—having so much hormone fluctuation can make you
feel totally out of control sometimes.
The key distinction is that hormone changes don’t mean you actually are out of control.
Why should you listen to what your hormones are telling you?
Emotions are your body’s way of communicating with you. Maybe what is communicated is just that you’re at a particular stage of your cycle, but maybe it’s something more.
Just because you get your period the next day doesn’t automatically mean you should write off all your emotions as irrelevant.
If you find yourself crying at the very hint of criticism from a partner, maybe that means there’s an unacknowledged tension between you. If you find yourself getting angry because of an interaction with a colleague, maybe that interaction triggered a response because you’re not feeling valued at work.
More often than not, your hormones may be helping to unearth emotions that were there all along. By dismissing your mood changes, you’re might not be listening to what your body is trying to tell you.
How can you reframe your thinking about hormones and emotions? Reconsider how you talk about your moods .
The language you use to refer to your feelings really makes a difference. Next time you’re talking with a friend about a time you got emotional, instead of using the word “overreact,” try out the phrase “react emotionally.”
This rephrasing centers the emotion of your reaction without passing judgment on it. When you say “I totally overreacted,” you’re placing judgment (and even blame!) on yourself. Consider all the factors behind your reaction. After the mood has passed, it’s easy to condense all the things you were feeling into a box by labeling your mood as hormonal. It’s much harder to think about all the other things that might have contributed to your negative feelings. Make a list of all the factors that led to your outburst, and ask yourself again: was this really just a hormonal reaction? Stop apologizing.
When you’re reflecting on your actions and investigating them for any grains of truth, it’s important to give yourself grace.
One side effect of the silencing of women and other marginalized genders in American history is that female-presenting people tend to apologize to make other people feel more comfortable. When you apologize for being hormonal, it makes it that much easier for others to write off your feelings. Don’t give them the go-ahead to disregard you. The takeaway
For hundreds of years, our society has taught us that moods influenced by periods or pregnancies are irrational, hysterical, and unwarranted. It’s a hard lesson to unlearn. The next time you have an emotional reaction, don’t dismiss those feelings.
Instead, interrogate them: What is your body trying to tell you?