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Your Hormonal Cycle and How It Interacts With Your Mental Health

Mental Health

At any given point each day, 26% of the global population is menstruating. It’s a nearly universal experience for women. However, because of stigmatization, there is a lack of in-depth knowledge about what is really going on in women’s bodies. The female hormonal cycle is actually incredibly complex. The changes that your body goes through, although natural, can have real effects on your mental health, whether those are mild and temporary or severe and long-lasting. Educating yourself on the interworkings of your mind and body is an important step on the journey to a life of wellness.

The 4 Phases of Your Hormonal Cycle

For most cisgender females, the hormonal cycle takes place in four phases that repeat about every 28 to 30 days: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Each of these phases is marked by a change in hormone levels, which can affect your moods, the type of foods you crave, and your energy levels.

It’s important to note that for the vast majority of women, the hormonal cycle doesn’t have a major effect on mental health. Despite decades of sexist jokes about women being hysterical, irrational, and “PMS-ing,” there is little truth behind those tasteless jabs. However, for a small percentage of people, it can have profound effects. Even though the consequences for you may be small, it’s helpful to understand the interactions between hormones and mental health so that you can be more in touch with your body and mind.

First and foremost, what is the hormonal cycle, and why do we have it? Simply put, the female hormonal cycle prepares the body for pregnancy. Each phase plays some part in that process, whether it be lining the uterus for a potential fetus or increasing sex drive so that fertilization is more likely to happen. All of it is working towards the goal of getting a fertilized egg implanted in the uterus.

The hormone cycle is different for everyone. While most cycles fall in that 28 to 30-day range, some people’s cycles may only be 24 days long. Others may be 35. These are all normal occurrences. The length of the cycle changes with age, weight, hormone levels, and many other factors. If you are concerned about the length or intensity of your cycle, talk to your doctor about it, especially if bleeding occurs for longer than two weeks at a time or stops altogether.

Follicular Phase

The follicular phase is the first part of a woman’s menstrual cycle, usually lasting about two weeks. It starts when a woman begins her period. During this phase, the body prepares to release an egg for possible fertilization. The brain sends a hormone called FSH to the ovaries, telling them to develop tiny sacs called follicles, each containing an immature egg. These follicles produce estrogen, a hormone that thickens the lining of the uterus.

As the follicular phase progresses, one follicle becomes dominant and releases a burst of estrogen, causing another hormone called LH to spike. The surge in LH triggers ovulation, which marks the end of the follicular phase.

This stage is more likely to be your “happy” time of the month. You may feel more upbeat, energized, and less likely to dwell on small problems. These good feelings are linked to a rise in the hormone estradiol, although researchers are unsure if there is a direct causal connection. You may just feel good during this time because you’re comparing it to how bad you felt during your luteal phase and menstruation.

Ovulation

At the middle of the cycle (usually around day 14 in a 28-day cycle) is ovulation. During ovulation, a mature egg is released from one of the ovaries.

The process begins when the levels of estrogen rise, signaling to the body that an egg is ready. This increase in estrogen triggers a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH), which prompts the mature follicle to burst open, releasing the egg. The released egg then travels down the fallopian tube, making it available for fertilization by sperm.

Ovulation is the most fertile time in the menstrual cycle, and it marks the optimal period for conception. If sperm is present in the reproductive system, there is a higher chance of fertilization during this time. Many women may notice physical signs of ovulation, such as changes in cervical mucus or a slight twinge or pain on one side of the lower abdomen (known as mittelschmerz).

During this time of the month, you are likely to feel your most confident. This is because your body wants you to take advantage of your fertile days and find a sperm to join with the egg it just released. Your sex drive will probably be at its peak, and you will feel energized and motivated. Some studies show that you even become slightly more attractive to others during ovulation. Subtle changes in the fat and fluid distribution can change your face shape, making you look more youthful and symmetrical.

Luteal Phase

The luteal phase is the second half of the menstrual cycle, following ovulation. It typically lasts around 14 days but can vary. This phase is named after the corpus luteum, a structure formed from the burst follicle after it releases the egg during ovulation.

After ovulation, the empty follicle transforms into the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone. Progesterone plays a crucial role in preparing the uterus for a potential pregnancy. It thickens the uterine lining, making it more receptive for a fertilized egg to implant.

If fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum starts to break down, causing a decline in progesterone and estrogen levels. The drop triggers the onset of menstruation, and the cycle begins anew with the start of the follicular phase.

This is when the good feelings from the follicular phase and ovulation pass. Progesterone levels increase, which is associated with increased moodiness and irritability. If you’re already experiencing stress from other things in life, this can make it even worse. The physical discomfort from PMS symptoms definitely doesn’t help either.

Menstruation

Also known as the period, menstruation is the phase of the hormonal cycle in which the uterine lining is shed through the vaginal canal along with the unimplanted egg. This marks the beginning of a new hormonal cycle. However, it can sometimes feel like the end of it when you’re anxiously waiting for your period to be over.

The menstrual phase typically lasts around three to seven days, although this can vary. It starts when the levels of estrogen and progesterone, which were elevated during the previous luteal phase, drop because no pregnancy occurred. As these hormone levels decrease, the uterus signals the shedding of its thickened lining.

Menstrual blood, consisting of blood and tissue from the uterus, is expelled through the vagina. This process is a natural part of the menstrual cycle and happens roughly every 28 days. Menstruation is considered a normal and healthy part of reproductive life. During menstruation, women may experience various symptoms, including cramps, bloating, and mood changes.

This is when your estrogen levels are at their lowest, which is associated with low energy and generally feeling crummy. Combined with the discomfort that periods bring, you’re likely to be a little sad and irritable. Additionally, the stigma surrounding menstruation can bring a lot of extra stress to a woman’s life.

How Does Hormonal Birth Control Affect My Hormonal Cycle?

Hormonal birth control, including oral contraceptives, patches, injections, and intrauterine devices, exerts a significant influence on the hormonal cycle of individuals using these methods. The primary purpose of hormonal contraceptives is to prevent pregnancy by altering the natural hormonal fluctuations associated with the menstrual cycle. However, they are also often prescribed to reduce the severity of PMS and PMDD symptoms or symptoms associated with other hormone imbalance issues, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

It’s important to understand the exact changes that hormonal birth control makes to your hormonal cycle in order to make an educated decision on whether to take it.

Most hormonal contraceptives contain synthetic versions of the hormones estrogen and/or progesterone, which are naturally produced in varying quantities during the menstrual cycle. These synthetic hormones work in several ways to suppress ovulation and modify the uterine and cervical environments.

Firstly, hormonal contraceptives inhibit the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) from the hypothalamus. GnRH is a key regulator of the menstrual cycle, initiating the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland. By suppressing GnRH, hormonal contraceptives prevent the surge of LH necessary for ovulation.

Secondly, these contraceptives alter cervical mucus, making it thicker and less hospitable to sperm. This impedes sperm movement and their ability to reach the egg, reducing the likelihood of fertilization. Additionally, hormonal birth control affects the endometrial lining of the uterus, making it less receptive to a fertilized egg. This alteration minimizes the chances of successful implantation, acting as a secondary mechanism for preventing pregnancy.

The synthetic hormones in contraceptives also modify the natural menstrual cycle by maintaining a more stable hormonal environment throughout the month. This leads to lighter and more predictable menstrual periods for those using hormonal birth control. Some formulations even allow for fewer menstrual cycles or complete suppression of menstruation, providing added convenience and alleviating symptoms associated with menstruation.

While these alterations in the hormonal cycle provide effective contraception, it’s essential to recognize that hormonal birth control does not replicate the natural hormonal fluctuations of a typical hormonal cycle. Users often experience a consistent hormonal profile, potentially affecting mood, libido, and other aspects of well-being. Individual responses to hormonal contraceptives can vary, and some individuals may encounter side effects such as breast tenderness, changes in appetite, or mood swings.

In some cases, anecdotal evidence suggests that hormonal birth control can trigger anxiety disorders or mood disorders. A direct causal link hasn’t been established yet, and there is great variability between individual experiences. Make sure you talk thoroughly with your doctor before starting hormonal birth control to go over the potential side effects. If you experience negative psychological symptoms after starting birth control, talk to your doctor immediately.

The Hormonal Cycle and Mental Health Disorders

As you can see, hormones play a huge role in the natural cycle that women are always in the middle of. Unfortunately, hormones also affect many other aspects of your life, including your thoughts and moods. So when hormone levels are rising and falling rapidly in your body, there’s a chance it will have some unintended consequences.

We’ve all heard of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). For most women, PMS causes painful physical symptoms and mild psychological symptoms. You may feel bloated, have cramps, and get a little moodier in the week leading up to your period. However, for people with preexisting mental health conditions, PMS can be much more intense. Anxiety and depression symptoms may be exacerbated during this time.

Depression and other mood disorders in particular are affected by hormonal fluctuations. It’s estimated that around five percent of women between the ages of 12 and 52 experience a more intense condition known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). While PMDD can affect anyone, it is much more common in people with anxiety and mood disorders. Some of the symptoms of PMDD include:

  • Irritability
  • Depressed mood
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of loneliness or hopelessness
  • Low energy
  • Feeling out of control

While PMS is not considered a mental health disorder, PMDD is and can be diagnosed with the DMS-5. One pivotal aspect of managing PMDD involves adopting a holistic lifestyle approach. Regular physical exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep contribute to general well-being and can help alleviate some PMDD symptoms. Additionally, avoiding substances like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine during the luteal phase may prove beneficial.

Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), emerges as a valuable tool in addressing the emotional and psychological aspects of PMDD. Therapists collaborate with individuals to identify and modify negative thought patterns while developing effective coping strategies.

Medications play a crucial role in PMDD treatment. Antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have demonstrated efficacy in managing mood-related symptoms. Hormonal treatments, such as birth control pills or GnRH agonists, are also employed to regulate the menstrual cycle and alleviate symptoms. Nutritional supplements, including calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B6, have been explored as potential interventions for PMDD. However, it is imperative to consult with healthcare professionals before integrating supplements into the treatment plan.

Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, yoga, and relaxation techniques, may offer relief for some individuals dealing with PMDD. Although more research is needed to establish the efficacy of these approaches, they have shown promise in stress management and overall well-being.

Avery Lane is a great place to tackle hormone-related mental health disorders like PMDD. We are open to all treatment paths and can create a care plan that incorporates a variety of approaches to give you the best chance at long-term well-being.

Mental Health and Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal imbalances can contribute to the development or exacerbation of mental health disorders. However, it’s important to note that mental health is influenced by a combination of biological, genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. Hormonal imbalances alone are unlikely to be the sole cause of mental health disorders. Genetic predisposition, life experiences, trauma, and other environmental factors also play significant roles.

Treatment for mental health disorders often involves a multidimensional approach, including psychotherapy, counseling, lifestyle modifications, and sometimes medication. When hormonal imbalances are identified as contributing factors, addressing these imbalances may be part of the treatment plan. For instance, hormone replacement therapy may be recommended for certain conditions related to hormonal fluctuations. Avery Lane believes in working with medical professionals to get our clients the full care they need, while still addressing the underlying mental health issues through therapy.

If you or someone you love is potentially dealing with a hormone-related mental health disorder, getting help is important. It’s crucial that the underlying mental health condition is addressed in these situations. Avery Lane is a safe place for women to heal from women-specific issues without fear of judgment or stigmatization. We would love to be the start of your wellness journey, and we know that you’ll feel understood and supported here. If you’re struggling with mood swings, depression, and feeling lost, you don’t have to struggle alone. We’re here for women of all backgrounds, and that includes you. Don’t wait any longer to get the help you need. Call us at (800) 270-2406.

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