Gang, it’s not just sloughing off the lining of your uterus that causes hormonal mood changes. Yup, hormones affect your emotions all month long, but it’s not all angry crying and never being able to get enough chips. Believe it or not, hormones and emotions can also get along quite well…
Hormones and emotions: Oxytocin
So, here’s a hormone thing you may not have heard about: Oxytocin. Or, you may know about its role in sex and childbirth. But did you know Oxytocin can also affect your periods? No. We didn’t either. Get ready to have your mind blown.
Oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone,” has a role in childbirth, sexual arousal, and, believe it or not, orgasms. It’s also got its fingers in social bonding, romantic attachment, breastfeeding, and parenting. Clearly, it’s got a lot going on.
What does Oxytocin have to do with my emotions?
Well, where hormones and emotions are concerned, the above list is all about being content, happy and relaxed. And when Oxytocin is high, your pain tolerance is higher, so you’re less likely to be annoyed by any headaches or muscle cramps that pop up.
Now, there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with the aching cramps that appear during your period. That’s down to the contractions of your uterus, helping to expel blood and such, which is made possible by Oxytocin. In fact, it’s also what happens during childbirth, only on a much larger scale, natch.
Oxytocin and pain
Generally speaking, high levels of Oxytocin are linked to increased pain tolerance. This is probably down to the way pain messages are relayed to your brain. Oxytocin appears to affect the way your brain sees those messages. And in turn, impact the way you experience pain.
In fact, it’s possible that people living with chronic pain conditions have lower levels of Oxytocin. Which could explain why they’re suffering in the way they are.
Oxytocin and blood supply during a period
Period pain is at least partly caused by a lack of oxygen in the muscles of your uterus. As it contracts, the blood vessels are squashed. And that essentially cuts its blood supply, albeit temporarily.
But in addition to causing the cramps, it’s possible Oxytocin is also the solution. Higher levels actually cause blood vessels to expand, increasing the blood supply to the uterus. More blood means more oxygen, and less pain — amazing!
Hormones and emotions: Serotonin
You’ve probably heard of Serotonin, better known as the “happy hormone.” Often praised — or blamed — for the state of our day-to-day moods, it’s certainly a hormone that has a lot to answer for.
But what is serotonin, how does it affect your mood, and what can you do to make sure you’ve got enough?
What is Serotonin?
As both a neurotransmitter and a hormone, Serotonin delivers messages from your brain to your body to tell it how to function. No pressure, then! The “happy hormone” is produced naturally by your body, but here’s something you may not know. Despite its association with mood, just 10% resides in your brain. The rest — a whopping 90% — lives in your gut. Who knew?
How is it connected to my mood?
When Serotonin is busy sending messages, it also regulates your moods. The bad news is that it also has the same favorite pastime as every other hormone: fluctuation.
When your Serotonin levels are within the optimum range, you feel more stable, content, and able to concentrate. However, when those levels start to fall, you’re more likely to experience anxiety and depression.
What causes low Serotonin levels?
Clearly, our little happy hormone has lots to do. So what’s causing all that fluctuation? There are usually two reasons. Your body may not be producing enough of it. Or, your body might not be using the Serotonin it’s produced in the most efficient way.
How can I lift my mood?
Fret not gang, because here’s the good news. You have more control over your levels than you think. Serotonin is made from tryptophan, an essential amino acid that your body can’t produce naturally. Which means you’ve got to add it manually, via the magic of nutrition.
Luckily, there are many conveniently delicious tryptophan-rich foodstuffs.
- Oily fish
- Fermented foods
Did we mention the tryptophan-rich fruits? Pineapples, tomatoes, plums, bananas, and strawberries are all serotonin promoters.
Wait, there’s more!
Chances are you’ve heard it before, but regular exercise and increasing your intake of Vitamins D and B6 are also fantastic ways to encourage your Serotonin levels. And don’t forget fiber. Remember, 90% of the hormone is found in your gut. So, taking care of your gut also means looking after your mood. And if that won’t get you eating more pineapple, we don’t know what will!
Hormones and emotions: Estrogen
Estrogen is one of the bedrocks of your reproductive system. But it’s also essential for tons of other things in your body, from bones to cardiac health… And mental health. Yes, Estrogen is officially one of the hormones that can directly affect your mood. Not just in a PMS-stylee, either.
Estrogen actually acts to improve your mood. No, really. It starts to slowly climb just after the start of your period, and peaks around Ovulation. This is down to the fact that Estrogen is responsible for the growing of your eggs. Which takes around three weeks every month, all told.
When your Estrogen levels are peaking, you feel like an absolute boss. And that’s partly thanks to the way Estrogen increases Serotonin, which as we mentioned, is one of the happy hormones. When they’re working together, your self-confidence is higher, and you love the way you look.
Estrogen also increases other “happy” chemicals in the brain like Endorphins. These are also produced when we exercise, which is why you often feel elated after a workout. It’s seriously good stuff, is what we’re saying.
The problems start when the levels begin to fall again. Having done its job, growing an egg to maturation and releasing it for possible fertilization, Estrogen takes a break for a few days. And that can lead to some other mood-type issues.
Hormones and emotions: Progesterone
As you may well have noticed, mood swings tend to make an unwelcome appearance in the second half of your cycle, or Luteal phase. This might be because it’s Progesterone’s time to dominate. As you head toward your period, this particular hormone can cause all sorts of emotional rollercoastering.
But here’s something you may not have known. Progesterone is also produced in your ovaries, by the group of cells left over once an egg has been released. Crazy, right? And it’s this post-ovulation hormone production that, for many, can lead to monthly bouts of depression and anxiety.
Progesterone and mood swings
While Estrogen has a largely positive effect on your mood, the effect of Progesterone is slightly less predictable.
For some, or let’s be honest, most people with periods, it has a depressant effect. So what gives? Well, there isn’t a massive amount of research on Progesterone and mood, and please don’t get us started on how we need to research these things better. But here’s what we sort of know right now.
Progesterone seems to make the part of our brain that reacts to danger, or stress, the amygdala more reactive. And a more responsive amygdala can mean more feelings of anxiety or stress. But get this: there’s also some evidence that Progesterone might have a similar effect on the brain as alcohol and sleeping pills. Who said hormones don’t have a sense of humor?
When Progesterone becomes dominant
So, here’s the thing. Having less Estrogen definitely results in less happy, but it doesn’t necessarily cause the ups and downs that you see during those PMS days. In fact, it’s our old friend fluctuation that’s to blame, maybe, for those Premenstrual mood swings.
Why? Well, around Ovulation, possibly after the release of your egg, but before it comes to rest, both Estrogen and Progesterone dip. And that dip is quickly followed by a spike in Progesterone and a much smaller rise in Estrogen. It’s the classic time for PMS and this one-two combination may well result in mood-changing symptoms.
Hormones and emotions: Menopause
As we still don’t really understand the intricacies of how Estrogen affects your mood generally, where Menopause is concerned, we know even less. And that’s because, although you’d probably associate lower Estrogen with feeling pretty low, lots of Menopausal types report feeling fantastic.
Now, it might be that, Postmenopause, once all the periods and symptoms have stopped, the very fact that the rollercoaster ride is over, hormonally speaking, means you feel better. Or, it could be that there’s actually another process involved that we simply don’t know about. We’re looking at you, FSH and breast-adjacent Estrogen. Watch this space gang, because if medicine ever finds out, we’ll be the first to tell you.
Hormones and emotions: How to tame the beast
Here’s the good news. There are lots of things you can do to help smooth out some of those jagged PMS edges. And lots of them involve nutrition. Yes, food is wonderful.
- Having smaller, more frequent meals can even out your blood sugar, reducing those cravings.
- Swapping white bread, rice, and pasta for brown rice, grains, and lentils can help with those PMS-related digestive issues.
- Adding leafy green vegetables, including kale and spinach, to your diet can help with mood swings.
- Calcium-rich foods, including yogurt and low-fat cheese, can also help with PMS-related moods.
- Omega-3 fatty acid, found in oily fish like salmon can reduce brain fog, anxiety, and depression.
- Alcohol, caffeine, refined sugar, and salt can all make your PMS symptoms worse, so cutting down isn’t a terrible idea.
- Exercise. Yes, it’s not food, but it can work absolute wonders for your PMS-related anxiety and depression. Yoga, pilates, swimming, or walking are excellent choices.
Tracking and taming
And now it’s time for a shameless plug. If you’re struggling with PMS-related mood rollercoastering, tracking your symptoms and cycle is a really good idea. And that’s exactly what our app does! It’ll show you how and when those hormones are on the way, helping you plan ahead.
If, though, you’ve tried all the conveniently delicious foodstuffs, and the yoga, and the moods are still affecting your life, it’s time to talk to a healthcare type. It might be that you’ve a hormone issue, a stress thing or maybe you need to talk to someone regularly. Please don’t just suffer — no one deserves to live like that. And finding out what’s going on is always worth your time.
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