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Our Menstrual Cycle + Mental Health

A few months ago, I was scrolling on Tik Tok and came across a creator discussing the different stages of a women's menstrual cycle. She was discussing the 4 different stages, the hormonal changes that occur and how it impacts us. After I was done being disappointed in our education system for not teaching this to us, I started to look into it and track myself to see what I notice depending on what stage I'm at. In conjunction to this, I started to notice that some of the women I work with were talking about their mood swings, heightened anxiety, waves of depression and when I started to ask them about their menstrual cycle we were able to identify that some of the shifts they noticed may be in alignment with their cycle. In this blog post, I'll delve into the stages of the menstrual cycle, explore the hormonal changes that occur, and discuss how these fluctuations can influence mental health.

Please note - this is not medical advice and if you have further questions they should be discussed with your physician.

The Menstrual Cycle: The menstrual cycle is a complex series of physiological changes that occur in a woman's body approximately every 28 days. While this cycle can vary in length from person to person, it generally consists of four main stages: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase.

a. Menstruation: The menstrual cycle begins with menstruation, where the uterine lining sheds, leading to bleeding that typically lasts for 3-7 days. During this phase, estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest. Many women experience mood swings, irritability, and fatigue during menstruation, often referred to as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The drop in estrogen and progesterone levels can contribute to these symptoms, along with physical discomfort from cramping and bloating.

b. Follicular Phase: Following menstruation, the follicular phase begins. This phase is characterized by the development of follicles in the ovaries, each containing an immature egg. Estrogen levels gradually rise during this phase, stimulating the thickening of the uterine lining in preparation for potential pregnancy. As estrogen levels rise during the follicular phase, many women report feeling more energetic and upbeat. However, some may still experience mood fluctuations as hormone levels fluctuate.

c. Ovulation: Ovulation occurs approximately midway through the menstrual cycle, around day 14 in a 28-day cycle. This is when a mature egg is released from one of the ovaries and is available for fertilization. Estrogen levels peak just before ovulation, triggering a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH) that prompts the release of the egg. The surge in estrogen just before ovulation can lead to increased feelings of attractiveness, confidence, and sociability in some women. However, others may experience heightened emotions or sensitivity during this time.

d. Luteal Phase: The luteal phase begins after ovulation and lasts until the start of the next menstrual cycle. During this phase, the ruptured follicle transforms into a structure called the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone. Progesterone levels rise, along with estrogen, to support the potential implantation of a fertilized egg. If pregnancy does not occur, hormone levels drop, leading to the onset of menstruation and the start of a new cycle. The luteal phase is where many women experience the most significant mental health challenges. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of PMS characterized by intense mood swings, depression, anxiety, and irritability. These symptoms are thought to be linked to fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels during this phase.

Estrogen and Progesterone are typically at their lowest during menstruation which may contribute to several physiological and psychological changes.

Menstrual Bleeding: The drop in estrogen and progesterone triggers the shedding of the uterine lining, leading to menstrual bleeding. This is the beginning of the menstrual cycle.

Physical Symptoms: Lower levels of estrogen and progesterone can contribute to physical symptoms commonly associated with menstruation, such as cramping, bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, and fatigue. These symptoms can vary in intensity among individuals.

Mood Changes: Hormonal fluctuations during menstruation can also impact mood. Some women may experience mood swings, irritability, sadness, or heightened emotional sensitivity during this time. These mood changes can be part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) for some individuals.

Energy Levels: Lower hormone levels may also affect energy levels, leading to feelings of fatigue or lethargy for some women. This can impact daily activities and productivity during the menstruation phase.

Cognitive Function: Some research suggests that hormonal fluctuations during menstruation may influence cognitive function, including memory and concentration. However, the extent of these effects can vary among individuals.

While hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can impact mental health, there are various coping strategies that women can employ to manage symptoms:

a. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Engaging in mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. These techniques can be particularly beneficial during times of heightened emotional sensitivity, such as the premenstrual and menstrual phases of the menstrual cycle.

b. Regular Exercise: Physical activity has been shown to have numerous benefits for mental health, including reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and mood swings. Incorporating regular exercise into your routine, such as walking, yoga, or swimming, can help regulate mood and energy levels throughout the menstrual cycle.

c. Balanced Nutrition: Maintaining a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can support overall health and well-being during the menstrual cycle. Certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, and magnesium found in nuts and seeds, may help alleviate symptoms of PMS and improve mood.

d. Track Symptoms: Keeping a journal or using a menstrual tracking app to monitor mood changes, physical symptoms, and the timing of the menstrual cycle can help identify patterns and predict when symptoms may occur.

e. Seek Support: Talking to friends, family members, or a therapist about menstrual-related mental health challenges can provide validation and support. Additionally, healthcare providers can offer treatment options for severe symptoms, such as medication or therapy.

The menstrual cycle is a natural process that involves hormonal fluctuations that can impact mental health in various ways. By understanding the stages of the menstrual cycle and the associated hormonal changes, women can better recognize and manage the emotional and psychological effects of their cycles. Remember, seeking support and implementing coping strategies can help navigate the ups and downs of the menstrual cycle with greater ease and resilience.

Thank you,


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