Health

How your menstrual cycle affects your mental health

Fear not, you can work the emotional roller coaster to your advantage

Most women feel a change in mental and emotional state when they are on their period or just before that time of the month arrives.

Sometimes, they are snippy and irritable, at other times, they simply feel down for no reason.

Then it all calms down and they are on a natural high for a number of days.

The hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle - an average length of 28 days but can be anywhere between 21 and 35 days - are to blame for this roller coaster of emotions, and they affect women in different ways during the four phases.

Read on to find out how this happens. And yes, men also need to know what the women in their lives are going through.

MENSTRUATION

Day one of the cycle is the day you get your period.

During this time, progesterone and oestrogen levels are low, which impact mood.

Low oestrogen is linked to low levels of serotonin, which imparts feelings of satisfaction.

Oestrogen also affects how the body produces endorphins, more commonly known as "feel-good" chemicals in your brain.

Therefore, it is a no-brainer that you do not usually feel as "good" while you are menstruating. Cramps and fatigue are common when you are on your period.

What you can do: Be aware of your emotions, and be gentle on yourself.

Stay away from people or situations that you know will worsen your mood.

Do light exercises to boost your blood circulation and spirits. And why not book some time for pampering too, such as a foot massage or a manicure?

FOLLICULAR PHASE

The first two phases of the menstrual cycle overlap slightly as this particular period lasts between 10 and 14 days, stretching from the day your period starts till ovulation occurs.

Oestrogen levels rise once your period ends. This rise in oestrogen is linked to the thickening of the inner lining of the uterus, which is shed during a period.

Your body also prepares to stimulate the production of eggs in the ovaries through the release of the follicle-stimulating hormone.

The high levels of oestrogen and testosterone and low levels of progesterone during this phase means you are generally in a much better mood, thanks to the high serotonin and endorphin levels. It is also the phase when you will have more energy, more confidence and feel mentally sharper.

What you can do: Schedule brainstorming sessions or pitch your ideas to your boss.

The confidence boost also means this is the best time to apply for that job or promotion you have been eyeing or approach that cute guy you always check out during your coffee stop.

OVULATION

This is the shortest phase of the cycle, lasting around 24 hours. It is when you are most fertile and your body prepares you for pregnancy.

The pituitary gland in the brain releases a natural chemical called the luteinising hormone, which nudges your ovaries to release an egg into your fallopian tubes, in search of fertilisation.

This hormone is also responsible for a boost in spirits.

Your body releases more testosterone at this point, which increases sex drive.

Plus, a rise in oestrogen during this phase interacts with other hormones to increase your libido.

What you can do: If you are trying to get pregnant, you will know that the few days leading to ovulation (and the day itself) is your fertile window, so plan some steamy nights with your man as you both get into baby-making mode.

In addition, your high sex drive at this point might make you more likely to shop for clothes or make-up, so it is the right time to look for a new sexy outfit.

LUTEAL PHASE

This phase lasts around 14 days, and it is four to 10 days before your next period arrives that you are most likely to experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Around 75 per cent of women suffer from PMS.

The hormonal fluctuations - especially a rise in progesterone after ovulation - result in symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, sadness, fatigue, anxiety and even anger. Some women feel overwhelmed and have difficulty concentrating.

Physically, you are likely to experience headaches, bloating and breast tenderness. And if you are stressed, overweight or sedentary, you are likely to get more severe symptoms.

Thankfully, these symptoms go away when your period starts.

While these symptoms are mild to moderate for the majority of women, some suffer a lot more.

These women have premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a more severe form of PMS that can be serious enough to affect their relationships or jobs. This is when it is important to see a doctor for treatment.

What you can do: Alleviate your PMS by getting good sleep, reducing your consumption of caffeinated beverages and doing soothing things such as deep breathing, yoga or getting a massage.

After years of going through PMS, you will become familiar with your symptoms - although they may change over time - so pay attention to your body's signals and react accordingly.

For example, you might want to carry painkillers if you are prone to PMS headaches, and avoid scheduling important meetings if you always feel sluggish before your period arrives.

This article was first published in Her World Online (www.HerWorld.com)

WELLNESS & BEAUTY