When your emotions are written off with an eye roll and a tut of “must be hormones” it definitely won’t help the situation. While this stereotype can feel patronizing, it’s also important to remember that there is some truth between our moods being impacted by our changing levels of hormones.

Understanding the reality of this can actually be empowering. When we’re aware of what our hormones are doing, we may be better placed to think before we speak, and take some time to reflect. For example, if your period is a day away and you feel really angry about something, stopping to think about the fact that your period is due, can actually help you decide if the emotion you are experiencing is legitimate, or perhaps fueled more in that moment by your hormones. If it’s the former, by all means carry on – we’ve got your back! But, if you find yourself thinking, hey, I think this may be hormones, maybe take a second to recalibrate. Think on the issue. It’s not easy to do, but it can be useful in helping you to feel more in control when your body isn’t.

There are lots of hormones that are connected to our moods. The big ones you’ve probably heard about are serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. While these are well worth a mention, it’s also important to recognize how our sex hormones can impact our moods as well. For example, did you know:

  • Estrogen regulates mood-boosting chemicals in the brain and that when our estrogen is low, we can feel the effects and feel low too.
  • Progesterone is a hormone that people experience differently. While some find high progesterone levels to be mood boosting, others find progesterone can cause PMS type symptoms.
  • Testosterone is vital to our mood, it boosts brainpower, lifts our mood, helps us sleep and fires up our libido.

From the time we start having periods, most of us will notice our mood changes over the course of the month. This is because of the rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone. Hormonal surges at puberty can trigger heightened emotions, outbursts, a lack of energy and mood swings. For postpartum moms, there can be a dip in mood because of low estrogen levels. The combination of this hormone shift, with the challenge of being a new mom, can cause major depressive symptoms. And for women at perimenopause and menopause, the effects of falling hormone levels can cause depression, anxiety and even brain fog.

Although hormone related mood symptoms can be difficult to manage, most people are able to stay on top of them. For others however, hormonal shifts can be more challenging to control and end up having a big impact on their day to day lives.

So how can you tell when hormonal mood shifts during puberty, pregnancy, postpartum or menopause may have become more of a problem?

Moreover, what can you do to minimize the impact your hormones are having and safeguard your mental health when your hormones feel less predictable?

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Estrogen helps your body to regulate chemical messengers (or hormones) such as serotonin, the happy hormone, norepinephrine and dopamine, all of which are linked to mood-boosting effects in the brain.

Having low estrogen levels can cause your mood to dip. You may notice yourself experiencing greater levels of anxiety, or other psychological symptoms too, such as a lack of confidence or low self-esteem.

Because your estrogen levels are lower in the last 2 weeks of your menstrual cycle,  you may find your mood is less stable during this time. For most people, when their estrogen levels are low, they feel low too. As estrogen levels are low after having a baby and during perimenopause and menopause, these periods of life can often cause shifts in mood, because of the lower estrogen levels experienced.

Progesterone is a tricky hormone. Some people find that it has a calming effect on their mood, and others describe it as doing the opposite, lowering their mood and leaving them feeling less motivated than usual.

Unlike estrogen, some people find they suffer more when progesterone levels rise (like in the two weeks leading up to their period). You might feel more irritable or have other PMS type symptoms.

You can find progesterone in most types of birth control. The type used in birth control is called progestin, but this still means progesterone. It’s definitely worth noticing how progestin affects you personally if you take a hormonal form of birth control.

Testosterone is often referred to as ‘the male hormone’ but in fact, it’s essential for all bodies. Testosterone has been linked to our cognitive function including our concentration, memory, mental stamina and clarity of thought. If these thinking skills are suffering, it can bring your mood down too.
Many menopause specialists use testosterone as part of a hormone therapy treatment plan, often noticing that it can bring benefits to women’s mood and their sleep, as well as their sex drive.

The physical, hormonal and emotional changes that happen at puberty can have a big impact on us. Changes in mood is one of the first things that may come to mind when thinking about the experience of puberty. For those of you going through it, those out of control feelings are the worst, but they’re also completely normal!

In teenagers and young adults, reactions to hormonal changes can cause:

  • low self esteem and poor self image – this is concerns about the way you look
  • emergence of sexual desire including for some people, a questioning of their sexual orientation, or whether their body aligns with how they feel inside, (this questioning can also happen before puberty)
  • feelings of frustration or becoming upset when you can’t be as independent as you would like to be
  • lower energy levels
  • disrupted sleep patterns
  • quick or sudden mood changes, one minute everything may seems fine and at another moment emotions are very heightened
  • outbursts of anger and aggression.

Puberty affects everyone differently. Everyone is unique and there’s no right or wrong here.

Supporting someone who has started their period

Once someone’s period starts, it’s important to help them understand their moods and the effect hormones can have week-by-week on their body and their emotions. It might be worth checking out the range of age-appropriate apps to help track periods and keep a note of how they feel during each month, so they can spot the signs of premenstrual stress and begin to learn how their hormones affect their mood. This can help them to feel in control and it also means you get comfortable talking about periods with each other.

Take a look at our information on periods and PMS, including the related mental health disorder PMDD.

It’s really important to empower someone you are supporting to notice patterns and changes related to their hormones on their own, as opposed to pointing things out. None of us like to be told the way we are feeling is because of our hormones, so if you can, refrain from telling a loved one you think they may be hormonal. Instead, try to have conversations that relates to your own experience. For example, you might try talking about an emotion you had, such as frustration or anger, right before getting your period. This could trigger the person you are supporting to start thinking about possible hormonal connections, and their mood on their own, ensuring they don’t feel you are trying to keep tabs on them when they don’t want you to!

You may experience such severe mood changes because of your hormones, that you want to try to treat the issue. Some methods of birth control can help you to manage your mood, if you feel it’s impacted by your menstrual cycle.

This is because contraceptives work by stabilizing hormone levels. They reduce the spikes and dips you would usually experience in a regular menstrual cycle.

If you’re suffering with more severe PMS symptoms, it may be worth seeing a specialist in Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) to discuss what option is best for you. Finding the right treatment can be a process of trial and error. Some types of birth control can trigger mental health symptoms as much as they can help with them. This is particularly the case for types of birth control that contain progestin.

You may also be advised to take something called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) which is a type of antidepressant. Examples you may have heard of include Prozac and Zoloft. SSRI’s, when prescribed for hormonal mood issues are taken either every day, or just in the luteal phase of your cycle. This is the two weeks leading up to your period.

Be advised, it’s likely that your clinician will prescribe an SSRI to you to help with mood, before a contraceptive option. This is because some birth control can actually have a negative effect on your mood. If you really don’t want to use an SSRI, or you have tried using one and feel it has made limited, or no difference to improving your mood, explain this to your doctor. They should listen to your concerns and support you if you would like to explore whether a hormonal option could help with your mood.

If you’re worried about a young person’s mental health, take a look at these questions to see if their moods are becoming more of a cause for concern. Visit The Jed Foundation to discover sources of further support.

If you have questions or are looking for support with your sexuality or gender identification, try these websites: Trans Lifeline, The Trevor Project or The Tribe.

During pregnancy and in the months following the birth of your baby, your body undergoes massive change connected to your hormones so it’s no wonder that many women go through a period of feeling emotional, overwhelmed or describe feeling like they don’t recognize themselves in the same way. This is very normal.

It’s also a time where your hormones – in line with other factors in your life – make you more vulnerable to certain conditions such as:

  • post-partum depression
  • anxiety
  • post-partum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • post-partum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • postpartum psychosis.

You may have struggled with your mental health in the past and these issues can come up again as a result of shifts to your hormones and additional stressors. Or, mental health problems can happen for the very first time during pregnancy, or after the birth.

If you’d like to know more about mental health and hormones during pregnancy and in the postpartum phase (up to one year after birth) click here.

Perimenopause is the time before menopause when your hormones fluctuate a great deal, sometimes this can happen in dramatic bursts, even throughout one day.

Key facts:

  • Perimenopause lasts on average around 4 years, but it could be longer than this.
  • Psychological symptoms often emerge before physical symptoms, like hot flashes or changes to your periods.
  • The most common psychological symptoms at perimenopause and menopause are brain fog, depression and anxiety.
  • Comparing perimenopausal and menopausal mood changes to more general clinical depression can be challenging, however some specialists observe that there tends to be:
    • less intense feelings of sadness, but more intense episodes of anger
      increased irritability
    • more rapid changes in moods or ‘mood swings’
    • feelings of anxiety
    • feelings of paranoia
    • intrusive thoughts.

Hormone therapy (HT) can help mental health symptoms during perimenopause and menopause. HT can be taken alongside other medications for your mental health such as antidepressants.

If you have an existing mental health condition, you may want to discuss how to best manage your mental health in perimenopause and menopause, and the possibility of taking HT with your prescribing doctor if you’re interested. Read our content all about perimenopause, menopause, symptoms and treatments.

It’s difficult to know whether the feelings you are experiencing are yours, or whether your hormones are responsible.

Sometimes it’s only after we’ve had an emotional dip, that we can start to think about the root cause.

It’s important to remember that monthly ups and downs are normal, and so is feeling more emotional during pregnancy or menopause. However, if you’re worried that ‘normal’ fluctuations in your mood are becoming more of an issue, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Is my anxiety / low mood / mood swings / anger / irritability / tearfulness happening more often than usual?
  • Are these feelings connected to my menstrual cycle?  For example, do they get worse in the lead up to my period?
  • Are the feelings I am experiencing stronger, than compared with how I usually feel when I struggle with my mental health?
  • Are the feelings I am experiencing affecting my work / relationships / sleep / health / appetite / energy level? And is this more than usual?
  • Have you been experiencing these unwanted feelings for more than 2 weeks?

If you have answered yes to some or most of these questions, it may be worth talking to a professional about your feelings and experiences.

Equally, if you aren’t sure about the answers to some of these questions, it could be helpful to talk to someone close to you and ask for their opinion.

Sometimes people are able to notice differences to our behavior, when we struggle too.

Don’t forget self-care!
There’s also plenty you can do to keep on top of your mental health through lifestyle measures. Follow some of our Mental Health Life Hacks for advice and more ways to relax and recharge.

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