When you think of your cycle, what things come to mind? Perhaps the first thought is getting your period and any annoyances that that entails, like bloating or hormonal breakouts, or maybe your first thought is of ovulating and trying – or not trying to get pregnant. But did you know there is a lot more going on during your menstrual cycle than just a period and ovulation, and that it in fact affects everything from your mood and energy levels to your food cravings, appetite, desire to participate in social activities and even your behavior?
Even more important is that since your hormones invariably follow the same pattern from month to month it means the effects you feel – everything from sleep quality to sexual desire also repeat themselves each cycle. What can seem like mystery feelings or behaviors can actually be predicted and used to your advantage. Let’s dive a little deeper and see what’s really going on!
How your Hormones affect your Mood and Behavior Each Week
Your menstrual cycle is the roughly four-week time span from the first day of one period to the first day of the next in which three fundamental hormones, estrogen, testosterone and progesterone, rise and drop in a predictable and unavoidable pattern. Armed with the knowledge of how the ascent and descent of these three hormone levels affect you, you can plan out your weeks and month in a more systematic way- taking advantage of days you know your energy will be soaring, and tailoring your diet, exercise routine, skincare regimen, and even social interactions accordingly.
Starting with Week 1, which we’ll define as the first day of your period, through Day 7, estrogen, the first of these major hormones that we’ll talk about, enters at its lowest point of the entire month and begins a continual ascent for the remainder of the month. As it rises, you might feel a welcome boost of energy and find yourself in the mood for more social interactions. Estrogen is also associated with an increase in motivation, optimism and even memory skills. It might be a good time to begin one of those creative projects you’ve been putting off or undertake an educational endeavor.
As far as cravings are concerned, estrogen has been found to have an appetite-suppressing effect. Use this to your advantage by sticking to healthy whole-foods based meals with smaller serving sizes this week. The first two weeks of your cycle are a great time to d some intermittent fasting!
Other effects of rising estrogen in the body during Week 1 include increased libido and sexual desire and a better ability for muscle growth and strength gains, so it’s definitely the week to push yourself in the gym!
As you cruise into Week 2, defined as Day 8 up until ovulation (Day 14 in a regular, 28-day cycle) not only does estrogen continue to rise but testosterone also begins its ascent during the second half of the week. You’ll continue to reap the benefits of the estrogen boost that you saw in Week 1- everything from high energy levels to clear thinking, confidence and even a self-esteem boost concerning your appearance and attractiveness.
This, combined with the spontaneous, uninhibited and adventurous feelings associated with rising testosterone, make this week a great time to surround yourself with people and conversation or set out in search of new, adventurous experiences. High levels of estrogen have also been found to correlate to a decrease in sensitivity to pain – making this week a great time to schedule that tattoo appointment! Just kidding (kind of). Stick with your healthy eating this week as you’ll find both the motivation to do so as well as the willpower to say no to unhealthy temptations. Combine those healthy meals and intermittent fasting with some weight training in the gym and you’ll be unstoppable this week!
One caveat for some women during Week 2 is that high estrogen can also trigger feelings of anxiousness or stress thanks to overstimulation in the brain. If this is you, try to pair these feelings with mindful activities that help you de-stress and unwind.
Welcome to Week 3, the day after ovulation plus the following eight days (in a 28-day cycle this would look like day 15 to day 22). You can approach Week 3 feelings and behaviors as a set of two distinct parts, as estrogen and testosterone drops significantly at the beginning of the week and then estrogen rises again towards the end. Translated to your moods, this can play out as a “pre-PMS” stage experienced in the first half of the week, including mild irritability, lack of energy and overall moodiness, but it should be put to rest by the end of the week.
Progesterone begins to rise during Week 3 and can make you feel sluggish, sleepy, anxious or quiet – in fact, for most this is the least energetic and most lethargic week of the entire cycle. Some women are particularly sensitive to progesterone and might also experience crying spells or bursts of seemingly random sadness.
A few other downsides of this progesterone rise include constipation, slow digestion, water retention and bloating, and decreased sexual desire, making this a great week to take it easy and indulge in a little self-care. Take a step back form the cardio based activities and switch gears by doing some yoga or walking in nature.
And finally, we come to Week 4, the final week on this roller coaster of emotions – before the ride begins again, that is. Week 4 is technically the last 6 days in your cycle and is characterized by a drop in both estrogen as well as progesterone. The estrogen dive could potentially have you feeling bummed out, sad or even anxious during this premenstrual week.
But, as it turns out, these feelings don’t strike each and every woman, and much of the severity of these feelings actually depend on your genes and whether or not you have an overall healthy lifestyle, taking into account factors like quality sleep, healthy eating habits, regular exercise/movement, and stress levels. Regardless, declining estrogen might drain your energy and leave you with a more pessimistic outlook, so this isn’t the ideal week to set lofty goals for yourself or try new activities.
Don’t be afraid to up your carbs this week! Yes you heard me correctly, there is a drop in a hormone called serotonin, our feel good hormone, which is thanks to that declining estrogen. You might find yourself craving carbs and reaching for breads, pastas and even sweets, which is your body’s way of underhandedly trying to replenish these “happy chemical” serotonin levels. The body uses carbs to make serotonin and if cortisol is high and serotonin is low, you’ll seek carbs and fats, but really heavy duty on the simple carbs — sugar-based sweets like chocolate bars. This is a good time to listen to your body but stick to carbs like sweet potato, dark chocolate and fruit. Don’t hesitate to ditch the fasting this week and tune into your body through some meditation or other mindfulness techniques.
Chronic health conditions like asthma, eczema and IBS have a tendency to flare up during this week.The good news is that progesterone is declining this week, so you can say goodbye to the lethargy of Week 3.
Though it might seem overwhelming at first to try to keep track of all the moods, behaviors and cravings that are affected by rise and fall of these three hormones during your monthly cycle, the more in tuned you become with how you are affected, the better and more equipped you will be to plan your month accordingly!