Behavior Changes throughout Your Menstrual Cycle

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It is thought that 85% of all women experience at least one symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) every single month affecting their mood and everything around them. However, you may not know why you are feeling that way and what it means in relation to your ovulation. You may have worked out that if you start to feel a little down and anxious, you know that your period is just around the corner but what does that mean?

Changes in our behavior during menstruation can have a big impact on our lives and can turn mundane everyday tasks into an ordeal. For example, going shopping for groceries becomes an emotional experience and we aren’t really sure why except that we know we will need to put ‘certain items’ in our basket for the week ahead. As well as increased emotions, anxiety and bloating can also be experienced and can have an effect on both life at home as well as at work. We have all seen PMS and the changes in behavior that it causes as it is well documented on TV and films and is quite often the butt of the joke. However, not many people know the reason why this occurs and what our hormone levels are doing during the menstruation cycle which gets to grips on why we feel different emotions and why our thought processes change somewhat.

The ‘Good’ Phase – Follicular Phase and Ovulation – The first phase of the menstrual cycle starts on the first day of your period and allows the hormone, estradiol, to be released. This phase normally lasts for around two weeks though can last slightly less and will give you a general feeling of happiness and will make you feel at ease. The production of follicles in the ovaries that contain the eggs are stimulated during this time period by the Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

You generally feel good in this part of the cycle as you are at ease and also because it is compared to the second part of the cycle which is much more challenging. When you are feeling good, you are much less likely to pick up on bad moods or things that could potentially cause stress. Later on in the cycle, this changes, and you are much more likely to pick up on smaller things and dwell on them which will affect your mood drastically.

Studies have shown that there may actually be a biological basis to this thought as well because the good feelings are born from a more sensitive brain. Women who are in the first part of their cycle (the follicular phase) have shown during the studies that they experience much more brain activity when it comes to positive thoughts than those who are in the latter stages of the cycle. For example, the brain becomes more energetic and active at the thought of potentially winning some money. This is also helped by estradiol which is rising in the body and helps to reduce the effects of stress by restricting adrenaline and cortisol which are both ‘stress hormones’. This helps to preserve a good mood and stops you from dwelling on negative thoughts.

The ‘Hot’ Phase – The Ovulatory Phase – An increase in the luteinizing hormone during this stage of the menstruation cycle encourages the release of an egg from the ovaries for fertilization in the fallopian tubes.

Estradiol is still present at this point in quite large quantities and interacts with the luteinizing hormone as well as others which in turn, increases your sex drive (otherwise known as libido). Insulin is made far more effective by estradiol, this then communicates with the body that testosterone, one of the main regulators of a person’s sex drive, needs to be released. Some believe that this was intended by nature and is a way of telling a woman the right time to have sex if she wants to conceive. Studies conducted recently have even shown that a woman’s libido is at its highest just before ovulating; the study also shows that tolerance to pain is also greater. This is also the time of the month where you are more likely to buy yourself some new clothes and makeup as a way of making yourself more attractive.

The ‘Bad’ Phase – The Luteal Phase – This is the phase that is the least enjoyable and the part that no woman looks forward to as you start to feel moodier and little things start to annoy you and affect your day. The empty follicle, now without an egg, starts to thicken the lining of the uterus via the hormone progesterone and gets it ready for the possible embryo that may develop.

Progesterone has the opposite effect to estradiol in that it encourages the production of cortisol which is a stress-inducing hormone; this can cause an overload of the hormone as it already adds to external factors such as work. You are more likely to consume a higher calorie diet during the luteal phase as you constantly look for things that will comfort you and help you to reduce the amount of stress that you are experiencing. Of course, not everybody has exactly the same symptoms but many women find comfort in certain foods and crave them as a result.

To combat this, it can be important to maintain a healthy lifestyle as this can lessen the effects of the dreaded phase. Lack of sleep and a lack of nutrients are likely to leave your hormones already in a poor position before even entering the luteal phase which makes the whole process much harder to deal with. If you maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes a good night’s sleep consistently, a good diet and some exercise, you should find it easier to cope with PMS symptoms. If you have tried all of this and you’re still experience strong symptoms that affect the way you lead your life, it could be a wise decision to visit a doctor as you may have a hormone imbalance that needs amending.

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