The Link Between Mental Health & Your Period

The Link Between Mental Health & Your Period

Posted by Team joni on

Does your period impact your mental health? Every month, the millions of people around the world who menstruate are familiar with the hormonal roller coaster that can come with their cycles. It’s a complicated issue because of menstrual stigmas and taboos that still exist. Despite the universality of this experience, it’s simply not widely discussed. Let’s bring light to this important topic and take a look at the intersection between periods and mental health.

 

A woman hugs her knees to comfort her period and her mental health

Hormones vs Social Constructs

The menstrual cycle is divided into four distinct phases, each driven by fluctuating hormones. Estrogen and progesterone levels rise and fall throughout the cycle as the body works to regulate various body functions. 


However, these hormonal fluctuations can also influence neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which play crucial roles in mood regulation.


For many individuals, the premenstrual phase comes with PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome), which can bring about emotions of irritability, anxiety, and sadness. 


While these symptoms are often dismissed as "just PMS," they can significantly impact daily life and relationships.


But it’s not just hormones. 


Social constructs play a significant role in shaping how we perceive and interact with our periods, which can greatly impact our mental health.


The patriarchy: In many societies, patriarchal norms and structures have historically dominated. This can lead to the marginalization of menstruation as a "women's issue" and perpetuate the idea that periods are taboo topics. Additionally, patriarchal systems may prioritize male experiences and perspectives, leading to inadequate attention and resources for menstrual health and hygiene. 


Menstrual stigma and taboos: Across cultures, menstruation has been surrounded by stigma and taboos. This stigma often stems from deep-rooted beliefs about impurity or uncleanliness associated with menstruation. As a result, we may feel embarrassed or ashamed of our periods, leading to secrecy, silence, and a lack of open discussion about menstrual health and experiences.


Gender identity: The relationship between menstruation and gender identity can be complex and diverse. While menstruation is commonly associated with cisgender women, not all individuals who menstruate identify as women. If you’re a transgender man, or are non-binary or gender-nonconforming and you also experience menstruation, your experiences may be overlooked or invalidated due to societal norms that equate menstruation with femininity. Combined with a lack of inclusive support within healthcare, education, and social environments, this can lead to feelings of alienation and dysphoria.


Understanding and challenging these social constructs is crucial for promoting menstrual equity, inclusivity, and empowerment for all individuals.



There’s no such thing as “just” PMS:

Have you ever experienced intense emotions such as anger or sadness, only to find out the next day that your period has begun? Making the connection between strong emotions to hormonal changes is an important recognition. And it can be reassuring that our strong reactions were influenced by biological processes.

And yet…

Emotions are valid signals that should not be discounted.  For instance, shedding tears over a spilled Starbucks might seem like an overreaction upon reflection. But, it could also signify that the spill was the tipping point in a series of stressors or challenges. Understanding these nuances can help us navigate our emotional landscape with greater insight and compassion toward ourselves.


The Impact on Mental Health

So in what ways do hormones and social constructs related to our periods affect our mental health? Just how do they intersect? In addition to menstruation specific disorders, the menstrual cycle can affect mental health challenges you may already experience. Additionally, hormonal contraceptives, often prescribed to manage menstruation-related symptoms, can also influence mental well-being. Below are some conditions and disorders that may become exacerbated with your period.


This awareness is so important because knowledge is power, and this is especially true when it comes to knowing your body and your mind. When you know what’s going on, you can be more prepared and more gentle with yourself. 



PMDD:

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a recognized disorder and is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Often described as an extreme form of PMS, it is characterized by debilitating depression, irritability, mood swings, and hopelessness. It's crucial to recognize PMDD as a legitimate medical condition that requires proper diagnosis and management, yet it is estimated to be underdiagnosed, and it can take up to 10 years for those who do have PMDD to receive a diagnosis.


Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD):

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition where someone becomes overly focused on perceived flaws in their appearance causing significant distress and interfering with daily life. If you have BDD, your hormonal fluctuations can make this preoccupation more extreme, making it harder to cope. Others experience BDD only during certain phases of their cycle. Artist and podcaster Taylor Neal shares their experience with BDD along with personal advice on how they cope.

 

Neurodivergence:

Neurodevelopmental disorders include (but are not limited to) ADHD, Autism (ASD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and Tourette Syndrome. The heightened sensitivity that comes with being neurodivergent, which in so many ways can be a gift, can make managing your period even more difficult. Cramps can be even more intense and make it even harder to manage irritability or social situations that can already be challenging. The period cycle is one more stressor on an already long list of stressors.


Anxiety Disorders:

Anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder, may be influenced by hormonal changes during your period. Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels can make your feelings of worry, nervousness, and fear that much more challenging to cope with anxiety.


Depressive Disorders:

Depression, including major depressive disorder (MDD) and persistent depressive disorder (PDD), may be impacted by hormonal fluctuations associated with menstruation. Some individuals experience worsening depressive symptoms, such as low mood, feelings of hopelessness, and fatigue, during specific phases of their menstrual cycle, particularly the premenstrual phase.


Eating Disorders:

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, may be influenced by hormonal changes during menstruation. Your period can affect appetite, body image perception, and weight fluctuations. This can add up to increased distress and make eating disorders that much more difficult to manage.



This list is not exhaustive! There are many more mental health conditions that can be affected by menstrual symptoms that are not listed here because every condition can be impacted by fluctuating hormones and discomfort that comes with our cycles, from schizophrenia to borderline personality disorder to PTSD. 


Support and Self-Care

If you’re struggling, it’s important to seek professional guidance from healthcare providers, therapists, or support groups who can help you develop coping strategies and access appropriate treatment options to manage your mental health effectively throughout your cycle.


Track your cycle


When it comes to your period and managing mental health, the most important thing you can do is to track your period


Along with monitoring of blood, blood color, vaginal discharge, and body conditions like bloating every day, track your emotional state. 


You will quickly recognize symptoms that become stronger or more challenging during different times of your cycle. Recognizing patterns can help you be prepared so you’re not caught off guard. 


You may also want to consider cycle syncing your life so you can avoid situations that may cause you further discomfort.


Take care with self care


In addition to seeking outside help, there are things you can do to support well being and help to light you up. Standard tried and true health advice includes:


  • Regular exercise
  • Adequate sleep
  • Mindfulness practices
  • Health-supporting foods

Such strategies can help alleviate symptoms and promote overall well-being but we encourage you to listen to your body: rest when you need rest or get in a hard workout and sweat, cozy up with a good book, or dive into an iron-rich meal. 


. We’d also like to add:

  • Be gentle with yourself
  • Do things you love and enrich your life
  • Connect with friends and family

two friends laughing together and supporting mental health

 

Empowering Conversations

We all have ups and downs, whether you have a diagnosed mental health condition or not. And if you menstruate, those fluctuations in hormones will have an impact on you not just physically, but mentally as well. 


Just as menstruation needs to be destigmatized, so does mental health. These conversations are important to bring to light toward creating an inclusive and supportive society for all menstruators. 


By acknowledging the connection between periods and mental health, we can break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and empower individuals to prioritize their well-being.




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