On confusing depression with PMS

 

“Are you actually upset or are you just on your period?” Isn’t it infuriating to have someone dismiss your emotions with such a condescending question? I think so. But as infuriating as it is, stepping out of your emotions for a bit might make you realize that sometimes your anger or sadness is really just . . . hormones.

Finding a baseline

Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the mind-body connection. While it’s different for everybody, there are some common trends. The amount of sleep you get, the type and amount of food you eat, what you drink, and your hormones can all factor into mood. (Hangry?) I didn’t truly acknowledge this until I moved from south Louisiana to California. Being a broke college student during my last few years in the south, it’s needless to say that I did not properly feed myself. My diet consisted mostly of soft drinks and deep-fried food. After moving to California though, my diet immediately changed through a combination of peer pressure and necessity. It was difficult to get good fried food to begin with, plus try ordering that when everyone around you orders kale.

As my diet started converging the Bay Area status quo, I started feeling better, both mentally and physically. I had more energy, felt less sluggish, and was just overall in a better mood. (We’ll talk more about nutrition in future posts) Without all that crap in my system, I could better differentiate emotions and sensations. The best part of eating better was gaining knowledge about how my body is supposed to feel. Nonetheless, I still went through short bouts of deep depression. Despite feeling fine just days before, once the depression kicked in, I started catastrophizing my whole life (Work sucks. I have no friends. I need to move. I’m falling apart. Etc). Usually though, about 2 days later, my period would start, and it would all make sense. I didn’t actually hate my entire life, but that sudden drop in estrogen made me think I did. I noticed this a few months in a row before I actually realized the pattern (Doh).

Monitoring hormones

So, I found this app called the Hormone Horoscope, and I’m not even kidding when I say it changed my life. Basically, you tell the app the first day of your menstrual cycle, and you get a horoscope each day based solely on the expected ups and downs of your hormones. (Am I the only one who thinks hormonal fluctuations are interesting to learn? If you want to learn more too, here’s a good place to start) The app helps you learn what to expect in terms of mood, energy, romantic life, cravings, etc. For example, on Day 24 (from the start or your period), “Plunging estrogen can cause a bit of moodiness and irritability–but, you’re also burning up to 30% more fat when you exercise.” Now, if you’re having a bad day, you might get down on yourself for not having more positive energy. But after reading the day’s horoscope, you can begin to identify where the negative emotions are coming from rather than sulk in them. The key is identifying the source.

Graph displaying fluctuations of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone levels

Relative levels of three different hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) over course of 28-day cycle Source: https://womeninbalance.org/about-hormone-imbalance/

It has helped me tremendously to realize which negative emotions are “real” and which ones are influenced by environmental or bodily factors. It keeps me from sinking into that downward spiral where my whole life is falling apart.  Recognizing this helped me bounce back from mood swings quicker, and overall keeps me in a better mood. Plus, after a few months of using the app, I didn’t need it anymore. I just needed to keep it long enough to understand the general fluctuations of my body chemistry.

Now, I’m not saying you should dismiss negative feelings entirely because of your hormones. You still have reasons to be angry and upset, but this tool helps you better understand where negative feelings might be coming from.

And by the way, I am in no way affiliated with this particular app. If you have other means of tracking your cycle and understanding how fluctuations translate to your mood, by all means, do what works for you. BUT if you haven’t started tracking your cycle and you struggle with depression, I think you should try it. Period.

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