Millions of people will be watching a highly-anticipated first U.S. presidential debate tonight. I’m certainly one of them.
This naturally led me to ponder how hormones can impact a premenopausal (cycling) woman’s abilities while participating in a debate. That’s because research shows that rising and falling estrogen, testosterone and progesterone impact verbal eloquence, memory, mental speed and confidence depending on where you are in your monthly cycle–and these are all skills and traits needed to succeed in a debate.
Now, before I go into detail about your cycle, I just want to make it clear that in no way do I think your hormones can sabotage your performance if you’re debating on certain cycle days. Just the opposite–by knowing how your hormones are impacting you, you can capitalize on hormonal benefits and, as importantly, override any hormonal challenges. It would be the same if you had any other type of challenge that could affect your performance. For example, if you had a lousy night’s sleep before a debate, you’d probably drink coffee to perk up. Or if you heard bad news right before you were supposed to go on stage, you’d probably take a deep breath and give yourself a pep talk to rally.
In the same way, if you know that your hormones can make you talk too fast or too slow or they’re dinging your memory or they’re making you more easily angered, you’ll be able to prepare–and perform better because of your preparation.
Secretary Clinton is postmenopausal, so these tips won’t apply to her or other postmenopausal women. But, for other women who have regular healthy menstrual cycles, here’s what you can expect each week of your cycle if you were to debate:
Week 1: Slow start, sharp finish
Day 1 (first day of period) to Day 7
During the first couple of days of your period, your estrogen is super-low–and that’s key to be aware of since this hormone boosts your verbal ability, memory, confidence, mental speed and energy, which are all needed for a successful debate performance. So, on these first few cycle days when estrogen is scarce, you’ll need to rely on other ways to improve your performance, for instance, practicing more, studying your facts longer and revving mental speed and energy with caffeine, exercise, uptempo music or another method that gets you pumped up.
By the second half of your Week 1 (around Day 3 or Day 4 of your cycle), estrogen climbs to higher levels, which improves your speaking skills, recall, self-assurance and mental and physical pep. As a result, you’ll likely find it a bit easier to answer questions, remember key details and think faster on your feet.
Week 2: Thinking fast, talking faster
Day 8 to ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)
Estrogen rises throughout this cycle week till it reaches its peak and testosterone rises at the end of this cycle week also reaching its peak. On one hand, these high hormones give you a whole host of debate-boosting benefits: You’re thinking more quickly, your memory is at its sharpest, it’s easier to be witty and engaging and you’re brimming with confidence.
On the other hand, these high hormones could be filling you up with a bit too much energy, which can make you talk so fast thatnooneunderstandswhatyou’resaying. And your brain could be spinning a bit too quickly, making you think of too many details and arguments at once, which can come off as scattered.
So, during this cycle week, if you hear yourself speaking at a rapid-fire pace, try to slow yourself down. And if you experience a logjam of thoughts, try to pare down what you say to the key points.
Week 3: A verbal and memory slowdown
Begins day after ovulation and lasts 8 days (which is Day 15 to Day 22 in a 28-day cycle)
As sedating progesterone rises throughout this week, it has a slowing effect on you–it slows down your mental and physical energy and it makes you speak a bit slower and with less emotion. On top of this, as estrogen drops in the first half of this week, it can sap your confidence. This means that your challenge for this cycle week is pumping up your pep so that you look, sound and feel more enthusiastic and engaged. For you, this may mean getting pep talks from your debate prep team (who remind you why you need to cream your opponent) or listening to uptempo music, doing jumping jacks or psyching yourself up in a mirror.
Rising progesterone also has a tendency to ding your verbal skills, for instance, you may say “um” or “ah” more frequently or use the wrong word or say the word incorrectly. The way to overcome this is to practice more and think a little longer about what you want to say before you say it so it comes out just the way you want.
Progesterone can also cloud your memory, so take more time to review facts, names and other details you want to bring up during your debate so you’ll have an easier time recalling them when you need to.
Week 4: Don’t get baited!
Final 6 days of your cycle
During this premenstrual week, plunging estrogen can make you more easily angered–and this is especially true when under extreme stress or when hungry. Keep this in mind in case your debate opponent tries to bait you into losing your cool–typically a no-no in a debate situation since it shows you don’t have control, plus it makes you lose your train of thought and zaps your recall so you can’t argue as effectively. And be aware that this same anger can be directed at yourself, meaning you can get more frustrated if you flub an answer. When you feel your ire start to rise, take a deep breath and remember that you’ll be more successful at delivering the lines you want and remembering the details you need when you stay calm.
Estrogen plunges during this entire cycle week, which means that estrogen-linked skills can dip with it. So, this isn’t a week to skip debate practice or skim over facts you want to bring up during the discussion.
But, perhaps, your biggest premenstrual challenge will be bolstering your confidence: As estrogen drops, it drags down levels of feel-good brain chemicals needed to give you self-assurance. So, you’ll need to put more effort into pumping up your confidence other ways, such as reminding yourself of all the hard work you put in to make it to the podium.
If you’re debating, it’s key to keep in mind where you are in your hormone cycle so you can capitalize on hormonal benefits and overcome hormonal challenges. But, remember that experience, practice and gumption are all factors that also play key parts in a debate performance–so ultimately you’ll be neither hampered by your hormones nor ruled by them. You have the ability to outshine your opponent any day of your cycle if you try hard enough.
PS: I’m not going to share who I’m voting for in this or any election because I believe that’s a personal and private decision. However, I will give you this advice that’s helped me enormously when you come across someone who tries to push their candidate on you or derides you for the candidate you’re backing: Inform the person that you have a policy where every time someone says something negative to you about the candidate you’re voting for, you make a donation to your candidate’s campaign. I cannot tell you how fast this has shut up the pushy people around me. You’re welcome.