23 Feb Menstrual cycle tracking is an important tool for teen sadness
- Depression in teen girls and LGTBQIA+ youth is at record highs. Many tools are needed to help, and menstrual cycle tracking is an important one.
FEBURUARY 23, 2023—The teen years are rarely smooth sailing for any of us. There’s intense social pressure, worry about grades, unrequited crushes that break our heart, despair at learning about injustices in the world, and confusion about who we are and who we want to be. And that’s just for starters! Throw in a deadly pandemic that upended the world, repeated gun violence in our schools and communities, and the nonstop barrage of social media and, well, it’s like pouring an SUV-sized can of gasoline onto a campfire.
So, it comes as no surprise that depression is at record levels right now for teenagers, especially those who are girls and LGTBQI+. Indeed, according to a 2023 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 60% of teen girls and nearly 70% of LGTBQIA+ youth in the United States experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.1 Even more alarming, 10% of teen girls and 20% of LGTBQIA+ youth have attempted suicide. Many more contemplated it.
While this study focused on young people in the U.S., teen challenges are fairly universal. And the many global problems occurring now (such as war and the rise of extremism) are likely to make teen depression continue to increase worldwide.
Menstrual cycle tracking is a vital mood tool for teens
While it’s true that teen depression is spiking and may continue to rise, there is good news: There are a variety of tools that can help teens ease or possibly even overcome their depression, and potentially prevent depression from developing. These include:
- Offering counseling in person or via telehealth
- Pairing them with mentors who reflect the teens that they’re guiding so they can envision their own happy, healthy adulthood, giving them hope
- Giving teens opportunities that build confidence, achievement and a sense of control, such as showing them how to run their own microbusiness, inviting them to volunteer and teaching them to play an instrument
- Teaching teens coping mechanisms that ease stress and anxiety, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, art therapy and music therapy
- Encouraging teens to adopt healthy lifestyle habits that have been shown to help manage moods, such as eating nutritious meals, exercising and adopting a regular sleep schedule that include 7 to 8 hours of sleep nightly
And there’s another critical tool to add to this list that’s specifically for any teen who has a period: teach teens to track their menstrual cycle.
Menstrual cycle tracking means monitoring what’s going on with your emotions and body throughout your menstrual cycle (which spans the first day of your period through the day before your next period).
Menstrual cycle tracking can be as simple as using an ordinary notebook to jot down a few notes about each day of your cycle (with Day 1 being the first day of your period, Day 2 the next day and so on). You can use your notebook to observe your mood, energy, sleep quality and anything else you want to monitor.
Menstrual cycle tracking can also be more comprehensive, using readymade charts that you fill out: For example, you can use my paperback tracking journal, Hormonology Menstrual Cycle Tracker Journal, to track more than 70 facets of your cycle, which are already categorized into charts, including everything from the appearance of your cervical mucus and daily basal temperature to your level of anxiety and pain sensitivity. I also include dot graph “bullet” pages in my period tracking journal so you can make visual graphs. (Note: I advise against using a menstrual cycle tracking mobile app due to the serious risk of your private health data being accessed by third parties, which you can learn about here.)
How can menstrual cycle tracking help teens?
Decades of research that include thousands of studies prove that the ups and downs of hormones (specifically, estrogen, testosterone and progesterone) in our menstrual cycles impact our moods, health, sleep, energy and virtually every other aspect of our lives.
What’s more, these hormone-fueled changes typically follow the same pattern cycle after cycle. This means that when you track your hormonal changes, you can see your own patterns so you can actually predict what changes in moods, health, sleep, energy and more will come tomorrow, the next day, the next week and the next month.
By tracking changes during your menstrual cycle, you can spot your own personal patterns that recur cycle after cycle, for example, you might notice that you’re more self-conscious or have more social anxiety on certain cycle days and have more energy and laugh a lot on other cycle days.
As a result, menstrual cycle tracking enables teens to see for themselves the way their moods (such as hope, sadness, anxiety and joy) naturally rise and fall in a repeating pattern cycle after cycle. This way, when feelings of despair or worry spike, they can look at their own menstrual cycle histories and remind themselves that on some cycle days unwanted negative feelings increase, but then, most importantly, they also pass. This can provide significant relief since it reassures them that better days are ahead.
The hormone/depression connection
Of course, hormones aren’t the only reason teens who menstruate can experience down moods and depression. Mood issues are often a result of real-life problems we face, pressure we feel and worries we have as well as health challenges, such as an iron deficiency or a chronic pain condition.
However, the rise and fall of hormones in our menstrual cycles can impact how well we cope with issues as well as how big or small we perceive these issues to be. And there tend to be certain days in our cycle when hormones make us feel ready to take on the world–no matter how imperfect it is. And there also tend to be certain days in our cycle when we can feel overwhelmed by problems of any size or feel down for no good reason at all.
And researchers have pinpointed these at-risk days: Numerous studies show that depression, anxiety and thoughts of self-harm tend to become more frequent and intense in the few days right before menstruation and during the first couple of days of your period.2
The reason for these mood changes? According to a 2022 study in the journal Translational Psychiatry, one key factor is a drop in the body’s levels of estrogen and progesterone. On premenstrual days, these hormones plunge, triggering withdrawal that impacts the brain in ways that increase hopelessness (making you feel that your sadness will never end), sensitivity to social rejection (making you feel alone) and perceived burdensomeness to others (making you feel that your absence may actually be a relief to others).3 And even though estrogen starts to rise during your period, the level of this hormone is still low during the first couple of days of bleeding, which can make these negative premenstrual emotional effects linger.
Thankfully, once estrogen rises higher in the middle of your period week, unwanted negative emotions caused by hormones tend to fade. And, in fact, as estrogen continues to rise, it impacts the brain in ways that tend to make you feel sunnier and improves your ability to cope with life’s many challenges.
Once teens spot these repeating patterns in their own cycles, they can have greater understanding of themselves, how their bodies work and how hormones can influence their emotions.
What’s more, they can tailor treatments and coping techniques around the ups and downs of hormones in their cycle. For example, they can plan to do more yoga on cycle days when they know stress will be higher and plan more loving self-care on cycle days when they know they are likely to feel blue.
And if they’re taking medications or nutritional supplements (for example, to help with depression), their healthcare provider may be able to increase or decrease dosages that follow the fluctuations of their hormones.
Hormone know-how is a vital mood-managing tool for all
Tracking the changes you experience throughout your menstrual cycle is one easy way to understand–and even more importantly, predict–your moods, energy level, sleep patterns and more. This way, you can have hope that things do, indeed, get better and can tailor treatments to make even your most challenging days easier.
And you can get a head start on understanding the many hormonal effects in your cycle with my book, 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals About Your Moods, Health & Potential. It gives you a daily “Hormone Horoscope” that tells you what each category of your day will be like (mood, energy, sleep, etc.) based on where you are in your menstrual cycle. This means you’ll know ahead of time which days of your cycle you can expect to feel upbeat, energized and resilient, and which cycle days you may need to plan more loving self-care.
Pair 28 Days with my my paperback tracking journal, Hormonology Menstrual Cycle Tracker Journal, and you’ll find your own personal hormone patterns, creating a custom menstrual map that helps you make every day better.
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(2) Daisung Jang, Hillary Anger Elfenbein, “Menstrual Cycle Effects on Mental Health Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis”, Archives of Suicide Research, 23(2019): 312-332
Kate E. A. Saunders, Keith Hawton, “Suicidal Behaviour and the Menstrual Cycle”, Psychological Medicine, (2006): 901-912
(3) Tory A. Eisenlohr-Moul, et al., “Effects of Acute Estradiol and Progesterone on Perimenstrual Exacerbation of Suicidal Ideation and Related Symptoms: a crossover randomized controlled trial”, Translational Psychiatry, 12 (2022): 528