My Hormonology

I admit it: I am deathly afraid of snakes. Which does not make living in Florida–which I did not know was one of the snake capitals of the world before moving here from snake-free NYC–always one of the calmest places to reside.

Still, it beats the sky-high rent, crowding, stress and endless puddles of drunk tourist vomit of Manhattan. Which is something I have to remind myself every time one of the state’s many legless, black-eyed serpents comes slithering out from behind a bush.

Thing is, I’ve never been bitten by a snake and I’m told most of the snakes around here are nonvenomous garden snakes that are more afraid of me than I am of them. So, my intense fear of snakes isn’t all that rational. And it’s something I’d like to overcome so that I’m not stricken with heart-pounding, scream-inducing panic on practically every walk I take around the neighborhood.

If you have an irrational fear of something–maybe it’s spiders, confined spaces or red jelly beans–and want to overcome it like I do, then there’s something you should know: You can use your monthly cycle to overcome your fear faster.

Week 2 high estrogen helps you overcome phobias

Have you ever heard of “exposure therapy”, where you gradually expose yourself more and more to whatever is causing your fear? For example, for me that might entail first looking at a snake that’s well-guarded in a cage, then approaching the cage, then having a certified snake handler take it out of its cage, then eventually even holding the snake myself.

This technique is commonly used by therapists to get you used to what’s causing your panic so that you stay calm when encountering it again.

Well, it turns out that slowly and regularly exposing yourself to whatever triggers your fear during your Week 2 (the week leading up to and including ovulation) helps you become less afraid of it than doing this same kind of exposure therapy during other weeks of your monthly cycle, according to new research in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, which supports previous studies (such as this and this) showing the same effect.

Why estrogen help you get past fear

The researchers explain that estrogen impacts several key areas of the brain associated with anxiety, fear, memory and learning–all of which affect your reaction to stressors and your ability to adapt in a new way to them.

So, on cycle days when you’re churning out high doses of this hormone–which are during your Week 2–you’re better able to break old fear responses (which, in my case would be getting instantly frozen in place and screaming louder than a tween at a One Direction concert) and replace them with a new, calmer response (such as simply walking away).

The takeaway here

If you’ve been trying to overcome an intense fear, consider circling your Week 2–the week leading up to and including ovulation–in your calendar, then trying to gradually have more interaction with whatever’s causing it. You may find your high estrogen enables you to overcome your fear once and for all.