How hormones can impact your reaction to stress

How hormones can impact your reaction to stress


At some point in our lives, we all face big, stressful challenges in life that seem almost impossible to overcome, for instance, unexpectedly getting hit with a huge bill we have to somehow figure out how to pay, getting bad news from our doctor, going through a divorce or enduring the pain of humiliation when we fail at something.

Thing is, sometimes, we seem to be able to muster the resilience and strength to accept the situation and try to deal with it.

Yet, other times, we can get so overwhelmed by the stress, we want to just crawl up into a ball and hide from the world forever.

What makes us strong during one crisis, but overwhelmed by another? Researchers think they have a clue:

Turns out, your response to big, stressful life challenges–specifically, ones that make you feel less in control, you perceive as a threat to your health or safety or that hamper your self-esteem–can depend on where you are in your monthly cycle.

When you’re in the high-estrogen phase of your cycle–your Week 2, which is the week leading up to and including ovulation in the middle of your cycle–you’re better at dealing with these types of high-stress situations, according to a new study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

And, when you’re on your low-estrogen days of your cycle–which include the first few days of your period in your Week 1 and throughout your premenstrual Week 4–stressful challenges are more distressing.

Why the difference?

The researchers point out that areas of the brain involved in mood regulation (such as the amygdala and hippocampus) are impacted by estrogen. When your body produces more of this hormone, it boosts your mood, blunting your negative response to a stressful situation, making you you more resilient. When your body is low in this hormone, it drags down your mood, exacerbating your negative response to a stressful situation, making it more difficult to deal with. Unfortunately, this can then make things worse, leading to depression, which increases feelings of hopelessness even more.

So, what can you do with this information?

When you encounter a big life stressor–whether it’s new or something that’s ongoing–try to keep in mind where you are in your monthly cycle. When you start to feel more overwhelmed by the problem, figure out if it’s because you’re on a low-estrogen day in your Week 1 or Week 4. Sometimes, just realizing that your hormones are exacerbating how you feel about a situation can help you feel more in control because you understand what’s going on.

Then, do whatever you can to reduce your stress, for instance, by talking with a trusted friend or therapist, taking a small step to fix the problem or using healthy, positive stress-reducers, such as meditation, prayer, yoga or exercise.

Never miss a single Hormonology tip:
Click here to subscribe to the free Hormonology newsletter today!

Follow me
Latest posts by Gabrielle Lichterman (see all)