My Hormonology

Ever feel blue or fall into a funk during your premenstrual week? Chances are, the answer is “yes”–and the reason is because plunging estrogen can upset the delicate balance of brain chemicals that manage mood.

One proven way to get cheerier any day of your cycle is to seek out something pleasant to look at, such as a blooming flower, playful kitten or someone’s smile.

That’s because an uplifting sight prompts the flow of brain chemicals (such as dopamine and endorphins) that give you a warm or rewarding feeling. You’ve probably experienced this plenty of times yourself and felt the near-immediate effects.

I have, too–in fact, this phenomenon is one of the reasons I moved to St. Petersburg, Florida from New York City: Back home in Manhattan, you pass by grumpy scowl after grumpy scowl. (My own included, to be fair.) But, here in St. Petersburg, you can almost always find a smiling face around you–especially near the beaches, which are teeming with relaxed, relieved visitors who are thrilled to be somewhere warm and beautiful. And, seeing all those smiles makes me want to smile, too.

Well, now there’s something you need to know about this mood-boosting tip–and it has to do with your monthly cycle:

According to a 2017 small study out of Japan’s Daito Bunka University, during your premenstrual week, you’re not getting as big of a spike in good feelings from pleasant sights as you do during other weeks of your cycle.

The study details

Researchers used EEGs to measure the brain activity of 12 women as they viewed photos of happy, angry or neutral expressions on male and female faces.

The women were tested during their Week 2 (the week leading up to and including ovulation) and Week 4 (the premenstrual week).

What the researchers found:

  • Women in Week 2 of their cycle were faster at determining emotional expressions in faces than during their Week 4.
  • Women in Week 2 of their cycle experienced a more intense reaction to happy faces than during their Week 4.

Which means that not only are you slower at spotting happy faces in your premenstrual week, their mood-boosting effect is blunted compared to other times in your cycle.

Why the difference?

The researchers theorize that plunging estrogen in your premenstrual week slows down the mechanisms needed to process what you see, plus it curbs the brain’s production of mood-boosting chemicals it normally churns out when you view happy sights.

What’s this mean for you?

If you want a quick mood boost during your premenstrual week, you can still look at something positive–such as flowers, kittens or smiles. But, keep in mind that this may only give you a slight bump in good feelings rather than that big lift you’re looking for.

So, try other ways to get good feelings revved that involve senses other than sight, for instance, sniff a fragrant flower, walk barefoot on cool blades of grass, listen to uplifting music or treat yourself to a delicious beverage or food.

Trying several options rather than focusing on just one gives you a better shot at getting those brain chemicals moving in the right direction to give you that happy feeling you’re after.

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My Hormonology