Ever experience nervousness, panic or dread that’s out of proportion for the situation or that hits you out of the blue for no reason–and you don’t know why?
You’re not alone. I’ve been getting a bunch of emails lately from readers who ask,
“Is it normal to feel anxiety, jitteriness or on-edge on certain days in my cycle?”
The cycle days vary with the questioner: Some women ask about anxiety in their Week 1, some their Week 2, some their Week 3 and some their Week 4.
The reason this question about anxiety can span all four weeks of your monthly cycle is because this edgy feeling can occur at different points in all weeks of your monthly cycle.
Now, this doesn’t mean you’re going to be crawling out of your skin and begging for a chamomile fix throughout the entire month. It just means that some women may have more of a tendency to experience anxiety during at least one of these times due to certain hormone fluctuations.
To find out how your hormones could be impacting your anxiety levels, here’s a quick Hormonology Guide to show you why you may be anxious on some days and calmer on others.
Once you find out how hormones may be impacting your anxiety, scroll down for simple, study-proven ways to usher in calm….
Day 1 (first day of period) to Day 7
Your estrogen starts out at rock-bottom at the start of Week 1–which is the first day of your period–and its level rises throughout these seven days of your cycle. The higher this hormone climbs, the more it boosts your physical and mental energy. While that’s good news, if you’re sensitive to rising estrogen, you could experience a temporary bout of anxiety, nervous energy or the jitters–especially if you drink caffeine, which exacerbates these effects–as your body gets used to this upward hormonal climb. Like clockwork, I get antsy on my Day 4 every cycle. I can really feel that rising hormone rush. But, by Day 5, I’m back to an even keel.
Day 8 to Day 14 (or your ovulation day)
Estrogen and testosterone rise till they peak
There’s a lot to love about your Week 2 (which starts 8 days after your period): You’ve got more physical and mental energy, your brain skills can’t be beat, you’re eloquent and confident and your mood is soaring. However, it’s not all good news: High estrogen is also known to trigger anxiety in women. That’s because this hormone intensifies and prolongs your stress response to issues big and small. Plus, it prompts more brain “arousal”, making you more easily pushed into antsiness territory. This means you could experience symptoms of anxiety–such as worry, restlessness, feeling on-edge, irritability or tension–when faced with a stressful situation, say, an upcoming job interview or dinner with your new sweetheart’s parents. Or you may get a bout of anxiety out of the blue that has no obvious cause.
Begins day after ovulation and lasts 8 days (Day 15 to Day 22 in a 28-day cycle)
Progesterone rises; estrogen and testosterone drop for half the week, then estrogen rises again
This is a mixed-bag kind of a week. If you’re sensitive to plunging estrogen, you may notice anxiety symptoms kick in during the first few days of your Week 3 as estrogen descends, bringing down mood-stabilizing serotonin in the brain. However, chances are, this anxiety response may be blunted by a rise in progesterone, which has a sedating effect. There’s good news to report for the second half of your Week 3: During these days, you’ll likely be experiencing a lot more soothing calm than in other days of your cycle. That’s because estrogen levels go back up, boosting serotonin back up with it. Plus, calming progesterone is rising, making you mellow.
Final 6 days of your cycle
Estrogen and progesterone plunge
During your premenstrual Week 4, you may spend more time fretting about upcoming events, like a big bill that’s due, a dental appointment or a business trip. Blame for the extra anxiety goes to plunging estrogen, which brings down mood stabilizing serotonin as it descends. Another Week 4 anxiety-trigger: Insomnia. Research out of the University of California, Berkeley, shows that getting too little shut-eye (even for a single night) creates changes in the emotional centers of the brain that ratchets up “anticipatory anxiety” characterized by excessive worry.
If you’re having trouble sleeping in Week 4, try sipping chamomile tea three or four hours prior to bedtime, which has a mildly sedating effect and helps lull you to sleep. Then, make sure your bedroom is free of odors, noise and light, which can rouse you more easily during this week of your cycle. Studies also show a sound machine helps problem sleepers drift off faster. If you don’t have one, you can log onto SoundSleeping.com, which offers free nature-themed, ambient and white noise sounds, plus an alarm clock to wake you up.
So, what can you do about reducing your anxiety?
There are many proven, natural techniques for calming anxiety when it arises and easing its grip on you. Some you can try:
* Take slow—but not deep—breaths: Heard slow, deep breathing can calm you fast? According to research out of Southern Methodist University, slow, shallow breaths may soothe you more effectively. As the researchers explain it, deep breathing causes you to exhale an abnormally high amount of carbon dioxide, which in turn, triggers dizziness and a suffocating sensation, leading to more panic. By taking shallow breaths, you limit the carbon dioxide you expel, which calms you and lessens that throat-constricting feeling.
* Go for a bike ride: Numerous studies show that moderate exercise (such as brisk walking, jogging, skating and bike riding) reduces anxiety and stress for up to an hour by triggering the release of calming brain chemicals. Get anxiety about having anxiety, for instance, do you worry about experiencing the symptoms of a panic attack? Then you may have “high anxiety sensitivity”. To combat it, do longer or more intense exercise. Research from Southern Methodist University and University of Vermont shows that high levels of exercise blunt your response to panic-triggering situations.
* Sip chamomile tea: Scientists have found that this herbal brew contains compounds that have a calming anti-anxiety effect.
* Try pine bark extract: In a study out of Italy’s Pescara University, folks who took 100 mg. of the pine bark extract Pycnogenol daily for eight weeks saw their anxiety levels drop by 17%. Pycnogenol is rich in antioxidants that boost blood flow to the brain, feeding it with nutrients that make it less sensitive to tense situations, so you stay calm. (Available at health food and vitamin stores.)
* Sniff jasmine: The scent of jasmine has the ability to trigger calm by enhancing the effect of a certain brain chemical–GABA, reports the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
* Practice mindfulness meditation: This easy meditation technique—which involves sitting with your back straight and focusing solely on your breath—has been shown in study after study to dramatically reduce anxiety symptoms. Find out more about how to do it here. Or consider joining a meditation group that meets regularly.
* Keep track of triggers: You can dodge bouts of anxiety by pinpointing the spots in your cycle when you’re more prone to it so you can use calming techniques and avoid other possible triggers, such as excessive caffeine intake. To track your anxiety episodes and pinpoint your triggers, try writing them in a daily calendar or using the note-taking feature on my free Hormone Horoscope menstrual cycle tracker app available at the App Store and Google Play.
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