22 Oct Seeing more sad faces? Must be Week 3 or Week 4
OCTOBER 22, 2020—Are you’re noticing that there are more sad people as you scroll through social media, watch TV or look around you in the real world? If so, it may not only be that life’s struggles are weighing heavier on more folks. It may also be that you’re in the second half of your menstrual cycle–your Week 3 or Week 4–known as the “luteal” phase.
That’s the conclusion of a 2020 study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology that found women in this part of their cycle spot unhappy facial expressions faster than other facial expressions.1
Why does sadness stand out on these cycle days?
The researchers explain that elevated progesterone during your luteal phase activates your inner “social monitoring system” and spurs your brain to pay more attention to social cues. They go on to say that of all the emotions, sadness pops out faster likely because it’s one way your hormones help with survival since an unhappy expression could indicate danger lurks nearby. It also helps you adapt to social situations since you can tell from someone’s glum look that it’s not the right time to regale them with tales of how awesome you’re doing, but instead give them a comforting shoulder to cry on.
The downside of so many sad faces
While there are benefits to being able to recognize blue moods in others more quickly in your Week 3 and Week 4, there are drawbacks, too. For starters, seeing frowns can trigger down feelings in you. That’s a result of mirror neurons in the brain that prompt you to “catch” someone else’s emotions. You may already be challenged with your own low spirits during this cycle phase due to two dips in estrogen or if you’re sensitive to the sadness-triggering effect of elevated progesterone. So, spotting bummed-out folks over and over could push you into an even deeper funk.
For those challenged with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a condition that’s like an extreme and disruptive form of premenstrual syndrome, this constant reminder of sad people around you could nudge you further to the negative side of your emotional scale, contributing to depression or hopelessness.
Another drawback: If you’re challenged by social anxiety, either as its own condition or as part of your PMDD symptoms, spotting sad faces over and over can make you worry if you’re the one causing their problem, for example, if you’ve said or done something wrong. Or you may put extra pressure on yourself to help the person get happy again.
What can you do?
Now that you know you’re more likely to spot sadness during your Week 3 and Week 4, and what the potential pitfalls are, you can counter sad faces–and your own bumming mood–an easy way: Look for happy faces.
Sounds too easy to work, but the same mirror neurons in the brain that make dreary moods contagious also make joyous emotions just as catchy.
So, look at a super-upbeat friend’s social media posts, watch a video where there’s sure to be smiles or simply do an online search for “happy people”. The more cheeriness you look for and find, the more gleeful you’ll be.
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(1) Jing Wang, Antao Chen, “High progesterone levels facilitate women’s social information processing by optimizing attention allocation,” Psychoneuroendocrinology, 122 (2020): 104882