What can you do when you get “phantom feelings”?

My Hormonology

What can you do when you get “phantom feelings”?


Yesterday, I was struck out of the blue with a feeling that was like a mixture of sadness, fear and regret. It was an emotion that was hard to pinpoint, but it wasn’t pleasant.

Automatically, I retraced my most recent steps to figure out where this vague unease had stemmed from. Was it due to news I just watched on TV? Nope. Was it due something I recently read online? Nope. Did I have a bad interaction with someone? Nope.

Then, I thought about where I was in my cycle: The first half of my Week 3–when estrogen takes a sudden and steep plunge and progesterone rises.

And, that’s when I realized, “Oh, it’s just a ‘phantom feeling’.”

A phantom feeling is what I call one of those waves of negative emotions (such as sadness, regret, anger, fear or guilt) that comes over you for no good reason at all during the second half of your cycle. 

It’s similar to a phantom limb where someone perceives a missing limb as being a part of her or his body even though it really isn’t there. With a phantom feeling, the negative emotion you’re experience isn’t in response to anything that’s recently happened to you or that you experienced in the past. But, you feel it–and it feels real–just the same.

So, where’s this phantom feeling coming from? Chances are, it’s just a symptom of hormones:

As estrogen descends in the first half of your Week 3 (which occurs right after ovulation in the middle of your cycle) and throughout your Week 4 (your premenstrual week), it can drag down levels of mood-regulating brain chemicals, giving rise to unpleasant emotions.

And when progesterone rises throughout your Week 3, it can trigger a range of downcast feelings in women who are sensitive to this hormone.

So, once a phantom feeling strikes, what can you do about it?

Here’s the easy 3-step approach I take. Maybe it can help you, too:

1. I acknowledge the negative emotion I’m experiencing is just a side effect of hormones. This way, I don’t undeservedly attribute it to a person or event, accidentally coloring my view of the situation.

2. I remind myself the negative emotion isn’t permanent–it’s just passing over me like a cloud. This makes me more relaxed and lessens my tendency to ruminate about it, which helps loosen the emotion’s grip on me.

3. I refocus my attention on something else, like work, or I do an uplifting activity, such as playing with my dogs. This helps counteract the negativity so I can return to a positive frame of mind more quickly.

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