I don’t know about you, but pre-pandemic I typically dealt with mood swings by distracting myself. I went out, I met up with friends, and I treated myself to a nice dinner with loved ones. But, since being stuck home all the time, I’ve been berating myself for my mood swings. Whenever I feel low-energy or am in a bad mood, I’m unable to distract myself or treat myself with kindness. Until, that is, I began to track my moods alongside my ovulation cycle.
This began when I was forced to start a new brand of the birth control pill, thanks to my insurance company, at the start of the pandemic. Knowing that switching forms of birth control often led to unforeseen side effects, I kept a journal of my mood swings and any strange health effects I experienced, from headaches to itching. As my body settled into the new hormone dosage, however, I stopped tracking my moods and found myself frustrated at myself when I continued to have what I perceived as an irrational mood swing.
The revelation that hormones and chemicals were responsible for so much of my emotions and day-to-day mood was life-changing.
When I started it up, again, however, I noticed that I often felt the same way around the same time, every twenty-eight days. For me, a journal worked best to track this as I was able to easily compare how these symptoms changed over the course of a month but remained constant over the course of multiple months.
I simply numbered each line or two of my journal with the date and noted both what phase of my cycle I was in and the moods or other symptoms, like a headache or food craving, that arose. You can certainly use a note-taking app on your phone to do this as well, though, or a calendar, either physical or digital. Whatever method works best for you and allows you to visually see and analyze how there may be constant changes every month.
Now, some of this won’t come as a surprise to anyone. After all, women all around the world recognize their own brand of PMS symptoms before their period arrives and similarly experience a rise in their mood following the end of their period. But I realized that my moods were often even more closely aligned with my period cycle than I imagined. And this revelation that hormones and chemicals in my brain were responsible for so much of my emotions and day-to-day moods was life-changing. It finally allowed me to treat myself with the empathy I deserved and simply sit with how I was feeling instead of constantly trying to change or distract myself with limited quarantine resources.
It even showed patterns in other areas I didn’t anticipate. For instance, I had cravings for particular foods at the same time every month. The types of exercises I felt compelled to do follow a pattern, as well, with cardio being my go-to option directly after my period and barre or yoga classes being what I leaned towards during the end of the month, when my period was around the corner. Even productivity, or focus, aligned with my period cycle!
In looking back at months of notes on my moods and the day-to-day tasks they impacted, I was essentially able to anticipate my own hormonal swings and, in some sense, hack it.
In looking back at months of notes on my moods and the day-to-day tasks they impacted, I was essentially able to anticipate my own hormonal swings and, in some sense, hack it. I could plan my workouts more efficiently so that I didn’t find myself in a situation where I gave up on a high-intensity workout half-way through since I just wasn’t “feeling it.” I stopped scolding myself for craving a dessert and just kept a few healthier dark chocolates on hand in the pantry so I wouldn’t impulse-buy a dozen croissants at the bakery. I even took advantage of stretches of time where my productivity was highest to complete tasks ahead of time so I could give myself a break on days when my brain was foggier.
Everyone’s period cycle is different, and I’m not sure how accurately other women will find this tracking methodology to be, but I encourage women who are struggling to cope with what seems like endless mood swings and hormone imbalances to give this a try. Moreover, there is science to back this up! MyHormonology (not sponsored) has been an amazing resource for me to normalize the recurring habits I noticed and pinpoint a few I hadn’t even thought to observe. For instance, at certain times during the ovulation cycle, hormones work to make your face appear more symmetrical and, therefore, more attractive, making that an ideal time to plan a first date! Your hormones also mean there are certain times of the month when it’s easier for you to lose fat versus gain muscle, so planning workouts around those patterns can help you to achieve your body goals faster, too. There’s even evidence that hunger, whether it’s cravings or reduced appetite, work off of female hormones, as do chronic health issues, like IBS, which may be particularly potent for some women during certain weeks of their cycle opposed to others. Knowing that so much of my behavior, from the foods I eat to the anxiety I experience during certain weeks, can be pinpointed to chemicals in my body allowed me to feel better about seemingly “crazy” actions, especially in quarantine when these mood swings have been more noticeable than ever given the lack of a concrete routine.
Knowledge is power, and knowing more about your body and your hormone cycle can only allow you to “hack” your routine, improving your quality of life and treating yourself with more empathy and kindness, which we all deserve.
Keertana Anandraj is a recent college grad living in San Francisco. When she isn’t conducting international macroeconomic research at her day job, you can find her in the spin room or planning her next adventure.
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