Hormonal moodiness

Women at all stages of their lives get moody. Moodiness can be seen in young girls as they enter puberty, women in their 20’s, 30’s, and still in older woman as they reach perimenopause and menopause into their 40’s and 50’s and 60’s. Indeed, it appears that women at all stages of life struggle with their moods. Some women handle their moodiness better than others, but as any man who has ever lived with a woman will confirm, the woman he loves is often moody. Men can be moody also, but it just doesn’t seem to engulf them and take over their lives like it does for women. Although women often attribute their moodiness to their menstrual cycles, they can also blame their moods on pregnancy, their postpartum stage of life and all their life changes, and they should. The simple truth is that each of these changes brings with it a fluctuation in hormones, which does indeed affect their brains, and consequently the way they feel.

But why is it that woman tend to be moodier then men? Current research has shown that women on an average make less serotonin (the happy chemical in the brain) than men. Scientists at the University of Montreal found that men’s brains, on average, make 52 per cent more than women. The reason might be tied to the differences in male and female sex hormones. The way it works is like this: as a woman goes through her monthly cycles her estrogen levels raise and fall and low estrogen affects a woman’s moods because the brain needs estrogen to produce serotonin. Most people don’t know that estrogen exists in the brain, but hormones, estrogen and serotonin, work in tandem because serotonin needs estrogen for its metabolism. Therefore, as estrogen levels drop, so does serotonin. So women’s fluctuating hormones definitely affect the stability of their moods. Depending on how women react to the different hormonal patterns that exist, some women can be moody before their cycle, some after their cycle; while others feel imbalanced between their cycles. It sometimes seems that just living as a female can be enough of an excuse for moodiness. In the distant past, doctors used to describe women in their moody states as having ‘hysteria’, which is defined as,” unmanageable emotional excessesa.” Wikipedia discusses that the history of the notion of hysteria, “can be traced to ancient times; in ancient Greece it was described in the gynecological treatises of the Hippocratic corpus, which date from the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Plato’s dialogue Timaeus compares a woman’s uterus to a living creature that wanders throughout a woman’s body, “blocking passages, obstructing breathing, and causing disease. The concept of a pathological, wandering womb was later viewed as the source of the term hysteria, which stems from the Greek cognate of uterus, ὑστέρα (hystera).” The doctors of old were not aware of hormonal effects on the brain, so they blamed the uterus for women’s emotional upheavals.

So now that we know that monthly cycles and fluctuating hormones can directly affect our brains, what is a woman to do? Are there things a woman can do to help her better control her moods? Fortunately, the answer is yes. First, she can begin by charting her moods to help her anticipate and understand her unique mood-patterns. The next step is to tune into her intuitive-self, to avoid those ‘triggers’ that can off-set her moods. And, of course, she should know that exercising will always help her stabilize her temperament, and that there are also herbal allies she can include in her life.

One of my favorite ways for women to understand their personal cycle of moodiness is by charting it. To do this, keep a little calendar in your purse and two times a day chart what your mood is like. Most women, once they tune into how they are really feeling and when they get moody, will begin to see a pattern to their moods. Anticipating when moods could possibly be challenging, will give a woman the upper-hand in keeping her moods balanced; helping her to prevent inappropriate outbursts. Many a woman will complain that her day starts out great and the next thing she knows is that her mood has changed, and it has changed the tone of the rest of the day along with it. What a woman needs to begin to do is to notice the physical triggers that affect her already sensitive, hormonal balance. Is it that nasty co-worker’s comments that are triggering your bad mood, or is that daily call from your mother-in-law? Although we can’t avoid all the triggers, there are many we can avoid if we begin to notice them, chart them, and realize the affect that they are having on us. For instance, if you shop at a certain grocery store where the clerk always annoys you, shop somewhere else, or if the sandwich stand you frequent has a nasty worker, get your lunch somewhere else. Don’t let someone else’s offensive personality become a trigger that puts you in a bad mood.

Another tool we have within us is our intuitive-self. Your intuitive-self is that little voice that comes into your head and sends up the red-flags, warning you that a situation or person can have a negative effect on you. Most women are so busy trying to do the socially correct or nice thing that they often wipe out that intuitive feeling and just push through any disturbance. But when we just push-through things, it often leaves us feeling angry or frustrated, and that can disrupt the delicate balance of our hormones.

It is very important throughout the day to take a moment to take a few deep breaths and really ‘check-in’ on yourself, to see how you are feeling. Are you feeling frustrated or mad, are you feeling hurt or overwhelmed? Once you clarify what you are feeling, you have the ability to choose whether or not those feelings will overtake you, affecting your body. Dr. Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist who teaches her patients about their power to control the energy they take in from other people and helps them to understand the energy they give off to other people, teaches us that, “The main source of happiness and well-being comes from the heart, that energy center or “chakra” located in the mid-chest that is the source of loving-kindness and compassion. When we begin to open this area, the sweetness of this energy flows forth in our bodies to lessen fatigue and buoy our mood. A technique I suggest for opening the heart is simple. Get in a quiet place. Take a few steady, deep breaths. If thoughts intrude keep focusing on your breath. Then picture an image that is loving and positive. It may be a child’s face, a beautiful flower, a waterfall. Hold that image for a few minutes and feel the positive energy of the heart open and flow through you.” This may seem like a silly idea if you are beginning to feel ‘hormonal’ or ‘moody’, but the idea of breathing and taking the moment to try and shift your energy, works wonders for many women. This exercise can actually stop the chemical reaction that begins to occur when your stress hormones begin to kick in. This is a wonderful tool that can help bring you back to your center, or personal place of control. Taking that moment to acknowledge your feelings can help prevent things from building up and not allow your mood to explode.

Is it really fair to let your moods affect other people? If you are tracking your moods and you begin to feel as if ‘that mood’ is soon approaching, try your best to temporarily separate yourself so that your personal energy doesn’t offend anyone. It is perfectly okay for you to feel moody, but it really isn’t fair to expose others to it.

There is another method of mood control you may want to explore and that is the world of botanicals. There are many herbs that can help us balance our hormones and brain chemistry, and generally help to relieve the stress that our bodies accumulate as a result of our moodiness.

  • Motherwort is my all-time favorite herb to help stabilize moodiness. This is an herb that can be felt within twenty minutes after taking it. It is an herb that can be used by women of all ages and stages of their lives. Motherwort is wonderful for taking that ‘edge off’ of your feelings and is helpful if you suddenly feel as if that ‘black-cloud’ is descending. It can be used prophylactically if you know you will be encountering a difficult time, or if you look at your calendar and know that your menstruation is approaching.
  • Chaste berry is a fabulous herb if your menstrual cycle is not regular, but changes from month to month. Often extreme moodiness happens when a woman is anticipating her menstruation and it is delayed. Often during that ‘waiting time’ a woman feels edgy and agitated. Chaste berry is not a fast acting herb and it usually takes about three months to help regulate a cycle, but chaste berry is worth the wait. Once a woman’s cycle is regulated she usually feels more control over her emotions.
  • Skullcap is for nervous tension with anxiety. Skullcap, like motherwort is an herb you will begin to feel working within twenty minutes of ingestion. It is best used before an intimidating experience, like a business meeting you have been anticipating for weeks, or right before it is time to put your children to bed. Skullcap can be taken over a long period of time or as needed in the moment.
  • Fresh milky oats is a wonderful herb if you have been through long-term stress. Oats can help with frazzled nerves. This herb is best taken three times a day over a long period of time. You will not feel the effect of oats right away, but be assured that the herb will be doing its job. Think of fresh milky oats as a Band-Aid for your central nervous system.
  • Mimosa bark is purported to bring ‘joy to a person’s heart’. It was an Italian custom to bring the one you loved a bouquet of mimosa flowers. So, in a similar vein, why not treat yourself the special present of mimosa bark if you are just feeling sad, moody and unloved. Mimosa bark can be used occasionally as needed.
  • Eleuthero is an herb called an adaptogen. Simply stated, adaptogens are a family of herbs that heal the whole body. Eleuthero is especially useful for type-A personalities who work too hard and become ‘burned-out.’ This herb will help balance your adrenal glands and will help bring physical tone back into damaged areas that stress has caused. Eleuthero is best taken three times a day for a long period of time to feel its effects.

A woman who suffers from moodiness should not forget the necessity of exercise and its powerful effect on our hormones and our brain chemistry. In a study led by Dr. Jeremy Sibold, Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation and Movement Science at the University of Vermont, Burlington states, “Moderate intensity aerobic exercise improves mood immediately and those improvements can last up to twelve hours.” This study looked at a twenty-four-hour window to see how long that ‘feel-good’ effect could last. They studied forty-eight healthy men (don’t forget men can get moody also) and women from approximately eighteen to twenty-five years of age and had them initially complete a mood survey. The participants were divided into two groups, an exercise group that rode a stationary bicycle for twenty minutes at moderate intensity, and a second group who were sedentary. The members from both groups repeated the mood survey one, two, four, eight, twelve and twenty-four hours later. The study found that the mood of the exercisers was better than that of the sedentary participants, both immediately after the workout and for up to twelve hours later! The results are obvious—exercise is an inexpensive tool that can help balance our moods.

We may have been created with a propensity toward moodiness, which might be difficult for many women to control, but at least we have tools that can help us find a balance and govern our moods, rather than just be a victim to our hormonal swings.