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Wellness > Mental Health

Mood Swings on Your Period: What’s Normal & What’s Not

Most of us are plagued by our periods. We were raised knowing the drill—your period can mess with your body and emotions. But they can actually be different for everyone. Even if you’ve had your period for what feels like a million years, your PMS symptoms can change over time.

According to WomensHealth.Gov, “Most women, over 90%, say they get some premenstrual symptoms, such as bloating, headaches, and moodiness.” If you’re one of the people who severely experiences the latter symptom, it can be difficult to figure out if your symptoms are changing, or if your mood is abnormal.

Ultimately, you know your body best. However, there are some tips and tricks to figuring out if your sudden mood swings are caused by your menstrual cycle or not.

1. Educate yourself about how your body works.

The first thing any woman should do is educate herself.

“By the time a girl is around 13 or 14, she should visit her gynecologist,” says Dr. Felice Gersh, an obstetrician and gynecologist who specializes in hormone management and integrative medicine. “Not because she needs a pelvic exam, but because it’s the time of her budding physiology.”

Though you may not have done this at the start of your period, it’s still a good idea to meet with a gynecologist. The education system can be spotty when it comes to sex education, so meeting with a doctor to talk about your body is a surefire way to educate yourself on the way it works—especially when menstruating. Getting a handle on how your body functions can help you determine if your hormones are negatively impacting your mood balance.

“Understand that there are receptors to hormones (progesterone and estrogen) all over the body that are multitasking, not just making periods. They’re all heavily invested in making hormones,” says Dr. Gersh. “When there are fluctuating levels of hormones, they have an effect on the brain…There can be some variation in the menstrual cycle.” Your hormones are shooting a bunch of different ways, so some mood swings are normal. One of the most helpful things you can do for your body and your period is to know how menstruation works.

2. Figure out what your ‘normal’ mood swings look like.

Once you’ve got your own body on lock, it’s time to figure out if what you’re feeling is “normal” for your body. One of the best ways to do this is by downloading a period app. Apps like Clue or Period Tracker Lite are both great options that allow you to keep track of way more than just when you’re menstruating.

“My roommates and I got really into tracking our periods last year using the app Clue…When you look at mood swings, it’s really cool not just to look at your period, but the other phases: your fertile window, your luteal phase, etc.,” says Hannah, a sophomore at the University of Michigan.

All of these different phases in your fertile window can play a role in what you may be feeling or how you may be acting. “On your luteal phase you physically feel hotter,” says Hannah. “There’s one phase when you crave sweets, and a different when you crave chocolate. I noticed that once I started paying attention to my entire cycle, I noticed that all my weird phases and quirks make sense!”

The tracking elements are available when you aren’t even on your period, so it’s a great way to look at any patterns that may be developing with your mood. If you look at your mood history and determine that it’s fluctuated or grown in intensity, it’s important to evaluate the extent to which the mood swings are affecting your life.

According to Dr. Gersh, mood fluctuations are bound to happen, but PMS should never interfere with your life. “If it is disabling, then that’s a problem,” she says.

If your period symptoms are so severe that you can’t live your normal life, then it’s probably time to visit your doctor. Before the appointment, keeping track of your actual mood with an app is helpful, and it may be beneficial to use your planner or a separate notebook to write down any specifics about spikes in mood that you experience.

Related: 6 Reasons You Might Miss Your Period When You’re Definitely Not Pregnant

3. Look at your diet.

If you keep track of all of your PMS symptoms and determine that your mood swings may be abnormal, a beneficial step to figuring out what the problem could be is examining your diet.

“The first thing that any young woman who has bad PMS should do is look at her lifestyle. The body needs the essential tools to run its machinery…if you’re eating the typical American diet, it’s full of high sugars, a lot of unhealthy fats, [and] it’s missing key ingredients,” says Dr. Gersh. “We now know that the way a woman’s brain works and the way her hormones work have to do with the gut microbiome, and those bacteria are key to maintaining brain health…the food you eat can calm your brain.”

Focusing on a healthy, well-balanced diet could be your solution. All aspects of the body are interconnected, so what you’re consuming can definitely play a role in how both your body and your brain feel.

Great eating habits to adopt include eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and consuming healthy whole grains that aren’t bread or pasta. Because your mood can be altered due to stress levels, Dr. Gersh also recommends drinking different kinds of teas that are known to have relaxing effects, like lemon balm, chamomile or holy basil.

4. Talk to your doctor.

If you feel like you’ve tried everything and are still at a loss for the cause of your mood swings, it’s time to visit your doctor.

While we’re often taught to not talk about our periods, it’s important to put your health above any social stigma. If you feel like you may be experiencing mood swings that are atypical compared to your usual period, make an appointment with your general practitioner or gynecologist.

It’s no secret that dealing with periods or PMS symptoms can be unenjoyable. However, it’s important to figure out if your symptoms are more negative than they should be. By paying attention to the natural effects that your period has on your body, you can determine what is and isn’t normal.

Zoe is a senior at Western Oregon University. She's currently pursuing a degree in English Literature, with minors in Gender Studies and Writing. She's the head of a freelance editing company, and the Editor-in-Chief at her University's newspaper. She's passionate about equality, intersectionality and personality tests. When not over-committing herself, Zoe enjoys baking, sewing, drinking far too much caffeine and watching insane amounts of Netflix.