This Is How Your Brain Functions When You’re On Your Period
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is a household phrase today. Unfortunately, while many people (men and women) will toss around the phrase to explain any variance in behavior from a woman they know, too few people know precisely what the term “PMS” really means. As this post highlights, there is an underlying biochemical (hormonal) reason why PMS affects the female brain the way it does.
It Is All About Hormones
Hormones drive the energy level, arousal and mood changes most women experience before, during and after PMS. Here, there are three main hormones at work: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These hormones are also responsible for regulating female fertility, which of course is what PMS is really all about!
Unfortunately, what a woman’s body needs to become fertile is not the same as what a woman’s brain needs to stay balanced and focused. As the “big three” hormones fluctuate and swap roles as PMS continues each month, the hippocampus, amygdala and hypothalamus can either reap the benefits or pay the price.
What the Brain Experiences During PMS
When progesterone, estrogen and testosterone levels fall just before the onset of menstrual bleeding, this can cause the mental “spacey-ness” or “foggy-ness” that women often experience, as well as some unpleasant physical symptoms that range from bloating to fatigue to headaches.
For most women (those with “normal” menstrual cycles), the actual bleeding only lasts 3 to 5 days. As soon as bleeding begins, estrogen levels begin to rise again and the mental fog as well as most of the symptoms of PMS begin to dissipate. This also helps women to concentrate better and make decisions with more confidence.
Testosterone levels begin to rise along with estrogen levels, and this increases assertiveness, confidence, focus and sex drive (which, for interested couples, includes the impetus to try to make a baby!).
The Brain on PMS Pain
The presence of PMS pain – cramping, bloating, pelvic pain, lower back pain and other symptoms – is not a myth. In fact, studies show that the grey matter in the brain decreases in volume for those women who experience painful PMS. This can affect performance at work, ability to correctly complete tasks at home and at work, emotional stability and multi-tasking ability.
How to Cope with PMS
The mental and physical side effects of PMS are well documented from respected medical sources such as the Mayo Clinic, Medical Daily and WomensHealth.gov.
To cope, it is best to be aware of when PMS-related changes may arrive by tracking your period each month. Then you can plan in advance to cope with any reduced function you may experience for a few days each month.