7 Unexpected Ways Your Brain Can Change During Your Period
The moment that you feel your period begin can mean preparing yourself mentally for the days ahead. You might brace yourself for some cramping, hormonal acne, and uncomfortable bloating. But even though you have to contend with a whole host of physical symptoms, there are also mental challenges to face. Your brain changes during your period in a number of pretty surprising ways, according to experts, and so if you feel a little bit "off" during menstruation, that's probably part of the equation.
"There are four phases to a woman's menstrual cycle: menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal," Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. Even though you might not notice any physical symptoms during the phases when you aren't bleeding, your body is still fluctuating. "Estrogen and progesterone hormones play integral roles in the cycle of menstruation, which not only create physical changes," she says, "they create changes in your mood and in your emotions."
Let me be clear — none of these brain changes makes you less intelligent or reasonable of a person, so getting your period definitely doesn't make you unable to make great decisions or solve difficult problems. It just might make you feel a little different than usual. Grab a trusty heating pad and throw on your comfiest PJ pants, because here are a few of the ways that your period can change your brain.
1. Trouble Thinking Clearly
If you find yourself feeling like you're living in a brain fog while you're on your period each month, it's not just you. You are basically doing just that. "Your brain may feel extra dazed and you may not feel as up for challenging cognitive tasks," Scott-Hudson, tells Bustle. While this doesn't mean that you're any less intelligent while you're menstruating, it is a good time to take extra care of your body, she says. "If you honor this phase of your moon cycle, you will plan for extra rest."
2. More Susceptible To Migraines
"In non-menopausal women, estrogen rises before the period, causing a shift of blood magnesium into bone and muscle," Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health, tells Bustle. As your magnesium levels in your brain lower, it's unable to counteract the clotting action of calcium on the blood, she says. As tiny blood clots begin to clog up your brain's blood vessels, you are more likely to experience migraines. As if you needed even more pain during your period.
3. Trouble With Spatial Tasks
Your period is probably not the best time for you to practice your parallel parking or start putting together a huge puzzle, because your menstrual cycle has an effect on your spatial reasoning abilities, certified mental health expert Adina Mahalli, MSW, tells Bustle. Unfortunately, there's no real solution to this effect on your brain, but simply knowing about it might help you go easy on yourself if you just can't seem to remember the directions to a nearby restaurant.
4. Scattered Thinking
"Most women menstruating today (or even with a hysterectomy with the ovaries remaining) report some sort of foggy thinking or scattered brain," Nisha Jackson, PhD, MS, WHCNP, HHP, author of Brilliant Burnout and gynecology health specialist, tells Bustle. While hormone fluctuations are normal, consider getting hormone testing done, she says, as this can help determine if your levels are falling too low or rising too high during your period.
5. Lowered Libido
You may know that arousal is partly physical but also partly mental, and during your period, changes to your body can make your brain less receptive to those sexual urges. "Low levels of testosterone with the onset of the period can reduce sex drive, and sexual functioning," Dr. Jackson says.
6. Your Energy Hormones Drop
"Many women feel more tired during the bleeding phase of their menstrual cycle," says Scott-Hudson. "If your egg is not fertilized, those hormones creating the environment are no longer needed and so these particular hormones plummet." This hormone fluctuation can make you feel absolutely exhausted, regardless of other factors like how much sleep you've been getting.
7. You Might Have More Mood Swings
You might already know that mood swings during your period are pretty par for the course, but you might not realize that this time of the month can literally change your brain's chemical makeup in a way that creates symptoms of depression. Your brain has lower levels of estrogen, high progesterone, and elevated testosterone at this point in your cycle, which means that it can't regulate your mood the way it usually does, Dr. Dean says. So you aren't just feeling low because of cramping or the pure inconvenience of bleeding for days in a row, your brain may actually mimicking a depressed state. If this continues past your period, or becomes particularly debilitating, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
Whatever symptoms you personally experience when you're menstruating, just make sure to take care of your mind as well as your body. Something as simple as watching your favorite funny movie might be just the thing you need.