There is no mental wellness without cycle care: Annie Wade Smith

There is no mental wellness without cycle care: Annie Wade Smith

25th April 2022

Have you ever felt confused about your mental health? Diagnosed yourself with one or more mental health issues? And then days later your flow (period) has arrived and it’s all over again? 

Well you’re certainly not alone.

One in 4 people suffer from PMS, and some of the symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, low mood and fatigue. So why when FEWE interviewed 2000 people, did 90% of respondents not consider the management of their hormones?

As a queer woman with PCOS, that the doctors would also define as overweight- my own period journey has never been that straight forward. Like many, I was put on various hormonal pills from my mid teen years and struggled to know what were my hormones and my own mental health, what were the side effects of contraception.

In my late teens/ early twenties to reduce my heavy periods, I was put on a pill that made me extremely up and down, with no assessment of my mental state at the time or whether it was safe for me. I was also dealing with grief, and I felt lost with no formal diagnosis of what was happening to me. I wished there had been more thorough research and support into menstrual and mental health.

There is a huge misogynistic stigma when it comes to PMS, not wanting to appear ‘too angry’ or ‘overdramatic’. Growing up with comments like ‘are you on your period?’ or ‘do you need a tampon?’ at times where we’ve shown heightened emotion. Not only is this humiliating and sexist, it minimizes our experiences. It creates a stigma It’s okay if your PMS makes you want to scream and slam things! It’s not ok to be told how you feel is ‘too much’.

Education about periods only became a part of the UK curriculum in 2020, and we still don’t see much in the media about periods besides tampon ads and embarrassing stories. I remember periods being so shameful we used to hide our menstrual products in little boxes and bags or pockets. 

We certainly never see information about the impact of our cycle on our mental wellbeing. For years I have been open online about periods, hormones and mental health, but I still don’t fully understand myself, and I still don’t always feel confident about my hormones or mood. 

Our period isn’t simply the process of bleeding (flow) it’s a constant cycle of hormones, which interact with our brain chemistry daily. In FEWE’s hormonal guide, they help us understand the 6 main hormones in our cycle; FSH, LH, Oestrogen, Cortisol, Progesterone and Estradiol. 

Not only do these hormones play a key role in our cycle, they impact our mental health and our behaviour. Oestrogen affects our sexual behaviour, aggression and communication. These effects could directly or indirectly impact our mental health, e.g. if our communication breaks down with a loved one, we might find ourselves in a worse space mentally being upset, hurt or anxious. I can definitely relate to times I’ve ‘hated’ everyone and everything or been irrational about something and then my period’s arrived and I’ve had some apologising to do. 

Wouldn’t it be helpful if we could pre-empt those feelings and be reflective or even warn those close to us?

Then we’ve got cortisol- our stress hormone, which affects mood, motivation and fear and plays a key role in our sleep pattern. Our sleep alone has a huge impact on our mental health, a good healthy sleep pattern with enough sleep (approx 8 hours per night for adults) can hugely improve our wellbeing and our daily life. Too much cortisol from stress can affect our ability to get to sleep and our quality of sleep. Difficulties with sleep can lead to low mood, fatigue, depression, anxiety and lack of motivation.

If you already suffer from mental health issues or you’re neurodivergent, your hormones during your cycle can interact or heighten your usual symptoms. This could lead to a diagnosis of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), described as severe or extreme PMS with symptoms as serious as suicide ideation. For those with chronic conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis, the levels of discomfort and pain can be detrimental to mental health. Which brings us back to the question as to why our hormonal cycle isn’t taken seriously? Why is it we go through this cycle for so much of our life and we still don’t understand what’s happening inside our body and the impact?

It’s definitely time we put our cycle and mental wellness into our own hands. So what can we do throughout our cycle to improve or to balance our mental health? 

Any time you can take to journal, reflect, track your cycle and your mood is beneficial to tailor life to suit your needs. Once you understand your behavioral patterns better you can begin planning out time for self care, social plans and important things in life you may need motivation for such as work, coursework, projects. 

It may sound over organised and like hard work, but having a routine that works around your wellbeing is there to make your life easier. Tracking your cycle and keeping a journal can help you monitor your mood and put in preventative measures. Tracking your mood can also be beneficial if you’re on contraception and trying to figure out how it’s impacting your mental health and if you maybe want to swap. Tracking and journaling is a great way to be reflective and self aware, if you struggle to keep up with it you could ask the people around you if they notice changes in your mood (and ask them to be sensitive!) or you could keep track together on text. 

FEWE suggests meditation, limiting alcohol intake, working on sleep hygiene. These might seem over simple or obvious, but when we stick to these measures they are much more effective. Stick to self care on days even when you don’t feel like it. That’s when you need the preventative measures the most. 

Something I’ve been personally working on is drinking more water and eating brighter, more vitamin rich foods. When I get into a negative cycle or im feeling low, it’s easy for me to want takeaways and fast food for comfort, but I only feel worse after because nothing is boosting me. When i’m fatigued I’ll swap bigger plans or movement for simple and slow such as yoga, swimming or resting. 

Our hormones are bound to impact our ability to be active, to be social, to concentrate- so self love and kindness are essential for positive wellbeing throughout your cycle. Listen to your body, set boundaries and you can always change your schedule or cancel plans if you don’t feel up to them. Know when to push yourself because you’ll be glad for it when you get there, and when to just cancel and keep your PJs on.

Self care for stress relief during your cycle could include; creating & expressing through art, singing, dancing, partnered sex or masturbation, exercise such as boxing or swimming, CBD products, good food, music, tidying and organising your space, talking to friends. 

Self care for relaxing during your cycle could include; meditation, yoga, chilled music/ podcasts/ asmr, reading, taking a long shower or a bath, going for a walk, watching something you like. 

Self care for getting out thoughts & feelings; journalling, talking to a friend, going to therapy or peer support, blogging, drawing. 

Self care for better sleep health; reducing screen time before bed, caffeine free alternatives, showering before bed, try FEWE oral sleep spray.

It might feel strange to routine your self care, but as someone who works in trauma this is a standard practice for me. Mapping our your hormonal pattern, should help you see where you might need particular types of self care. You can do this in whatever way works for you e.g. a wall calendar, lists, phone calendar, paper diary! 

Our hormones aren’t the only factors that impact our mental health. Past experiences, life circumstances, stress, abuse, grief and more play a role in how we cope and how we feel. Practicing self care and being mindful doesn’t always mean you’re not going to feel those fluctuations; it’s important to remember we’re not trying to control or change but manage and feel more well. It’s not a failure if you are struggling. 

Whatever you choose to do, be patient and kind with yourself.

Help & Support if you need to talk: