Reaching puberty is a significant milestone for all humans—it begins a cascade of irreversible mental and physical changes. For women, it also means a monthly experience of menstruation, those 3–5 days of physical discomfort, low energy, and unstable emotions.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Of course, not all women experience all these at all times; however, “80% of women report that they experience at least one symptom of PMS before or during their periods,” says Divya Kanchibhotla, who is an international meditation trainer and Executor Director of the Sri Sri Institute for Advanced Research.
The monthly onset of the period and the period itself can be challenging for women, and for the men in their lives. Sometimes, women have trouble understanding their own minds and emotions during this time.
What happens during the menstrual cycle?
Let’s take a deeper look at what happens in the body during a woman’s menstrual cycle. The average age at which a girl gets her first period is between 12–15 years; however, this age is decreasing due to various factors like lifestyle and diet.
The menstrual cycle, which lasts 4–6 weeks (though the average length is considered to be 28 days) is a well-orchestrated dance between three main hormonal characters, or ‘the three musketeers’—estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
These three musketeers not only regulate our menstrual cycles but also have an impact on our body, mind, thoughts, and behavior; including how we feel about ourselves and our shopping choices!
Cravings and Appetites
Ever wondered why you crave chocolates, carb-heavy foods, and fat-rich diets just a few days before periods? For many of us, these cravings are also a signal that the period is approaching.
During the first phase of the cycle (pre-ovulation), high levels of estrogen have an appetite-suppressing effect (so it’s easy to stick to a diet). Towards the second part of your cycle (after ovulation) progesterone levels are high and create cravings for foods high in fats and calories.
High levels of progesterone also increase appetite. Just a few days before your periods, estrogen levels fall, dragging the levels of serotonin (a mood moderating neurochemical) down with them. Eating a carbohydrate-rich diet helps replenish serotonin levels in the brain, so many women end up cheating on diets while close to their periods.
Impacts on Shopping
Serotonin levels moderate our moods and are also involved in getting good sleep. What we shop for and how much we spend are also impacted by the three musketeers.
One study that tracked the spending habits of women over 35 days showed that women spent more money on clothes and wanted to buy things that made them feel and look attractive in the first phase of the menstrual cycle, while during the second phase, women chose to spend more money on food.
The Effects of Pain
Some women experience a lot of physical discomfort and pain during periods; this is called dysmenorrhea. Stress has been linked to a high incidence of dysmenorrhea. A study on Chinese women found that high perceived stress in the pre-ovulation phase of the cycle can double the risk of dysmenorrhea.
The pain women experience due to menstrual cramps has been shown to reduce their performance and impair attention given to tasks. Chronic pain during periods can create some long-term impacts on brain health.
Pain management by natural techniques like yoga, breathing exercises, and Ayurveda can help women overcome this reduction in performance. If women can manage stress levels with Sudarshan Kriya (SKY) and yoga, they can reduce their own occurrences of dysmenorrhea.
Estrogen and the Brain
The fog women feel in their minds during PMS and during periods is due to low levels of estrogen. Studies show that high levels of estrogen increase synaptic connectivity in the hippocampus by 25 percent.
Another study has linked estrogen to impulsive behavior, where high estrogen levels were linked to less impulsive behavior. Numerous studies have linked high estrogen levels to positive impacts on cognition. Low levels of estrogen are also connected to PMS symptoms.
High levels of estrogen right after periods until ovulation make women more energetic, social, and positive. This is a great time to take on challenges, learn new things, and expand your comfort zone.
These natural rhythms of chemicals in a female body don’t have the same impact on each individual. If one takes care of her health through exercise, meditation, and proper nutrition, the impact of changing hormones can be mitigated.