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How to lift a low mood during your period

Laura Harcourt

Written byLaura Harcourt

Dr Shree Datta

Reviewed byDr Shree Datta

Group of 4 friends walking along a beach, all happy expressions.
If you’ve ever had a period, you’ll know that your mood can do all sorts of strange things before, during, and after the event, thanks to the fluctuating hormones that control our cycles.

While these mood changes can’t be completely avoided, with the help of our tips and advice, you can improve your mood and avoid some of those more intense swings.

What is PMS? 

Known commonly as PMS, premenstrual syndrome is a phrase which captures a whole range of symptoms you may feel in the run-up to having your period – from physical symptoms like bloating and headaches to emotional symptoms like low mood.2

People experience different PMS symptoms, which can also vary in severity and may change month on month.2 

Mood swings are a common part of PMS, and these can make your emotions feel more heightened than usual, causing you to feel tearful, anxious, irritable or just generally low.1,3-6 

While you may think you feel this way for no obvious reason, it’s likely all down to fluctuating hormones.2–4 

Some other common symptoms of PMS can include:2–4 
  • fatigue 
  • trouble sleeping 
  • bloating or tummy pain 
  • tender breasts 
  • food cravings 
  • headaches 
  • acne flare-ups 
  • greasy hair 
  • changes in sex drive

What causes a low mood during your period? 

During your period, you’ll have a low level of two key reproductive hormones – oestrogen and progesterone.1,5 Recent research indicates that a decline in these hormones could be responsible for feelings of heightened anxiety and stress, and a lower mood than usual.1,5

Although very limited in data, it’s been suggested that the physical discomfort you can experience from symptoms like cramps, bloating, and headaches, can negatively affect your mood, increase irritability, and lower your self-esteem. However, more research is required.4,7,8

Different mood changes during your period 

Your hormonal changes and their effects aren’t isolated to only the days you have your period. 

Your menstrual cycle is made up of four key stages: the menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulation phase and luteal phase.6 

The luteal phase begins around a week before your period and is when your oestrogen and progesterone levels start to drop rapidly.6 When this happens, the production of serotonin – known as the ‘happy hormone’ – starts to slow down, which can lead to symptoms like insomnia, fatigue and low mood.3,9,10 
  • The menstrual phase: your cycle starts with the menstrual phase – where you have your period. Most people bleed for three to five days6 
  • The follicular phase: during this part of the menstrual cycle, your oestrogen, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH) levels will all start to rise and, as a result, you might notice that any negative emotions are less severe3,4,11,12 
  • Ovulation: at the end of the follicular phase, you’ll usually ovulate (release an egg from your ovary). This is where your oestrogen levels peak, which can cause anger, irritability and cravings5 
  • The luteal phase: this phase lasts from about day 14 to day 28 of your cycle. Around a week before your period, your oestrogen and progesterone levels start to drop rapidly.6 When this happens, the production of serotonin starts to slow down, which can lead to symptoms like insomnia, fatigue, and low mood3,6,13 

Improving your mood during your period

While mood swings can’t be avoided entirely, there are several things you can do throughout your cycle to help balance your hormones and limit their severity.

By putting some of our tips into action, you may feel happier and more energised not just during your period, but before and after it as well.

Lifestyle changes

Making some simple lifestyle changes or building on healthy habits can also help elevate your mood during your period. Here are some clinically proven tips and tricks to consider:

Raise your heart rate

Low-to-moderate cardio exercises such as running, brisk walking, cycling or swimming have been shown to ease PMS symptoms including mood.2,14-17

In one study, young women with PMS who did aerobic exercise (raising heart and breathing rate) for one hour, three times a week experienced a 33% reduction in psychological symptoms.15

Balance your cravings with carbs 

In the lead-up to and during your period, you may be more sensitive to cravings and fluctuations in your blood sugar levels, which can affect your energy and mood.18 This is particularly true after eating food with a high glycaemic index (GI) – that is, fast-acting carbohydrates such as white bread and sugary drinks, which cause your blood sugar levels to rise very quickly.18 

Choosing low-GI carbs, such as brown pasta and granary bread, can help regulate your blood glucose, sustain your energy level and improve your mood, as demonstrated in some emerging studies.19,20 

Some research also suggests that consuming a diet rich in vitamins B1 and B2, including wholegrain cereals and beans, may reduce your incidence of PMS by up to 35%.18 

It’s thought that vitamin B1 may help elevate low mood and decrease tension; however, more research is needed to clarify its effect on PMS mood symptoms.21

Discover more about which foods to eat during your period in our cycle syncing foods article.

Ease stress to soothe symptoms

According to research, women who experience stress early in their monthly cycle are more likely to have more severe PMS symptoms.22

It’s thought that stress may cause hormonal changes in your ovaries and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) and it’s this change that contributes to the severity of PMS and mood-related symptoms.22 

Stress management techniques and activities like regular deep breathing exercises, yoga, massage and meditation could help.1,23,24 

Reboot with good rest 

Some studies show that poor sleep, or a lack of, can gravely influence hormonal balance during your menstrual cycle – potentially increasing progesterone levels which can then have a knock-on effect on neurotransmitters (like serotonin) – causing a potential domino effect on the severity of your PMS symptoms.25,26 

Doctors recommend aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep each night to help ease your PMS symptoms.2 

The days before and during your period are the perfect time to harness this, relaxing in warm baths, reducing your screen time, and aiming to get to sleep at a sensible time. 2,27,28 

Medication options

If your mood swings and other PMS symptoms are particularly painful or difficult to cope with, and you find that natural remedies aren’t working for you, consult your GP. They’ll be able to assess your individual symptoms and potentially prescribe medicines to manage your hormone levels. 

Depending on your symptoms and personal circumstances, these medications may include the combined contraceptive pill, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antidepressants, and/or anti-anxiety medications. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may also be recommended to help combat any emotional PMS symptoms you have.2,29

The final say 

Don’t let your period get you down. Start by keeping a diary of your symptoms, when they occur and when they get better.2,30 By following our helpful advice and tips, you can take back control of your period and reduce the impact of symptoms like low mood. 

Whether it’s getting more movement into your day or shaking up your diet, small changes can have a big difference, making it easier than you might think to feel better before, during and after your period.

Sources

  1. Ojezele, Matthew O., et al. Mood Swing during Menstruation: Confounding Factors and Drug Use. Ethiopian Journal of Health Sciences. 2022; vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 681-688, https://doi.org/10.4314/ejhs.v32i4.3 .
  2. NHS. PMS (Premenstrual syndrome) [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2024 Feb 12]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pre-menstrual-syndrome/.
  3. Gudipally, P., et al. Premenstrual syndrome. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing, 2023. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560698/.
  4. NHS Inform. PMS (Premenstrual syndrome) [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 April 18]. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/womens-health/girls-and-young-women-puberty-to-around-25/periods-and-menstrual-health/premenstrual-syndrome-pms/
  5. Handy, A., et al. Psychiatric symptoms across the menstrual cycle in adult women: a comprehensive review. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2022;30(2):100–17. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8906247/.
  6. Thiyagarajan DK, Basit H, Jeanmonod R. Physiology, Menstrual Cycle. [Updated 2022 Oct 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK500020/
  7. Brock, R., Rowse, G. & Slade, P. Relationships between paranoid thinking, self-esteem and the menstrual cycle. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2016; 19, 271–279. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-015-0558-4
  8. Owens, Sarah A., et al. Understanding When and Why Some Adolescent Girls Attempt Suicide: An Emerging Framework Integrating Menstrual Cycle Fluctuations in Risk. Child Development Perspectives. 2020; vol. 14, no. 2, p. 116, https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12367
  9. Marjoribanks, Jane, et al. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors for Premenstrual Syndrome. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013; vol. no. 6, 2013, https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD001396.pub3
  10. DFARHUD, Dariush, et al. Happiness & Health: The Biological Factors- Systematic Review Article. Iranian Journal of Public Health. 2014; vol. 43, no. 11, pp. 1468-1477, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4449495/
  11. Davydov, Dmitry M., et al. Moods in Everyday Situations: Effects of Menstrual Cycle, Work, and Stress Hormones. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, vol. 58, no. 4, 2005, pp. 343-349, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2004.11.003
  12. Reed, Stephanie C., et al. Changes in Mood, Cognitive Performance and Appetite in the Late Luteal and Follicular Phases of the Menstrual Cycle in Women with and Without PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder). Hormones and Behavior, vol. 54, no. 1, 2008, pp. 185-193, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.02.018
  13. Hromatko, Ivana, and Una Mikac. A Mid-Cycle Rise in Positive and Drop in Negative Moods among Healthy Young Women: A Pilot Study.Brain Sciences, vol. 13, no. 1, 2023, https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci13010105
  14. Daley A. Exercise and premenstrual symptomatology: a comprehensive review. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2009; Jun;18(6):895-9. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2008.1098.
  15. Samadi, Z, et al. The Effects of 8 Weeks of Regular Aerobic Exercise on the Symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome in Non-athlete Girls. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research. 2013; vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 14-19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3748549/
  16. Daley, Amanda. The Role of Exercise in the Treatment of Menstrual Disorders: The Evidence. The British Journal of General Practice. 2009; vol. 59, no. 561, pp. 241-242, https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp09X420301
  17. Dehnavi, Zahra M., et al. The Effect of 8 Weeks Aerobic Exercise on Severity of Physical Symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome: A Clinical Trial Study. BMC Women's Health. 2018; vol. 18. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-018-0565-5
  18. BDA. Food fact sheet – Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) [Internet] [cited 2024 Feb 12]. Available from: https://poliklinika-harni.hr/images/uploads/2738/pms-prehrana.pdf.
  19. Fardet A. New hypotheses for the health-protective mechanisms of whole-grain cereals: what is beyond fibre? Nutrition Research Reviews. 2010;23(1):65–134. doi:10.1017/S0954422410000041. Available from: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/nutrition-research-reviews/article/new-hypotheses-for-the-healthprotective-mechanisms-of-wholegrain-cereals-what-is-beyond-fibre/CADD660D4B3EADC44D58DDA91C78D30D
  20. Esmaeilpour M, Ghasemian S, Alizadeh M. Diets enriched with whole grains reduce premenstrual syndrome scores in nurses: an open-label parallel randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition. 2019;121(9):992–1001. doi:10.1017/S0007114519000333. Available from: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/diets-enriched-with-whole-grains-reduce-premenstrual-syndrome-scores-in-nurses-an-openlabel-parallel-randomised-controlled-trial/36BF36D18C84C90F823EC3966C6BF8A1
  21. Abdollahifard, Sareh, et al. The Effects of Vitamin B1 on Ameliorating the Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms. Global Journal of Health Science, vol. 6, no. 6, 2014, pp. 144-153, https://doi.org/10.5539/gjhs.v6n6p144.
  22. Gollenberg, Audra L., et al. Perceived Stress and Severity of Perimenstrual Symptoms: The BioCycle Study. Journal of Women's Health, vol. 19, no. 5, 2010, pp. 959-967, https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2009.1717. Accessed 18 Apr. 2024..
  23. B. Lustyk, M. K., et al. Relationships Among Premenstrual Symptom Reports, Menstrual Attitudes, and Mindfulness. Mindfulness, vol. 2, no. 1, 2011, p. 37, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-011-0041-x
  24. Nayman, Sibel, et al. Associations of Premenstrual Symptoms with Daily Rumination and Perceived Stress and the Moderating Effects of Mindfulness Facets on Symptom Cyclicity in Premenstrual Syndrome. Archives of Women's Mental Health, vol. 26, no. 2, 2023, pp. 167-176, https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-023-01304-5
  25. Shechter, Ari, et al. Circadian Variation of Sleep During the Follicular and Luteal Phases of the Menstrual Cycle. Sleep, vol. 33, no. 5, 2010, pp. 647-656, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/33.5.647
  26. Rugvedh, Padigela, et al. The Menstrual Cycle’s Influence on Sleep Duration and Cardiovascular Health: A Comprehensive Review. Cureus, vol. 15, no. 10, 2023, https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.47292.
  27. NHS Inform. Sleeping better [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 April 18]. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/mind-to-mind/sleeping-better/
  28. NHS. How to fall asleep faster and sleep better [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 April 18]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/mental-wellbeing-tips/how-to-fall-asleep-faster-and-sleep-better/
  29. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Premenstrual syndrome: Treatment for PMS. [Updated 2017 Jun 14]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279264/
  30. Green LJ, O'Brien PMS, Panay N, Craig M on behalf of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Management of premenstrual syndrome. BJOG 2017; 124: e73–e105. Available from: https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1471-0528.14260
 

Disclaimer

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet, and a healthy lifestyle.
 
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