Here’s How The Menstrual Cycle Phases Affect Your Mood

Experts break down everything your feeling and why.

Every person has experienced the various ways hormones affect our bodies. Think about the pang of hunger when it’s getting close to lunchtime, or the way your heart begins to race during a bout of stress. As women, hormones are the chemical messengers in the body that are responsible for the ebb and flow of the monthly menstrual cycle. But have you ever wondered what’s going on in your body week by week?

There are generally four phases to a woman’s menstrual cycle: menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone play integral roles in the cycle of menstruation, yielding different physical symptoms and changes in your mood and emotions.

Here’s exactly how hormones can affect you during each menstrual phase — and how you can stay one step ahead of fluctuations, according to experts.

#1- Menstrual

In the menstrual or bleeding phase, a drop in estrogen and progesterone collapses the lining of the uterus, resulting in the release of an egg. This phase typically lasts three to seven days and of anywhere in between light spotting to heavy flow, says Hal Danzier, M.D., reproductive endocrinologist and cofounder of Southern California Reproductive Center.

How the menstrual phase makes you feel

The physical symptoms during this phase vary from woman to woman, though it typically includes bleeding, abdominal cramping, and bloating. Cramping ranges from light to very painful due to the presence of prostaglandin, a hormone-like compound that causes the uterus to spasm. However, if you’re experiencing heavy bleeding that lasts longer than a week, you should speak to your doctor. “Very heavy or extended bleeding could indicate the presence of fibroids or other disease states such as precancerous changes or symptoms of endometriosis,” says Bruce McLucas, M.D., OB/GYN, assistant clinical professor at the UCLA School of Medicine and founder of the Fibroid Treatment Collective. Menopause may also result in an irregular period, he adds.

According to Healthline, you may feel a bit fatigued during the bleeding phase, and it has to do with — you guessed it — hormones. “When your uterine lining isn’t invaded by a fertilized egg, the hormones sustaining the environment aren’t needed anymore and the hormone levels plummet,” Dr. Molly O’Shea, M.D., Detroit-based pediatrician, told Good Housekeeping. “When this happens, your body goes from high alert to nothing hormonally and that shift causes other changes, too, and all of those changes are exhausting. Until your hormone levels increase again, you are really tired.”

How to feel your best during this phase

If you’re extra tired during your period, take it easy and rest more than you usually do. Erika Schwartz, M.D., an internist and author of The Hormone Solution, recommends using heating pads for aches and discomfort as well as low doses of Advil, Aleve, or Tylenol with codeine if pain is persistent. And avoid caffeine, she says, as it constricts blood vessels and increases tension.

#2- Follicular

Your period is over — phew! The second stage of the menstrual cycle, the follicular phase, slightly overlaps with the menstrual phase. It begins on the first day of your period and ends when you ovulate. In women, the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland stimulates the ovary to produce an egg from one follicle at ovulation, says Dr. Maxine Barish-Wreden, M.D., an internist with Sutter Medical Foundation.

How the follicular phase makes you feel

In this week, your estrogen and testosterone levels begin to build again. Increased hormonal activity means you may have a heightened sense of smell, along with clearer thinking and better coordination. Many women, in fact, report feeling their best at this time of the month — physically and mentally. “You’d be likely to do better with a final exam if you’re in school, or a presentation if you’re at work,” Dr. Danzier says. You may also experience an increase in sex drive during this phase.

According to Lauri Grossman, chair of the Department of Medicine and Humanistic Studies at the American Medical College of Homeopathy,”Women also experience positive sensations such as relief, release, euphoria, new beginning, invigoration, connection with nature, creative energy, exhilaration, increased sex drive and more intense orgasms.”

How to feel your best during this phase

Consider brainstorming or problem-solving during this phase, as well as doing things that capitalizing on your creative energy. Be social and go out with friends!

#3- Ovulation

This is the phase where you can get pregnant. During the ovulation phase, Luteinizing hormone (LH) surges from the pituitary gland, triggering ovulation about 24 to 36 hours later. Your ovary will then release a mature egg that travels towards the uterus in search of a sperm. According to Heathline, you’ll begin to ovulate right in the middle of your menstrual cycle, which is around day 14 if you have a 28-day cycle. It lasts about 24 hours, and if the egg isn’t fertilized it will die.

How the ovulation phase makes you feel

Estrogen and testosterone rise to peak levels, boosting the effects of the follicular phase. “Women feel more energy, more sex drive, and often they notice more cervical mucus,” Dr. Danzier explains. “The chemistry of your body is preparing for reproduction, so it makes sense that chemically you start feeling more inclined to have sex.”

There are some downsides, though. “Right around ovulation is also the time when many women experience acne breakouts, or single pimples, usually recurring in the same area,” Dr. Danzier says. Additionally, you can expect breast tenderness, weight gain, headaches, and water retention.

#4- Luteal

The last phase of the menstrual cycle is the luteal phase. According to VeryWell, it begins after ovulation, post-day 14, and continues until the first day of your period. In this phase, hormones thicken and ripen the uterus to get it ready for pregnancy.

How the luteal phase makes you feel

Feeling warm or even downright feverish? It’s not in your head. During this post-ovulation phase, many women feel hot. “Increased progesterone acts on the temperature-regulating area in the brain,” Dr. Danzier explains. “It can rise about four-tenths of a degree in this phase, from 98.6 to about 99 degrees.” Increased progesterone also relaxes the smooth muscle of the uterus as well as your gallbladder, sphincter and intestines, says Dr. Zilberstein. That means you may look and feel more bloated.

If implantation does not occur, progesterone levels decline. An imbalance of estrogen and progesterone can affect your levels of serotonin and bring on strong premenstrual-syndrome symptoms like anxiety, depression, irritability and mood swings. “PMS is a common side effect of poor-quality or low-level progesterone,” explains Dr. Shwartz. “When we give bioidentical progesterone to women at this time of the month, we find the cravings disappear and the moods stabilize.”

How to feel your best during this phase

Avoid salty foods, which can contribute to water retention and more bloat. Also try to avoid sugar and processed foods whenever possible, says Dr. Danzier. “Roller-coastering your blood sugar will only exacerbate the chemical reaction of your hormones,” he adds. Plus, try not to blow off the gym — even if you really don’t feel up to it. “Forty five minutes of walking, swimming or any mild to moderate exercise has a positive effect on many women,” he continues. For some women, though, PMS can bring on extreme mood swings. You’ll want to talk to your doctor about an action plan if you think you may be experiencing PMS.