How Do Hormones Affect Your Emotions and Perceptions – Interview With Gabrielle Lichterman, The Founder Of Hormonology.

Stress. Chocolate. Mood swings. Emotional roller coasters. All these factors are associated with ‘that time of the month’. But little did we know that our hormones affect how we feel and think throughout the whole month, let alone their impacts on our parenting styles.

In 1999, Gabrielle Lichterman, a women’s health journalist, made a breakthrough discovery when she compiled an enormous amount of studies about the impact of the hormones on women throughout their menstrual cycle. She came up with a new type of a menstrual cycle calendar that enabled women to easily predict their moods, health and behavior based solely on where they were in their monthly cycle. In 2005 her book ’28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods and Potential’ was published, becoming the first and only daily “horoscope” based on a woman’s monthly hormones.

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Gabrielle Lichterman

To help us live in sync with our cycles, The Kangaroo Mamas asked Gabrielle some questions so we understand how hormonal changes can affect our everyday life and our parenting styles.

Hi Gabrielle, if we start from the very beginning. How do hormones affect a women’s preferences in mating?

Hormones have a well-studied effect on the types of romantic partners you’re attracted to—and your preferences change depending on where you are in your monthly cycle. Here’s how:

During your menstrual week (Week 1 of your cycle) and the two weeks following ovulation (Week 3 and Week 4), you’re more attracted to cooperative, kind partners who have softer facial features. Good looks and a fit body aren’t as important to you as a caring personality—with one exception: If you’re seeking a mate during the second half of your cycle (the two weeks following ovulation), research shows you have a preference for those with facial features that resemble your own.

Why do your hormones have these effects? On non-fertile days, your hormones (lower levels of estrogen in all weeks and higher progesterone in Week 3 and Week 4) push you to seek out romantic partners who will be long-term, monogamous and willing to pitch in to care for a baby. A softer personality and more feminine physical features denote lower testosterone, which studies have shown have been linked to all of these family-building traits.

As for preferring facial features resembling your own during your Week 3 and Week 4, researchers believe it’s a side effect of higher progesterone, which has you seeking out people who are safe in case you got pregnant and now need to ensure protection for two. If potential mates look like you, this makes them seem familiar and non-threatening.

During the week leading up to and including ovulation (Week 2 in your cycle), your preferences for a romantic partner change dramatically: High estrogen on these cycle days pushes you to find a mate who has more rugged, masculine facial features and is highly attractive, physically fit, ambitious, assertive, competitive, flirtatious and successful. You’re also more attracted to someone who looks different from yourself and those you know.

Why the dramatic change in romantic partner preferences? The more masculine physical and personality traits denote a higher level of testosterone, which suggests that these partners are more fertile and have healthier sperm. The desire for someone who looks different in appearance helps diversify genes, which can also lead to a healthier baby.

Unfortunately, a higher level of testosterone also tends to signify that this is a person is more likely to have a short-term fling and less likely to be monogamous.

Keep in mind that these are generalities, of course. There are many mates with soft features and a kind personality who end up being short-term flings and those with more masculine features and assertive personalities who end up being long-term, faithful partners.

When women ask me how to know when they’ve genuinely fallen for someone since our romantic preferences change so dramatically during our cycle, I advise waiting to see how you feel about the person throughout all four weeks of your cycle. If you’re still attracted to the person despite hormone fluctuations, then this is someone you truly care for.

When during the cycle would a mother be mostly affectionate with her children and when would she lose her patience?

Naturally, you love your children every week of your monthly cycle. However, in women who have returned to regular monthly menstruation (after breastfeeding), your children may be getting an extra dose of nurturing during Week 3 of your cycle (the week after ovulation). Thanks goes to rising levels of progesterone—a hormone that brings out our mothering instincts. As a result, you may go to extra lengths to make your kids their favorite foods, pencil in more mommy-and-me time and dole out many more hugs and kisses.

There is a caveat here: If you get hungry during your Week 3 because you’ve gone too long between meals or you’re simply not eating enough, you could experience an extreme mood swing that makes you irritable or blue. That’s because many women are more sensitive to drops in blood sugar during the second half of their cycle due to progesterone. Luckily, eating healthy meals and snacks regularly throughout the day can prevent these blood sugar dips, keeping you even-keeled.

As for losing your patience, that would obviously be more common in your premenstrual week (your Week 4). On these days, plunging estrogen drags down the brain’s level of mood-moderating serotonin, which can make you more easily frustrated, irritated and blue. You can help keep patience in check with regular breaks to destress (for example, going to the bathroom for a few minutes by yourself, making yourself a cup of tea or simply taking a few deep, slow breaths) or asking for help from family and friends.

How can hormones affect the way a mother reacts to her children’s negative behaviors?

Your parent game isn’t necessarily good or bad based on your hormones. You’re still a good parent throughout all weeks of your cycle. You just may use different tools to get the result you want.

For example, during most of the first half of your cycle (after the first couple of days of your period through ovulation), rising estrogen is making you more optimistic, patient and resilient. During Week 3 (the week after ovulation), rising progesterone makes you mellower and less easily fazed. So, these are cycle days when you may opt to take more time to fix negative behaviors, for example, by modeling them yourself or giving more detailed explanations about why a certain behavior is expected and how it benefits your child and those around him or her.

And, during the first few days of your period and your premenstrual week, lower estrogen can cause a bit of pessimism, impatience and stress, which may make you want to nip negative behavior in the bud more quickly, so you might be more likely to resort to punishments, like a time-out, or take away a toy.

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If hormones can affect our cravings, they can definitely affect our decisions regarding meal planning. What do women tend to crave when?

Hormones impact the foods we crave and how much we eat. Here’s how it breaks down:

Week 1

Day 1 (first day of period) through Day 7

During the first few days of your period, you might want to self-soothe aches and pains with favorite snacks. But, day by day, rising estrogen has you preferring healthier fare (such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts) and is reining in your appetite slightly, so you’re naturally eating less.

Week 2

Day 8 through ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)

Estrogen continues to rise all throughout this cycle week and, as it does, it tends to make you opt for lighter, healthier food choices. Your meal sizes are smaller and you tend to snack less. During ovulation, peaking estrogen reins in your appetite even more, so that you’re eating less than during any other time in your cycle.

Week 3

Starts day after ovulation and lasts 8 days (which is Day 15 to Day 22 in a 28-day cycle)

On these days, progesterone is rising—and this hormone has you craving favorite comfort foods that are high in fat and calories. Your appetite is also greater on these days and you’re hungrier more often, so you tend to eat more at meals and snack more frequently. All this is because your body thinks you might have gotten pregnant during ovulation, so progesterone wants you to eat enough for two. If you eat too little during this cycle phase (because you’ve skipped a meal or didn’t eat enough at a meal), you run the risk of experiencing a dramatic shift in mood that leads you feel angry or sad. That’s because many women are more sensitive to drops in blood sugar during this cycle week due to progesterone.

Week 4

Final 6 days of your cycle

Throughout this premenstrual week, estrogen is dropping—and this can trigger cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods, such as sweets, pasta and bread. That’s because descending estrogen drags down levels of the serotonin in the brain—and carbohydrates help replenish it, so your body pushes you to eat more of them. Progesterone is descending during this week, however, because it’s still at relatively high levels, you’ll likely still feel the urge to eat foods high in fat and calories and have a greater appetite.

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When is the best time to get creative with the kids?

Week 2 (the week leading up to and including ovulation) is the best time to do finger-paints, use modeling clay or do any other creative activity that’s bound to make a mess, take up lots of time or involve a bunch of other kids and parents.

That’s because on these days, high estrogen is giving you more energy than you’ll have during any other cycle phase, plus you’re more patient, better at multi-tasking, you enjoy socializing and you find getting creative a lot more fun!

How can a mother regulate her emotions in order to not confuse her children with the inconsistency of emotions?

I don’t think it’s important to regulate your emotions in front of your children. In fact, it’s wise to set an example by allowing them to see when Mom has high-energy days and low-energy days, when she’s more patient and resilient and when she needs a little time to destress. You’re letting your daughters know these ups and downs are normal and natural so they can feel comfortable embracing their wide range of emotions, too. And, it lets your sons know that if they have a female partner later in life, she’ll have a wide range of emotions and that it’s a normal part of life.

One of the major factors that can affect children is the relation between their mother and father, how does the hormonal changes affect the way a woman feels about her partner?

It’s true that parental relationships have a lasting impact on children for many reasons, for example, showing your children how they should be treated by their partners and how to treat partners themselves. And, it’s normal to have good days and bad days in all parental relationships.

While many factors will impact how a woman feels about her partner from day to day, they typically aren’t easily predicted. For example, you may get upset with your sweetheart after learning about a bill that wasn’t paid or you may feel especially close to your honey after having a heart-to-heart talk.

By contrast, hormones impact how you feel about your partner every day and their effects can actually be predicted.

Here’s how your hormones tend to have you feeling about your partner:

Week 1

Day 1 (first day of period) through Day 7

During the first few days of your period, aches and/or fatigue from menstruation may make you more easily irritated by things your partner says or does. But, day by day, rising estrogen makes you feel closer and more connected to your sweetheart. Your libido also increases daily, making you enjoy getting intimate.

Week 2

Day 8 through ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)

Estrogen continues to rise all throughout this cycle week and, as it does, it tends to make you feel closer and more connected to your partner. Your mood also improves, making this a time when your honey can do no wrong. Your libido rises till it peaks at ovulation, making you enjoy physical intimacy more—and your orgasms are easier to achieve and more intense. One thing to keep in mind: During these cycle days, high estrogen makes you more likely to look at and flirt with other people. Researchers believe it’s a way your body pushes you to take one last look around to see if there’s a healthier genetic match-up out there in time for ovulation. Likely as a way to prevent straying from all this flirting, the closer you get to ovulation, the more you and your mate get a bit more possessive and jealous.

Week 3

Starts day after ovulation and lasts 8 days (which is Day 15 to Day 22 in a 28-day cycle)

Estrogen plunges sharply during the first half of this cycle week before it rises again and progesterone rises throughout this week. Together, this hormonal combination reins in your libido and makes you less interested in sex. However, progesterone is making you feel emotionally closer to your honey, so you may find that you want to hold hands and hug more often.

Week 4

Final 6 days of your cycle

Throughout this premenstrual week, estrogen is dropping—and this can lead to being more easily frustrated with your mate. That’s because descending estrogen drags down levels of mood-moderating serotonin in the brain, which can make you impatient and more emotionally sensitive, making your partner’s every wrong move even worse.

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How would you advice women to plan their days and make the right decisions while respecting their bodily changes.

It makes sense to sync up your cycle with the activities and decisions you’re planning for your day when you can.

Here’s a quick rundown of what you can expect from your mood, energy and more each week of your cycle, so you can sync it up with whatever your day has in store:

Week 1

Day 1 (first day of period) through Day 7

During the first few days of your period, aches and/or fatigue from menstruation may make you a bit low-key and have you preferring staying close to home. However, as estrogen rises throughout this cycle week, this hormone will be boosting your mood and energy and ratcheting up your desire for adventure and to socialize. You become more and more optimistic and motivated, and it’s easier to learn new facts and skills.

Week 2

Day 8 through ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)

Estrogen continues to rise all throughout this cycle week and, as it does, it revs all the good effects you experienced during your Week 1: Your mood and energy continue to increase, you crave adventure and new experiences and you’re happiest when surrounded by lots of people. During this cycle week, you’re also more coordinated and have faster reaction times and a sharper memory. High estrogen makes you more daring and confident. You can be overly optimistic (perhaps overlooking problems that need to be addressed) and motivation is easy to muster. You’re thinking quickly and learning new facts and skills faster. One downside of your Week 2: Some women experience anxiety or higher stress during this cycle week due to high estrogen triggering excessive brain arousal.

Week 3

Starts day after ovulation and lasts 8 days (which is Day 15 to Day 22 in a 28-day cycle)

All that high mood, energy and extroversion you experienced in the first half of your cycle are replaced by a more realistic outlook, mental and physical fatigue and a desire to spend more time closer to home and with fewer people. That’s the result of lower estrogen and rising progesterone (a sedating hormone), which slows you down and makes you quieter and more cautious. If you’re sensitive to progesterone, this can be a cycle phase when you experience bouts of sadness or crying.

Week 4

Final 6 days of your cycle

Estrogen drops throughout this premenstrual week and the lower it goes, the more it has the potential to drag down your mood and make you cynical or pessimistic. However—and this is a big “however”—not all women have bad premenstrual weeks. Depending on your genes and how healthy your lifestyle is (if you’re getting good sleep, eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly and destressing), you could have just a little or no premenstrual grumpiness or you could be hit with many bouts of bad moods. Surprisingly, this typically isn’t the most tired week of your cycle. That honor goes to your Week 3 when rising progesterone saps your pep. Research shows that as this hormone goes down in this week, you get a bit more energized.

 

Cover Image: The collage artist Karim Farid. Instagram account: krim_farid

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