Emotions: Beyond PMSing

You might not be aware of the biological influences impacting your emotions.

To some extent, our emotions feel automatic. Our brain systems enact processes that we have no awareness of, resulting in the experience of emotions such as fear, joy, anger, or happiness. There is a complex interaction between the unconscious and conscious processes that occur behind our emotions, but we’ll stop there before it gets to science-y.

There are true biological differences between men and women that impact the way we each uniquely experience emotions. The hormone estrogen is closely linked to women’s emotional well-being.

Are women actually “more emotional” than men? The answer is no, but that’s not the conversation we’re most interested in.


Hormones are one of the many influences on our emotional realities. If you get a period, you are probably all too familiar with the power of hormones to wreak havoc on our physical bodies (stomach cramps, fatigue, nausea… that great time you look forward to every month). So if hormones can create physical ups and downs, what can they do to our emotions?

There is no exact science behind mood changes caused by estrogen fluctuations because the window for “normal” estrogen levels is so wide. The actual level of estrogen in a woman’s body measured at any given time cannot predict mood disturbance, and every woman differs greatly in the specific way estrogen impacts them. But what is known is that estrogen acts on every part of the body, including the structures in the brain that control emotion.


Throughout the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels peak and then fall. This monthly fluctuation causes as many as 90% of women to experience certain unpleasant symptoms before their periods, a common being mood swings.

There is a biological reality behind the way women regulate and experience emotions.

But that doesn’t mean “PMS” is an excuse for bad moods and irritability.

Understanding the unconscious influences on our emotions to the best of our ability can allow us to better navigate the ups and downs. Here are some ways you can support yourself in reaching a higher level of emotional well-being:

  1. Track your cycle and your symptoms: being able to predict patterns can help provide a deeper understanding and keep things in perspective. It can also inform what steps you might take to feel better.
  2. Explore natural remedies: certain vitamins like calcium and B-6 can help support emotional disturbance caused by hormone fluctuation.
  3. Don’t sleep on your physical health: our minds and bodies are deeply connected, so don’t forget about one while you focus on the other.
  4. Seek help if needed: there are many options out there to help support you in navigating the emotional rollercoaster. For example, hormonal birth control and SSRIs are often used depending on an individual’s needs.

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