People often wonder whether mood swings stem from too much of a hormone (excess) or too little (deficiency). In fact, while each of these situations can produce moodiness, most often it is big fluctuations in hormone levels that leads to pronounced swings in mood. How do these highs and lows in hormones come about, and how can you help prevent this mind-body roller-coaster?
Our moods and hormones are affected by the stress and emotions we feel on a regular basis. While the solution of “… so get rid of any anxiety, depression, or anger” may spring to mind, that is the opposite of what we want to do when trying to relieve mood imbalances. The biggest contributor of hormone imbalance, other than the natural decline of hormones with age, is suppression of stress and emotions. We don’t always let ourselves feel what we’re going through, and when the body has to resist processing emotions or stress like it naturally wants to do, the effects these feelings have on health can become chronic.
For example, say you have a bad day including work traffic, some social conflicts with friends, horrible treatment from your boss, and when you get home you can’t relax or sleep at night. You have no appetite either, yet you tell yourself to be strong and muscle through this and the next day. Cortisol levels are rising to deal with your stress, but as you turn off your mental response to the daily pressures, your body shuts off too and obeys your mind in dulling its nervous system response to what is happening in your world. Cortisol and hormone levels then go through manic and depressive highs and lows, because the body and mind are not allowed to naturally process the emotions that are coming up for you.
What happens next? Mood swings. If the emotions were dealt with as they came up, they wouldn’t build up so much in the body, and the release needed wouldn’t be so big. With suppression of emotions, however, the body reacts more like a volcano in that when the feelings do finally surface–they erupt! The body doesn’t enjoy extremes in health, and it functions better when you work with the homeostasis (or equilibrium) it tries to maintain. It may seem counterintuitive, but suppression of emotions doesn’t keep things calm, cool, or collected like we may imagine in the moment.
Which hormones are affected by the highs and lows in stress and cortisol levels? For women, they tend to include estrogen and progesterone most often, and for men testosterone is most affected. In addition, the thyroid gland and pancreatic hormones also respond, which can lead to some thyroid and blood sugar imbalances. What do all these changes tend to create in the body? Even more mood disruptions. This can become a vicious cycle.
With the close relationship mood has to hormones in the body, the best healthy living practice you can have is to simply ask yourself once in a while, “How am I feeling?” Recognize that your mind has the unhelpful ability to order yourself not to feel, and that this habit is not healthy even though it can feel like it’s simplifying life in the moment. This is a challenge for everyone. The more you let your natural emotions exist and recognize that they’re normal, the more balanced your hormones and moods will feel.