Many women have shared with me that they experience increased anxiety and panic around the time of their period. And when you’re already struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, or agoraphobia, who needs PMS and hormone imbalances on top of it, right? So I sat down with Cassandra Wilder to better understand the correlation between anxiety and the menstrual cycle, and get some tips to make things less anxiety-filled!
Cassandra is a Naturopathic Doctor and a leading expert in women's cyclical health. She has helped thousands of women get to the root of their period symptoms and hormone imbalances with her program Period Reboot. And I personally love Cassandra's approach! She always looks to figure out the “why” (the root cause), rather than accepting that PMS and hormone imbalances are just a part of the menstrual cycle. And she offers a perspective and tools that aren't the traditional ones that you may have heard about time and time again.
In this episode, we dive into all things anxiety and the menstrual cycle! And Cassandra shares her knowledge and some tips for creating more peace and balance when it comes to your cycle.
STARTING WITH THE BASICS
So many people in the A Healthy Push community have shared with me that they struggle with increased anxiety leading up to when they bleed, while they’re bleeding, and even for a couple of days after. So right out of the gate, I asked Cassandra... Is it a thing to experience anxiety or increased anxiety in relation to your cycle? And Cassandra shares that it is something that is very common. But don't get confused with very common and "normal." Although it might be common, it doesn't mean that you just have to deal with feeling super anxious every month when your period shows up.
And Cassandra also shares a statistic that “women are two times more likely to experience anxiety in general.” This is helpful to acknowledge because feeling anxious around your period doesn't mean that you're broken or that there's something wrong with you. Anxiety is something that affects many women, and there are many things that can help to relieve anxiety!
THE LUTEAL PHASE AND ITS CORRELATION WITH ANXIETY
Cassandra explains that the luteal phase is the phase right after ovulation but right before your period. It’s a 10 to 14 day phase for most people, which is like half the month. So if your luteal phase is really challenging, half of the month can feel really challenging! You might experience things like PMS symptoms, breast tenderness, irritability, crying spells, and anxiety. It’s important to note that what happens in the luteal phase is a direct outcome of what happened earlier in the month.
If you ovulated in your luteal phase you’ll have made progesterone. Progesterone is a hormone that is most active in the luteal phase and it should give you a sense of calm, it should help you feel good, and it should be protective against anxiety. But if you didn’t create progesterone, this is where you can have a really awful luteal phase that is full of symptoms like anxiety.
OTHER FACTORS THAT CAN CONTRIBUTE TO ANXIETY
If your hormones are already in a stressed state, or if you’re on hormonal birth control or have been on hormonal birth control, the luteal phase transition can be especially challenging. Cassandra shares that a study in 2008 showed that women who already stated that they had agoraphobia or panic attacks noticed that their symptoms worsened by 50% in the luteal phase.
She breaks down that when you ovulate, estrogen plummets and slowly progesterone becomes the star of the show in the luteal phase. So it’s this exact transition, or the lack of (if you didn’t make progesterone), that can lead to increased anxiety.
When Cassandra works with clients, she looks at three hormones. She looks at their cortisol levels to see how stressed the body is, and she also looks at progesterone and testosterone levels. She looks at testosterone because it’s an important piece to hormonal balance. And something that can impact testosterone levels is hormonal birth control. Hormonal birth controls are definitely something that can disrupt hormone levels and also mask symptoms.
LET’S TALK CORTISOL
Cortisol is a stress hormone, and it’s basic function is to keep you alive. And because the body is a primitive system, it doesn't always understand true danger versus life stressors like work stress, financial stress, etc. An important piece to understand is that cortisol is often lower in the follicular phase of your cycle, which is why you may tend to feel better and experience less symptoms (and anxiety) around this time. But in the luteal phase, cortisol is often higher. So because you’re already in a predisposed state in the luteal phase, the presence of more cortisol can be the thing that tips you over the edge.
WHERE CAN I START?
01. Don’t wait until the symptoms and anxiety kick in or ramp up to take action. Start taking steps earlier in the month to get ahead of it! We’ll get into this more in just a minute!
02. Determine whether or not you’re ovulating. It’s actually really common for women to not ovulate. And you can even have a normal period and not ovulate. This all goes back to whether or not your body created progesterone, which is the hormone that can help to bring you more balance and fewer symptoms during the luteal phase. If you're interested in finding out whether or not you're ovulating, you can track your ovulation by using a basal body temperature thermometer.
03. Educate yourself when it comes to hormonal birth control. Understand what it does and the effects of taking it. There is a big prevalence in anxiety disorders with women on birth control. And birth control isn’t a "fix" to every little symptom, especially to your emotions.
PRACTICAL TIPS THAT YOU CAN START APPLYING TODAY
01. Eat enough food throughout the day! This might sound so silly and simple but it’s huge! For example, if you’re eating 1200 calories a day, you’re not eating enough food. Not eating enough can increase cortisol levels and turn off ovulation. It’s also important not to skip breakfast. If you’re currently only reaching for a cup of coffee in the morning, this is a huge opportunity for you to make a change that will have huge impacts. Instead of only reaching for coffee, try eating a balanced breakfast that will give you nutrients and energy.
02. Prioritize getting quality sleep. This means going to bed before 10 p.m. Again, this might seem silly and so insignificant, but prioritizing your sleep and getting adequate sleep is something that hugely supports your hormones.
03. B vitamins are shown clinically to be very helpful with anxiety. Things like nutritional yeast or bee pollen, or you can supplement. Vitamin C can also be really helpful. Things like eating citrus or taking rose hips capsules. Something else that can also be helpful is Gaba. Gaba is an amino acid that can be helpful when it comes to anxiety. However, it’s important for progesterone to be present when considering this option.
But a couple of important things to note, you can take the best supplements in the world, but if you aren’t eating well and you aren’t sleeping, nothing will change. And supplements are only effective if the foundations are being addressed (like your diet and sleep).
04. If you have a caffeine sensitivity, or if PMS or anxiety is already a chronic problem, avoiding caffeine can be really helpful. In the work that Cassandra does with clients, she has seen a huge correlation between caffeine and anxiety, especially in the luteal phase. And with cortisol levels already being higher in this phase, you don’t want to just be adding fuel to the fire per say. Some replacement options that you can look into are teas or chais.
05. Exercise cyclically. This means not exercising so intensely when your body is needing slower movements and rest, like during the luteal phase. Cassandra shares that you can exercise less intensely and still get good results. It’s really important to listen to your body and rest when you need it.
TRACKING YOUR CYCLE
Cassandra 10/10 recommends tracking your cycle, especially if you want to work with a practitioner to improve your hormonal balance and symptoms! Cycle tracking is a combination of tracking what you eat, how you feel, what symptoms you may have experienced, whether or not anxiety was present, etc… But it also looks like tracking things like your temperatures and observing your cervical mucus to determine if you’re ovulating. All of these things really help to get the full picture, and understand what’s going on in your body.
And tracking also includes tracking your progress! Because it can be really easy sometimes to think that you aren’t making progress when in fact you're experiencing less symptoms than when you initially started your healing journey.
Cassandra says, “Starting to understand your body is the first step in really making peace with it. And so the more you start to track and normalize what you’re feeling, and give yourself the grace of ‘what is my body trying to tell me,’ we take our power back.”
To listen to the entire episode and get all of the info, head here!
How to connect with Cassandra:
Period Reboot (her course), podcast, free resources: Head here
On Instagram: @menstruationqueen