One of the first questions my sister asks me when I’m feeling inexplicably down is “Are you PMSing?” She never means it in that fucked up “WHAT’S HER DEAL, OH SHE MUST BE PMSING” way, but in a genuine, caring, what’s-up-with-your-body way.
Because for me, PMS is pretty real. PMS does turn me into a more moody, slightly less composed version of myself. I *will* side-eye people for laughing too loudly (THE NERVE!), or start getting teary if I look at too many pictures of unlikely animal friends. And I hate to admit it, mainly because PMS is wrapped up in the idea of “crazy bitch”-ness. I believe the argument that for decades the concept of PMS has been used to belittle women and question the validity of their feelings. “Honey, why are you so mad at me for stabbing you? OMG YOU HAVE LOW ESTROGEN.”
Basically, it’s often dangerous and disrespectful to attribute emotions to hormones. But I’ve also realized that keeping track of my hormones can be incredibly helpful and weirdly eye-opening. And not just during PMS, but throughout the whole month.
About a year ago I started using Hormone Horoscope. The app’s founder, Gabrielle Lichterman, compiled data from studies about how hormones affect our mood and behavior, and then translated all that info into daily horoscope-style predictions based on where you are in your cycle (e.g. whether you're more likely to impulsively buy gaucho pants or start destroying a piece of IKEA furniture as you’re trying to assemble it). Here’s a quick summary:
Week 1: You have your period, but you’re psyched that PMS is over. Though you’re probably pretty lethargic, estrogen increases and helps stabilize your mood.
Week 2: Most people’s favorite week, since confidence and energy are high. This is the best week to schedule things like job interviews since verbal skills are sharper than normal. Also your face ACTUALLY APPEARS MORE SYMMETRICAL since your bod is trying to lure lovers and trick you into procreating. Your pain receptors are toughest (so getting a bikini wax is easier). You’re also more likely to do adventurous things like wear a statement leotard or hit on your neighbor.
Week 3: Progesterone (aka nature’s Ambien) increases and makes you want to spoon your TV and take naps in weird places. You’ll probably Seamless things like dumplings and pizza (progesterone triggers cravings for salt and fat), and talking/cuddling with your partner may seem sexier than actually doing it.
Week 4: As you get closer to your period, estrogen drops off which gives you all those the-world-sucks, leave-me-alone-but-let-me-keep-the-Oreos PMS feelings (sweets boost serotonin, which can help alleviate the effects of low estrogen).
This info has lots of practical applications. I try not to make major purchases during Week 2 since my attitude is probably more “Woo that’s cute!” than “I have bills to pay.” I don’t start intimidating projects when I’m PMSing since it’s easier to get frustrated and give up, and I do my best to get lots of boring chores done on my high-energy days (so that I can really relish doing nothing on my low-energy days).
But the best part about the app is the feeling of normalcy it gives me. Usually my inner critic has enough material to work with, so it’s refreshing to get a daily reminder that’s like “you’re farting a lot today? NORMAL. You just want to stay home and eat pasta by yourself? ALSO NORMAL, DO IT, YOUR BODY NEEDS THE REST AND CARBS.” It’s good to know that sometimes things like not feeling sexy or getting bad sleep are actually natural, and not a problem that I need to shame myself about or try to solve somehow.
Another perk: knowing where I am in my cycle has made me better at saying “no” to invitations (e.g. not feeling like an anti-social recluse for staying in when my body is sending me “calm nesting” vibes). Awareness about my hormonal predispositions also helps me shed off extra layers of bummed-out-ness on darker days. You know that feeling when you start piling and compounding negative emotions? And suddenly “I feel shitty today” becomes “Ugh, why am I so sad?? WHY CAN’T I BE HAPPY LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, IT’S SO MESSED UP THAT I’M SAD, GET IT TOGETHER SELF YOU SUCK!!!” By using the app, I’ve become way more conscious of when I can expect to feel a little low, and then when I do feel gloomy on those days I can just say, “Yep, I'm a little emo today and that’s totally fine.”
Every horoscope also has an awesome section called “Make Today Better.” Even Weeks 3 and 4 (the times when you wish you had Pajama Jeans™) are great in some ways. Along with being able to feel guilt-free about sleeping in and watching marathons of MasterChef Junior, you’re more introspective and creative, and you’re more likely to reflect on the kind of big life questions (goals, relationships, etc.) that you’d probably ignore when you’re busy sashaying around during Week 2.
Psychiatrist Julie Holland just published a book called Moody Bitches, which argues that the breadth and inconstancy of women’s moods is actually a very COOL evolutionary trait that should be embraced instead of stifled. Because our bodies and hormones are always in flux, we’re more flexible and adaptive (*cheers clink clink*).
Though I’d like Hormone Horoscope more if it were a little less outwardly girly (it’s very pink, watch out), I know that keeping tabs on my hormones has really helped me embrace the ups and downs of my body’s rhythms. There’s a time for dancing til 3AM and a time for watching every season of Drag Race, there’s a time to make quinoa salad and a time to eat fries in the bathtub, there is a season, turn turn, etc.
Do you believe that hormones are this powerful? Or does this sound like sorcery/bunk science? Can you tell when your hormones are affecting you? Let loose in the comments!