It’s hard to control hormonal mood swings. After all, it’s more than just being irritable or frustrated. Whether you’re dealing with PMS, perimenopause, or menopause, hormones like estrogen can take you from weepy to ragey at the drop of a hat. So how do you find solid ground again? We have a few tried and true tips to reduce mood swings and help you feel better.
Reach for calcium
Turns out, calcium isn’t just for fortifying bones. It can also fortify your mood. A study by Hamadan University measured how calcium stacked up against placebos for PMS, or premenstrual syndrome. Get this: women who upped their intake of this mineral reported less emotional distress, reduced bloating, and fewer body aches and pains.
To reap the rewards, include calcium-rich foods in your diet, like yogurt or almond milk. Not a fan? Chat with your doc about supplementing 1,000 mg of calcium carbonate daily. Most people can have one 500mg pill at breakfast and the other with dinner. But, if you’re on thyroid meds, take your first pill at lunch, or a full four hours after your thyroid script. Calcium interferes with absorption and can keep your thyroid medicine from doing its job.
We’ll admit it sounds corny. But before you roll your eyes, hear us out because science backs this up. A study by Concordia University looked at the effect of a positive outlook on overall mood, and the results were clear: pessimists consistently experience more stress than their optimistic friends. A higher baseline of stress makes it all the more challenging to keep your cool when feeling pressure and can aggravate the frequency and severity of mood swings.
Don’t feel like a naturally optimistic person? You might be on to something; optimism is about 25% genetic. But we’re here to remind you: the glass is still half full. You can boost your happiness factor simply by surrounding yourself with friends who look on the bright side. They’ll keep you on a more even keel, and lift you up if your mood tanks or your thoughts spiral.
You can also become more optimistic through positive reframing, or training yourself to think from a different perspective. Psychologists say it encourages your brain to form new pathways and shut down negativity. For example, if a babysitter cancels, you’ll likely feel the weight of a major letdown. Acknowledge that feeling and outcome; you’re entitled to disappointment. But don’t dwell on it. Ask yourself: where’s the good in this? For example, maybe you hadn’t seen your kids much during the week, and lots of hugs and quality time came your way instead. Challenge yourself to find a silver lining, no matter how small. And don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t get it right on the first try. With practice, it gets easier.
Set the coffee down
To coffee lovers, wrapping your hands around a piping-hot mug of coffee in the morning is everything. But put the brakes on a second cup. Even though it’s momentarily relaxing, caffeine mimics a stressful situation to the body. Your adrenal glands respond by making more cortisol.
High cortisol messes with insulin levels, which can leave you tired and extra vulnerable to irritability. Over the long haul, your body meets increased cortisol demand by borrowing from progesterone. Progresterone helps us feel calm. Because it goes a long way toward keeping moods stable, you definitely don’t want to be left with too little.
Don’t stay up too late
We’re crabby any time we’re short on shut-eye. But a chronic lack of sleep leaves your hormones paying the price. Even partial sleep deprivation—fewer than 6 hours—elevates cortisol, our stress hormone, for the following 24 hours. The next night, the increased cortisol perpetuates the cycle of sleep loss. High levels of cortisol downgrade the amount of serotonin your body makes, which leaves you feeling anxious, unhappy, unstable, and ready for any trigger to put you over the edge.
To keep cortisol levels stable and help squash mood swings, aim to get seven to nine hours of rest. Turn the lights down about two hours beforehand. Love to watch tv in bed? Make sure to prop up your pillows and sit back five feet from the screen, so your body can still make melatonin.
Catch some sunshine (and vitamin D)
Ever heard of the sunshine vitamin? When we get sun on our skin, the body uses cholesterol to create vitamin D. Some estimates show almost one-half of adults in the United States are deficient in vitamin D, with low levels being linked to depression and anxiety.
In a 2016 study, researchers reported vitamin D supplements could reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, in some women. The results showed improvement in feelings of sadness, anxiousness, and depression.
Many of us don’t get enough time outdoors without sunscreen to create the vitamin D we need, so diet and supplementation deserve our attention. Work foods like fish, eggs (don’t skip the yolk!), and cheese into your diet. Also, ask your doctor if it’s worth it to check your vitamin D levels or if you’d benefit from a supplement (and what dosage you need).
We’ll leave you with a fun fact on this one. Contrary to popular belief, vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin. It’s a prohormone, and that means your body can use it to make and regulate certain hormones.
Put your thoughts in a journal
During menopause (and sometimes perimenopause), new or recurrent depression can crop up. Even PMS-related depression can occur at certain times of your cycle. When you see your doctor, talk to him or her about how you’re feeling, and ask about mood journaling. The University of Minnesota Rochester says recording triggers, stressors, and the negative thoughts around them help you identify and understand patterns and learn how to avoid them.
One tip? As great as computers are, this is one activity to do the old fashioned way. Glow from screens promotes wakefulness. Plus, it’s too tempting to pop online or do other things. Pick up pen and paper instead.
Lace up your shoes
Activity doesn’t have to be complicated or involve equipment to count as exercise. Even just gardening, chasing your kids or dog, and going for a walk helps mood swings take a hike.
The reason? Moving isn’t just great for your physical body, it’s great for your brain, too. When you’re consistently active, it bumps up your levels of serotonin and endorphins. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals that boost mood, and they’re powerful. They can even change how you perceive pain and how much you stress out.
Aim to get active at least three days per week, for 30 minutes to an hour daily. Not sure where you’ll find the time? Break it into 10- or 15-minute blocks, and spread it out through the day.
Break off a piece of dark chocolate
Clearly, we saved the best for last. Cacao has resveratrol, which is a polyphenol. Polyphenols are compounds produced by plants for protection against the elements. For us, they may act as antioxidants and boost serotonin levels in both the belly and the brain—stabilizing moods and helping the brain make new connections and pathways.
To get the most benefit, choose chocolate that’s 60% or greater cacao and limit yourself to an ounce—that’s one Ghirardelli square. Not a fan of dark chocolate? Resveratrol is also found in unpeeled grapes, peanuts, and berries. (Feel free to eat a few of those, too.)