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How Hormones Affect Mood for Women

Moody woman leaning against window

On the whole, hormones are good guys, and they guide us through key life events that make us who we are. These chemical messengers regulate everything from growth to body temperature to thirst. Hormones can also affect your mood – in fact, they may have more power than you realize when it comes to regulating your mood.1 Here’s what you need to know about how hormones affect mood—and what you can do about it—through the key phases of your life.

How Hormones Affect Mood – by life stage

For women, hormones are implicated in major life stages, such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. While every woman’s experience is different and unique, the hormone shifts and associated symptoms that take place during each of these events can be jarring.2 Keep reading to understand how hormones can affect mood during key life stages.

How Hormones Can Affect Mood During Your Monthly Cycle

Hormones like estrogen and progesterone are the powerhouses behind your menstrual cycle. They ebb and flow every month as your body prepares for you to potentially get pregnant—then they clear the slate and start all over again if you don’t.3

As your period begins, your estrogen levels start to rise. Estrogen is positively associated with serotonin, so increased estrogen means increased serotonin production as well.3 Additionally, this increase in estrogen can suppress cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline (a hormone central to your fight-or-flight response). These changes can lead to you feeling more energy and having improvements in your mood.4 Furthermore, following your period, progesterone levels increase. This stimulates calming neurotransmitters in your brain, which can help you to feel more relaxed. However, as estrogen and progesterone levels fall and are at their lowest right before your period begins, you may experience changes in your mood, energy levels, and motivation.3

While mood shifts before and during periods are normal, if they become so severe that they interfere with your daily life, something more significant may be underlying. As many as 40% of women experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS), while 2% to 8% of women suffer from a more debilitating condition known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).5

PMS is characterized by experiencing a combination of some of the following symptoms beginning 5-7 days before your period:

  • Sleep disturbances; insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Sugar cravings
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Acne
  • Headaches

Women diagnosed with PMDD must experience at least five of the following symptoms at a greater severity during the week before a period begins. Symptoms resolve once the period starts but can cause issues with work, school, or relationships when they occur:

  • Symptoms of PMS noted above
  • Rage
  • Hot flashes
  • Appetite changes
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Extreme sadness and feelings of hopelessness
  • Suicidal ideation3

“We don’t want to pathologize the menstrual cycle,” says Pauline Maki, Ph.D., director of the Women’s Mental Health Research Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “But if we don’t recognize what’s going on in our bodies, we won’t be able to work with our health-care providers to tailor treatments to our needs. And that’s critical for a woman’s well-being.”

4 ways to improve your mood during your period

Load up on healthful foods. Proteins and complex carbs contain tryptophan, which helps your body produce the feel-good hormone serotonin.6 “You can boost your serotonin by loading up on milk, eggs, nuts and seeds, and turkey,” says Rupali Chadha, M.D., a psychiatrist in Norwalk, Calif. (Learn more about how food affects your mood.)

Exercise. Studies show that aerobic exercise like walking, swimming, or biking can boost your mood and increase energy.7 “Do some gentle yoga at home or take a brisk walk around the parking lot at work,” advises Dr. Chadha. “Just moving a little bit—you don’t have to run a marathon—can help boost your endorphin levels and make you feel better. Many women experience fewer cramps and less mood fluctuation when they exercise.”

Consider an oral contraceptive. For women experiencing PMDD, studies show that certain oral contraceptive (birth control) pills can tame symptoms of this disorder. Birth control pills contain specific amounts of certain hormones – combinations that have shown to relieve mood-related symptoms of PMDD.8 Talk with your doctor to see if this might be a good option for you.

Consider an antidepressant. SSRI and SNRI antidepressants slow the reuptake of serotonin (i.e. increasing levels of it in the brain), which has shown to help relieve mood-related symptoms of PMDD. Women being treated for PMDD can take an antidepressant every day or just in between periods, depending on their symptomatology.9

Note: while antidepressants may be effective for treating some women’s PMDD, each person’s response can be different and unique. How your body responds to medication depends on a number of factors, including your genetics. Ask your healthcare provider about genetic testing for antidepressants. This can help them personalize your treatment plan.

How Hormones Affect Mood During Pregnancy

Pregnancy’s effects extend to various facets of mood and mental health, largely due to hormonal changes. During the first few weeks of pregnancy, your body sees a swell of progesterone and estrogen– the latter by 100 times!10

While we know that estrogen is connected with serotonin, the connection between these two isn’t always linear, and fluctuations and variations in both estrogen and serotonin levels can lead to mood changes, anxiety, and irritability.10

Additionally, higher levels of progesterone can be associated with sluggishness, fatigue and sadness. Particularly during the first trimester, when the body is being flooded with progesterone, women may feel a number of mood changes, including tiredness and tearfulness.10

During the second trimester, you should have more energy and less significant mood shifts since hormone levels are more balanced than they were during the first trimester.10

How Hormones Affect Mood Postpartum

The birth of a child is a huge moment for a mother. Enter endorphins. Endorphins are released to help manage pain, and can help shift your mood positively (“Endorphins make you happy” as some may say).11

Unfortunately, that endorphin high only lasts so long, and then your body’s hormone levels start to plummet a few days after giving birth. In fact, your levels of estrogen and progesterone at this point will be the lowest they will be until you reach menopause.11

This, in addition to sleep deprivation, may cause new moms to experience the “baby blues,” a form of mild depression that lasts for a few days to a few weeks.12 Furthermore, between 6% and 13% of new mothers experience postpartum depression. This condition is characterized by debilitating symptoms of depression after a baby is born.13

If you’re experiencing feelings of intense sadness or hopelessness, severe sleep disturbance, or anxiety and irritability that won’t go away, talk to your doctor. “Don’t feel guilty about it,” says Dr. Chadha. “Postpartum depression is very common, and it’s treatable. The first step is an honest conversation with your doctor so you can work together to figure out the best solution.”

4 ways to fight back against feelings of postpartum depression

Ask about antidepressants. Because the consequences of postpartum depression can be serious, many doctors suggest antidepressant medications as a treatment option. One study showed that sertraline, an SSRI, was associated with a more than two-fold increase in postpartum depression remission rates than placebo.14

(Remember, that does not mean sertraline will have the same effect on you. Talk to your doctor about pharmacogenetics, available through Genomind, to help personalize your care.)

Talk about your feelings. Your doctor may connect you with a psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist for cognitive behaviorial therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT), which can help new mothers relieve symptoms of postpartum depression.15 “Evidence-based therapy has been shown to work and has no side effects,” says Maki. “It actually teaches your brain not to ruminate on your problems.”

Reach out to your social network. Pop the baby in the stroller, call up other moms with young children, and walk to the park. Chatting with friends (especially those in similar situations) can be therapeutic—and the exercise helps, too, Maki explains.16

Keep breastfeeding your little one if you can. Keep nursing your baby through your depression, if it’s possible. Breast milk is good for the baby, but it’s also good for you, too. “Breastfeeding raises the mother’s levels of hormones, especially oxytocin—the ‘love hormone,’” says Nancy Aaron Jones, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at Florida Atlantic University. “It helps moms bond with their baby and just feel better.” The release of oxytocin is associated with calmness, empathy and affection.17

For more information on mental health during and after pregnancy, check out this article.

How Hormones Affect Mood During Menopause

For lots of women, menopause hits when it’s least convenient. Many women may be at the peak of their careers, parenting teenagers, or helping to care for aging parents. In the midst of all of that, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate considerably before dropping off, bringing a number of symptoms and complaints that can include moodiness, irritability, hot flashes, disrupted sleep, anxiety, and  depression.18

“For many women, the time around menopause is a period of vulnerability for feeling down, irritable, or anxious. These symptoms can affect well-being but typically are not severe enough to be signs of a diagnosable mood disorder,” explains Maki. “However, certain women are at risk. For example, most women who have been diagnosed with clinical depression in the past will experience a recurrence of depression during the menopausal transition. It’s the hormonal fluctuations of menopause that can put the brain out of balance.”

3 ways to cope with menopausal mood changes

Stay physically active. As during other life stages, regularly exercising can help promote a positive mood. One study in particular found that pre-, peri-, and postmenopausal women with high levels of physical activity reported more positive affectivity and less depressive symptoms than women who had low levels of physical activity.19

Ask about hormone therapy (HT). Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) may relieve low mood symptoms,20 but some evidence also points to its ability to prevent depressive symptoms too. In one study, researchers found that women who received a form of estrogen and progesterone therapy in the perimenopausal or early postmenopausal stage were significantly less likely to experience depression than those who received a placebo.21 MHT isn’t for every woman; talk to your doctor to see if it’s right for you.

Consider antidepressants. For some women, antidepressants may be recommended to treat mood or anxiety challenges during or after menopause. But be sure to ask your doctor about Genomind’s pharmacogenetic testing and services, to help inform tailored medication choices for your depression treatment.

Using this understanding of how hormones affect mood

As you can see, estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones can have a significant impact on your mood during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopausal periods. Fluctuations in hormone levels throughout a woman’s lifespan have the potential to lead to mood changes and even symptoms that may warrant further discussion or treatment from your provider. While dealing with or treating mood symptoms during these life stages will look different for every woman, certain medications, foods, and exercise can help to improve mood and counteract symptoms related to hormonal changes.

Now that you know how hormones can affect mood during these distinct life stages, you can anticipate challenges to come, better understand potential mood shifts, and be empowered to take action to keep your mood in check.


  1. Definition of hormones: Hormones and Endocrine Function (2022)
  2. Key life events driven by hormones: Hormones’ Role on Our Health, and Wellness (2020)
  3. Menstrual cycle hormones and mood: How Hormones Affect Mood Throughout Your Menstrual Cycle (2022)
  4. Rising estrogen and improved mood: Explaining Changing Hormones During Periods: The Science of PMS
  5. Prevalence of PMS and PMDD: Global and regional prevalence and burden for premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (2022)
  6. Tryptophan for serotonin production: Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis (2016)
  7. Exercise for PMDD: Treating premenstrual dysphoric disorder (2022)
  8. Birth control for PMDD: Can Birth Control Help with PMDD? (2021)
  9. Antidepressants for PMDD: Treating premenstrual dysphoric disorder (2022)
  10. Pregnancy mood swings: Why You Have Mood Swings During Pregnancy and How to Cope (2022)
  11. Postpartum hormone changes: How pregnancy hormones affect your body in each trimester (2018)
  12. What are baby blues: Baby Blues (2023)
  13. Postpartum depression prevalence: Postpartum Depression (2016)
  14. SSRIs for postpartum depression: A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial of sertraline for postpartum depression (2015)
  15. Therapies for postpartum depression: Perinatal Depression (2022)
  16. Socializing and exercise for treating postpartum depression: Postpartum Depression and the Baby Blues (2022)
  17. Benefits of breastfeeding: Why Breastfeed: Benefits for You & Your Baby (2022)
  18. Symptoms of menopause: What Is Menopause? (2021)
  19. Physical activity benefits for menopause: The role of physical activity in the link between menopausal status and mental well-being (2020)
  20. MHT for menopausal depression treatment: Starting and stopping menopausal hormone therapy and antidepressants for hot flushes: A case-based approach (2019)
  21. MHT for menopausal depression prevention: Efficacy of Transdermal Estradiol and Micronized Progesterone in the Prevention of Depressive Symptoms in the Menopause Transition: A Randomized Clinical Trial (2018)

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