Studying women

Dr Stephanie Sieberhagen, Glencairn

In 2013 a study was undertaken in the False Bay area on the relationship between female hormones and mood, as part of research towards a PhD in psychology. The study was entitled “Investigating relationships between women’s moods and their menstrual cycles – a multi-method study”.

The Echo was instrumental in raising awareness about the study and attracting participants.

By the conclusion of the study, 30 sets of data had been collected, comprising between two and three months’ worth of information from 30 participants who submitted replies about their moods daily.

The big question was whether women’s moods can be linked to their menstrual cycles, not just to PMS which is well-known to occur for some women in the few days before the onset of their period.

The researcher was furthermore trying to ascertain whether such moods would form a pattern – in other words, whether women experience the same moods on the same days of their cycle, month on month.

Lastly the study wanted to learn whether all women experienced the same mood pattern throughout their cycles. If this were the case, a universal mood calendar could be created that predicted every woman’s moods from day to day.

After six years of data analysis and writing-up, the researcher reports the following findings: yes, women’s moods do form a pattern that repeats with every cycle and no, all women’s patterns are not the same.

To ascertain an individual woman’s moods (such as depression, feeling energetic or feeling nurturing), a woman can record her most prevalent moods on a mood calendar. Even one month’s information will give an indication of when a woman might expect to feel a certain way, although recording moods over a few cycles will give a much more accurate mood profile.

The researcher encourages all women who are menstruating (especially teenagers who are new to cycles) to track their moods in this way. Why? The main reason is that it empowers a woman to understand why she is feeling a particular way and can help her to modify her behaviour if she so desires. This mood awareness has a positive impact on relationships. For example, knowing that she feels irritable during a particular few days in her cycle, will help her not to feel excessively negative towards her spouse or children and to remain positive as she will understand that the mood will pass again soon. Without this information, she might look for a cause outside of herself and that could result in blaming others, leading to unhappiness.

The researcher advises that women also take their mood trackers with them when they visit a health professional, so that cyclical moods can be taken into account when, for example, psychiatric medications are prescribed. Often so-called “depression” is in fact hormone-related rather than intrinsic and can best be treated differently to clinical depression or anxiety.

The study further showed some interesting findings, such as that women who are better informed; who don’t smoke; who exercise regularly and who have pets, are less likely to suffer from cycle-related mood disturbances.

The researcher wants to give a heartfelt thanks to the Echo as well as her participants for the steadfast support without which the study could not have taken place.

Readers who are interested in this study topic or wish to learn more about relationships can visit www.stephaniesieberhagen.com

A free, printable mood tracker can also be found on the site.