PeriodsManaging PeriodsWhat's Really Going on During Your Menstrual Cycle

What’s Really Going on During Your Menstrual Cycle


Menstruation is a natural physiological process that all women go through if they haven’t conceived and are sexually mature. Even so, even as ladies everywhere go through it again and again, many don’t really have a solid understanding of what happens through the month hormonally. Subsequently, they don’t really grasp why they’re feeling as they are mentally, socially, physically, sexually and emotionally. If you’re a little confused about what’s going on with your body, this basic overview will help.

Week 1

When you first start your period, your levels of estrogen and testosterone are at their lowest for the entire month. This doesn’t last long, though. Within just a few short hours, your estrogen level starts to go up, which in turn means that the amount of a feel-good chemical in the brain, serotonin, elevates, too. The result is that you usually can kiss a lot of the irritability and emotionality of PMS goodbye, and that you genuinely start to want company again. The bad news is that your levels of iron, testosterone and estrogen are all still low enough to keep you feeling a little drained physically, with headaches being pretty common. This usually wanes after a few days.

Week 2

Week two sees your estrogen and progesterone levels shoot up considerably. You feel the most confident and social at this time, and your energy and alertness should be excellent. Now is the time to start that project, finish the cleaning you’ve been putting off, or stay up for that late-night movie. If you’re not in the mood to sit in front of the boob tube, you might be interested in a much more adult form of entertainment–libido is high this week in preparation for ovulation. You also might notice that the spike in endorphins makes you more pain tolerant, so now’s your opportunity to pull out the tweezers for those brows. Some women get a little too tense from the high energy buzz, though, so if this is you, don’t be afraid to hit up a relaxing bath or cup of tea.

Week 3

In week three of your cycle, you ovulate. Both estrogen and testosterone take a dip for a few days but then recover. At the same time, progesterone levels go up. The combination usually makes women feel a little slowed down compared to the previous week, and for the first few days where estrogen and testosterone are suffering, you might feel a little blue. You can think of this like a mini recap of your PMS week. You probably won’t feel much like being sexually intimate.

Week 4

During week four, all three of the main hormones related to your cycle–progesterone, testosterone and estrogen–plummet. Serotonin goes down, too. You might feel a little more okay with having sex physically, although fatigue and headaches can show up, but emotionally, you’re a mess. You’re irritable, weepy and downright cranky, and to make it worse, your moods can shift pretty much as fast as you blink.


The female menstrual cycle is a roller coaster of hormonal changes that affect you physically, mentally and emotionally. There are really two times during the cycle–during menstruation and immediately after ovulation–where your moods and energy levels are less than ideal. The second week of the cycle is best for just about everything, while the final week right before you menstruate is usually the worst.

Hi, I'm Samantha. I live in Seattle and I develop logistics management software. I'm also a fitness and health advocate and an assistant editor for the AP!

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