Hormones: What are they and why do they affect our emotions?
When it comes to our emotional health (especially during our periods), we all know how important our hormonal balance is. A slight change in our hormones can drastically affect how we feel mentally and physically. Some of our most common and frustrating symptoms, like mood swings, acne, and cramps can all come from hormonal imbalance. So we really can’t stress how important it is to understand how they work.
People often explain hormones as our body’s “chemical messengers”. But what does that really mean, and why do they have so much power over our mood? Today, we’re diving deep into the topic of hormones, how powerful they are, and how we can rebalance our hormones naturally.
What are hormones?
In the context of our long-forgotten science classes, hormones are basically molecules that have the power to affect changes in our cells. As molecules, this means that they’re made up of multiple atoms, but they are still way smaller than cells. They have the ability to attach to receptors on our cells, which then sends a message to the cell to perform a specific function. Hence, their reputation as “chemical messengers”.
They are part of our endocrine system
Hormones exist as a part of our endocrine system, which is pretty much responsible for everything that happens in our bodies. This is a network of glands in our bodies that produce hormones when we need it. Our endocrine system is what helps us get to sleep at night, regulate our metabolism, build muscle mass, and get pregnant! So yes, it’s very important.
If we think of our bodies as a business, hormones are something like supervisors to our cells. They tell them what to do so that our bodies can keep growing and stay healthy. For example, when we eat, our thyroid creates hormones that help convert calories into energy. And when we’re in danger, our body produces adrenaline (another hormone) to help us escape when we need to.
In short, hormones are necessary for enacting changes within our cells, and in turn our bodies. This is why hormones are essential to all living organisms, including plants!
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How do hormones work?
Once our glands create hormones, they circulate through our bloodstreams to attach to specific cells. This is a pretty complex process, as hormones will only bind to and influence their target cells. As a result, we produce a ton of different hormones in order to target different parts of our bodies.
Hormones can be very powerful, with only a small amount needed to create big changes. This is why our mood swings can feel so drastic when our hormones are out of whack.
How does this relate to our emotions?
In the same way that our hormones can change our bodies, they can also alter our emotions.
You’ve probably heard of dopamine as a ‘happy’ hormone and our brain’s own reward system. It helps us feel good when we accomplish things, and guilty when we procrastinate too much. When it is in balance, dopamine motivates us to work towards our goals. But, when we don’t have enough of it, we can become unmotivated over time, which can bring on depression and anxiety.
The thing is, there are many hormones involved in our emotional wellbeing, so this is just one example of how hormonal imbalance can affect us. Though it definitely has upsides, like motivating us to work harder, it can also wreak havoc on our mental wellbeing.
So which hormones are making me grumpy?
Seratonin, dopamine and cortisol are the common hormones we hear about when we talk about mental health. It’s true, these hormones play a huge role in changing our mood and how we feel. But in reality, our endocrine system is a lot more complicated and nuanced than assigning specific hormones to specific emotional changes.
In addition to these “emotion” hormones, scientists have connected other hormones like thyroid hormones, estrogen, oxytocin and testosterone with depression and irritability. Which means it’s less about increasing the production of specific hormones, and more about creating sustainable hormonal balance within our bodies.
For example, let’s talk about estrogen and progesterone, which are two of our main sex hormones. In a healthy body, these two hormones maintain a delicate balance with each other. However, if we have too much estrogen (common during PMS) or too little estrogen (common during menopause), we can feel symptoms of irritability and mood swings.
Without adequate testing, it can be extremely difficult to pinpoint how specific hormones are causing fluctuations in our mood. So if you don’t regularly go through hormonal tests, your best bet in regulating your hormones is through holistic lifestyle changes.
How to rebalance your hormones naturally
Though hormone therapy is available, you may be surprised by how much you can help your hormones by adding some simple lifestyle changes. The key to balancing hormones naturally is to adopt these super basic but super important rules of healthy living.
- Have a healthy gut
New research is showing just how important our gut health is to having healthy levels of important hormones like insulin, estrogen and serotonin. And, rebalancing our hormones through diet is straightforward: cut out as much artificial food sources as possible! Foods like vegetable oils and sugar-free snacks might sound healthy-ish, but are actually extremely processed.
- Exercise regularly
Exercise has been linked with improving mood for a reason. It can increase our brain’s sensitivity to serotonin as well as increase our production of endorphins, two important hormones that trigger positive feelings in our bodies.
- Decrease stress
Prolonged periods of stress can not only lead to sustained abnormal cortisol levels, it can also mess with our sleep. Both are extremely important to optimal hormonal balance. So whether it’s meditation or just taking on less work, managing our stress is one of the most important steps towards good hormonal health.
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