Will My Hormones Influence My Decisions?

I started an argument with my husband yesterday for no apparent reason. I was irritable and short-tempered and couldn’t seem to stop myself from provoking him.

I calmed down quickly – I usually apologized, explaining to him that my period was due, so I was battling with the feelings of irritability, depression, and anxiety associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Somewhat foolishly, he set off on a subject I knew would end in disaster. “So,” he said, “if your PMS is responsible for your irritability, wouldn’t that mean that you are, at present, less able to make rational decisions?”

Could it be true? Will my hormones influence my decisions? In a way, yes, rational vs. emotional decision-making can be affected, but not so much in the way men like to insinuate.

What Are The Impacts of PMS?

I responded harshly to what my husband said, but afterward, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about the logic either.

Am I capable of reasoned judgment when my hormones are all over the place?

It made me wonder, do the hormonal and emotional shifts women experience each month undermine their efforts to operate on an equal footing in a predominantly male world, or do they have some deeper purpose?

Is There Anything Beneficial About PMS?

In 2014, Michael Gillings posited a theory suggesting that PMS is an evolutionary gain for the human race, not just beneficial for women[1].

In his paper, Gillings suggests that premenstrual syndrome has “a selective advantage,” making it less likely for “infertile pair bonds” to remain together through the tumult of the woman’s premenstrual experience.

Gillings argues that this is advantageous as it improves “the reproductive outcomes of women in such partnerships.”

To support his argument, Gillings points out that the “animosity exhibited during PMS” is “preferentially directed towards current partners.” This focused hostility, he believes, proves his theory that PMS is an evolutionary development that enables women to scare off impotent or otherwise unsuitable partners.

While Gillings’ arguments appear scientific and objective on the surface, I can’t help feeling that the subtext is still that we turn into witches and monsters once a month, and its miracle men stick around long enough to breed in the first place!

Other studies suggest that the premenstrual changes in our brains and behavior are very much real but not necessarily detrimental. Will my hormones influence my decisions? Of course, they will, and they will warn you as well.

While premenstrual women tend to perform less well at tasks men are traditionally good at, like spatial awareness and the ability to concentrate, their communication skills and memory suddenly improve due to hormones and emotional shifts.

How To Understand Emotions During PMS

It’s not just during PMS that we experience such benefits either. The shifts in our moods reflect shifts in the brain that “allow for more flexibility in thinking.”

As a result, our brains are less lateralized, enabling us to develop “different strategies of how to solve a particular problem.”

When I was considering my husband’s unspoken challenge, I remembered that I also reacted more emotionally to another situation on the same day that I provoked an argument with him. In that instance, however, it had a positive consequence as opposed to a negative one.

My heightened emotional state gave me the confidence to fight harder than normal making me think that maybe there are some benefits to PMS-associated mood swings.

Is PMS A Social Myth Or A Cultural Construct?

Although he believes it has an evolutionary purpose, Gillings also argues that PMS is largely a cultural construct, arising “because of a mismatch between our evolutionary history and current cultural conditions.”

He says, “The rise of PMS is a consequence of our control over our reproduction, not as a consequence of infertility.”

Despite that, thousands of women experience it as a physical and emotional reality. The two perspectives are not mutually exclusive, however.

While it’s tempting to “assume the causes of ‘cultural syndromes’ are entirely mental,” the truth is, our beliefs and expectations can “generate many of the same physical symptoms.” In other words, while PMS is not all in our heads – it probably starts there.

According to one Marxist argument, PMS is a reaction to the industrial revolution and its demand for ever-increased work efficiency.”

Emily Martin suggests that women have developed PMS unconsciously as a way to “rebel against excessive demands placed on them in the workplace as well as the home.”[2]

Other researchers have found evidence to suggest that our symptoms and the degree to which we experience premenstrual syndrome differ according to a range of social variants.

Surveys indicate that, in China, women with PMS are more likely to experience “fatigue, water retention, pain, and increased sensitivity to cold” than American women, for example, who more are more likely to endure feelings of anger or irritability.

Women who endorse traditional gender roles appear to encounter “more menstrual distress” than those who’ve broken the mold. So hormones cause mood swings, but mainly in those who encounter more pressure to fit into gender roles.

Another study found that women who perceived themselves as stressed or unhealthy had more severe physical and psychosocial symptoms “compared to the healthy and non-stressed women.”[3]

How To Combat Emotions

Regardless of these diverse theories and pontifications, my experience of PMS has been both real and consistent. An enhanced self-awareness, which comes with PMS, can help us learn how to deal with this change in a healthy way instead of seeing it as a ‘curse.’

Every month, I am hungrier, clumsier, more irritable, and more emotional for a week before my period is due. I’m less likely to discuss things reasonably but more likely to communicate my needs more clearly.

On the plus side, I have more empathy for others during that time, although that vanishes in a menstrual fog when my period starts.

I’m by no means not the only woman in the world to experience such cyclical fluctuations, and I believe it’s something we should embrace rather than resist or deny.

Our hormonal fluctuations reflect the fluidity of feminine thought and give us the potential to approach problems from various perspectives. So, dealing with hormones isn’t all pain and frustration.

PMS doesn’t make us equal to men, any more than our breasts or periods.

Our cyclical moods and hormonal fluctuations add layers to our intellect and give us access to perspectives that a man’s lateralized brain can barely imagine.

[1] Gillings, M.R. (2014), Were there evolutionary advantages to premenstrual syndrome?. Evol Appl, 7: 897-904. https://doi.org/10.1111/eva.12190

[2] Gottlieb, Alma. “American Premenstrual Syndrome: A Mute Voice.” Anthropology Today, vol. 4, no. 6, 1988, pp. 10–13. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3032946. Accessed 22 Mar. 2021.

[3] Matsumoto et al. BioPsychoSocial Medicine (2019) 13:26 https://doi.org/10.1186/s13030-019-0167-y