Estrogen and Women's Mood

Colette Dowling, LCSW

NYC psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LCSW,  author of this article on estrogen and women's mood, has written eight books, including "You Mean I Don't Have to Feel This Way?": New Help for Depression, Anxiety and Addiction.

Colette's psychotherapy office is on Fifth Avenue, in the Flatiron District of Manhattan.

She can be reached for a free consultation for considering therapy at, or 718-594-0201.

Estrogen and women's mood is an important area of research in psychiatry and medicine. Understanding the connection between estrogen and mood can help women achieve a greater sense of wellbeing and motional balance.

Scientific evidence has shown a special connection between estrogen and women's mood--as well as to almost all forms of mental illness in women!

  • For example, research found that binging and purging behaviors get worse  premenstrually, when estrogen levels drop. So do panic attacks in women with panic disorder.
  • Impulse disorders, too, seem to worsen during the week or ten days before the period begins--kleptomaniacs go on more stealing escapades, trichotillomaniacs pull more hair, skin cutters cut more. 

All of these illnesses are related to serotonin dysfunction, and serotonin is an important part of the dance between estrogen  and women's mood.

Women are more than twice as likely as men to become depressed. They’re also more likely to suffer from anxiety. More develop phobias. Nearly 8% of women become agoraphobic, compared to only 3% of men.

        More women succumb to post traumatic stress syndrome. Seventy percent of those with social phobia are women. What could be happening here? What is it about our sex hormones? 

The fact that estrogen levels cycle up and down during the course of the month contributes to women’s vulnerability to mood and anxiety disorders.

In order to remain steady, emotionally, a woman must have adequate estrogen present in her brain  Without estrogen, the brain simply can't produce the all-important hormone serotonin. 

  “There are estrogen receptors in various organs throughout the body, the brain included,”  Barbara  Sherwin, a Canadian psychologist, told me, when I interviewed her for my book "You Mean I Don't Have to Eel his Way?" “That’s why estrogen loss produces so many different bodily symptoms--loss of skin elasticity, bone shrinkage, mood and cognitive decline”.

        When estrogen levels rise, as they do during the first week of the menstrual cycle, a more  serotonin becomes available in the brain. That increased serotonin improves mood. Estrogen, Dr. Sherwin theorized, "may act as a natural antidepressant and mood stabilizer."

       Two researchers at Harvard Medical School looked at a large number of studies on the relationship between women’s reproductive hormone changes and their mental states. In study after study they found that women with histories of depression are more vulnerable to mood changes whenever their hormone levels change.

It is this dance between sex hormones and brain hormones that determines how symptomatic a woman will become during different times of her reproductive cycle--at puberty, premenstrually, postpartum, and perimenopause. There might be some relief in knowing that the ebb and flow of menstrual moods is orchestrated not by the moon, but by secretions in a woman's brain and ovaries.

    What we now know is that the sometimes negative outcome of these secretion changes is not inevitable. Just as medicine has learned to protect against changes in insulin and thyroid levels, so too can it buffer the effects of extreme ovarian hormone changes.

Much can be done to influence shifting hormones and women's mood changes, including exercise and getting adequate sleep.

     More serious hormone-influenced mood shifts can be treated with medication  that enhances serotonin production in the brain.

Women suffering from PMS, postpartum-depression, or peri-menopausal depression can get help from psychotherapy, in combination with serotonin-reuptake inhibitors or SSRI's (antidepressants).

Sometimes treatment with the serotonin-boosting amino acid 5Htp, will be enough to even out a woman's mood states. 5 Htp can be purchased at health food stores.

For more information on estrogen and women's moods and mental health, see Colette's website.

 To learn more about estrogen and women's mood changes see Colette's book, "You Mean I Don't Have to Feel This Way?"

NY psychotherapist Colette Dowling, LCSW, has a masters degree from The Smith College School for Social Work.  She has completed advanced training in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis from the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, in New York.

Colette has also been trained in EMDR and AEDP for the treatment of trauma.

Her books include The Cinderella Complex, and "You Mean I don't Have to Feel his Way?": New Help for Depression, Anxiety and Addiction.

Colette has a private practice in the Flatiron district of Manhattan.You can reach her for a free consultation at, or by calling 718-594-0201.


To hear Colette speaking about what it's like to begin therapy with someone new, click the audio button.

For more information on Colette's psychotherapy practice see her profile at Psychology Today.

Copyright Colette Dowling, 2006-2010