Why are teenagers so damn moody?

Do you remember being a teenager? The intense friendships. Everything feeling new, exciting and urgent. The emotional highs and lows.

While there can be many reasons for a teenager with a period to have mood swings, I wanted to share some of the common hormonal reasons so that you and they can feel empowered as you navigate the teenage years.

Period 101

Every menstrual cycle our brain and ovaries are in a conversation and it’s this dialogue which determines if we ovulate. Now as adults that conversation is well established. So every cycle our body knows what to do – recruit follicles (which produces oestrogen) and ovulate (which means we produce progesterone). Around 2 weeks after we ovulate our period arrives. Voilà! Then the whole cycle repeats.

Oestrogen and progesterone are equally brilliant and we need both in the right amount to be healthy and balanced. You can think of them like dance partners, which should ebb and flow in tune with each other.

However, when those key hormones are not in the right proportions PMS symptoms happen, like mood swings, heavy periods and sore boobs.

Menarche (the first period) often happens around age 12-13 (although it can start anywhere from age 8-13). For the first few years, and up to the first 5-7yrs, your body is still establishing that conversation between the brain and the ovaries and the chit chat isn’t always smooth and regular.

This causes looooong cycles and anovulatory cycles, where you have a period but didn’t actually ovulate. I know, sounds crazy, but that’s actually a thing! Let me explain.

Not ovulating regularly is the main reason for teenager mood swings

So sometimes the brain tells the ovaries to recruit follicles (so there’s oestrogen in the body floating around) but for different reasons those follicles do not ovulate (which means there’s zero progesterone to soothe the system and counter balance the oestrogen). Nasty PMS symptoms can happen out of nowhere.

If your teenager is experiencing long cycles (which means 36 days or more) it may be that their body tries to ovulate a few times but then doesn’t. So those PMS symptoms can appear a few times through a long cycle, before a period even arrives.

During teenage years (and again in our perimenopause years, hello second puberty!) there are many cycles where you have what looks like a totally normal cycle, with your period arriving on cue. But… you haven’t actually ovulated so you have zero progesterone to soothe you. That accounts for why some cycles they feel fine and balanced. And others they (and us!) feel thrown by unexpected mood swings.

Multiple ovulation attempts in long cycles and no ovulation in a cycle are the main reason for mood swings in teenage years but there are two more.

Other factors affecting mood swings

Perhaps they do ovulate but just didn’t produce enough progesterone. This again can be because that communication link is still being established. It can also be down to stress. Basically, the ingredients our body needs to make coristol, our stress hormone, are the same that make progesterone. Also high cortisol levels block progesterone receptors. So it’s a double whammy. Our body produces less progesterone and then what it has produced can’t do the job it wants as cortisol has basically stolen it’s seat. The reason for this is our body is ALWAYS going to prioritise survival over reproduction.

Another reason is that perhaps ovulation happened and progesterone levels are ok but actually you have sky high oestrogen levels which causes that hormonal dance partnership to be out of balance. This can be caused by xenoestrogens like BPA and Phthalates in our food, beauty products and blood everywhere, alcohol consumption, weight gain and obesity.

So how can we help our teenagers through this?

  • Explain to them what happens through their cycle. My article on the different superpowers of our cycle could help.
  • Give them language to express how they are feeling so the rest of the household can know where they are at. Perhaps create a dial to put on the fridge where they can indicate how they are feeling that day.
  • Help support ovulation so they do have the right levels of oestrogen and progesterone – you do this by prioritising sleep, managing stress levels and having a good diet.
  • Avoid xenoestrogens – these fake oestrogen are pervasive and ruining our hormonal health. I did a series of Instagram posts on how to avoid them.

On my Period Ready workshops I prepare both the pre-teen and parent/caregiver on what to expect during the teen years so our young people can have a positive relationship with their period right from the start. 

“There is so much I didn't know about my own body, that led me to misinterpret myself and my behaviour. I have now become kinder to myself and a better parent to my children. I would recommend this to everyone - from adolescent girls to women coming to terms with peri-menopause.”