Feeling sad and crying is common among women before and during their period. The cause is hormonal changes related to menstruation and ovulation.

These fluctuations have a lot to do with why your emotions may feel chaotic for weeks before your period. These feelings are often part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Symptoms of PMS, including feeling blue and crying, can extend into the early days of menstruation.

Up to 75 percent of women experience symptoms of PMS to varying degrees. These include both physical and emotional symptoms. If you feel depressed, anxious, irritable, or find yourself crying during the first few days of your period, you’re in good company.

Many women go through this, including women who don’t have other PMS symptoms. If sadness is your only symptom, this can make crying during your period feel confusing. Know that you’re not alone and that your hormones are probably to blame.

The exact reason for sadness and PMS before and during your period aren’t definitively known.

However, experts believe that the drop in estrogen and progesterone, which occurs after ovulation, is a trigger. These hormones reduce production of serotonin, a chemical neurotransmitter.

Low serotonin levels

Serotonin is sometimes referred to as the happiness chemical. It helps regulate your mood, appetite, and ability to get a good night’s sleep. When serotonin levels are low, feelings of sadness can result, even if nothing is wrong.

Poor sleep quality

Sleep quality can affect mood, too. Since reduced serotonin levels make it harder for you to get enough rest, you may find yourself sleep deprived, mentally fatigued, and cranky.

Not being rested can make you more prone to crying. This can also become a vicious circle, since feeling sad or stressed out can also make it harder for you to fall asleep.

Changes in appetite

Changes in appetite, or a desire to eat sugary or high-carbohydrate foods are common among women with PMS. But these foods can have an adverse effect on mood.

According to a 1995 study, carbohydrates temporarily boost serotonin levels. This may be why you find yourself trying to self-soothe with sweet foods. The rush you get from overdoing it with a box of donuts, however, is temporary and may even lead to deeper feelings of depression.

If it’s alcohol you reach for instead of or in addition to sweets, be aware that it can also exacerbate sadness, leading to crying.

Not exercising

Other PMS symptoms, such as pain and bloating, may make you want to curl up in a ball rather than exercise. Being sedentary can also decrease mood, making you feel worse.

Crying during your period often dissipates within a few days. If it doesn’t, or if your feelings of sadness are overwhelming, talk to your doctor. They may prescribe medications that can help.

These include contraceptives, such as birth control pills. Contraceptives stop ovulation and the hormonal fluctuations, which may be at the heart of your symptoms.

Your doctor may also prescribe antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Mild depression and crying often dissipate with changes in diet or lifestyle:

  • Instead of reaching for a pint of ice cream, try eating fatty fish or other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. These have been shown to help reduce feelings of depression.
  • Try to build exercise or activity into your life, even when you’re feeling bloated or have cramps. Exercise helps your body release chemicals called endorphins, which help improve mood.
  • If feeling bloated is stopping you from exercising, make sure to avoid salty foods, which can exacerbate water retention. Over-the-counter diuretic medications can also help.
  • Distracting yourself from your feelings may not be the easiest thing to do, but it can be effective. Try losing yourself in a funny movie or whodunit thriller. Spending time with friends or scheduling an activity you enjoy can also help.
  • Yoga can naturally boost serotonin levels and increase feelings of well-being. It also helps with stress reduction.
  • If insomnia is making you feel worse, revamp your nighttime routine to make it more conducive to sleep. Things to try include turning off electronics an hour before bedtime, and cutting out caffeine in the evening.
  • Aromatherapy may also help. Try essential oils that are known to have soothing qualities, such as lavender, rose, and chamomile.

Deep feelings of depression, sadness, or anxiety often require a professional’s support and care. If you feel apathetic, empty, or without hope, you may be experiencing depression.

If you are irritable, extremely worried, or stressed out, you may be experiencing anxiety. These conditions typically respond well to treatments such as talk therapy, medication, or both.

Women with certain conditions may find that their symptoms increase before and during their period. This is known as premenstrual exacerbation. Conditions that can be worsened by premenstrual exacerbation include:

  • bipolar disorder
  • major depressive disorder
  • feeling suicidal (suicidality)
  • alcohol misuse disorder
  • eating disorders
  • schizophrenia
  • anxiety disorders

Uncontrollable or long bouts of crying, severe depression, or sadness that interferes with daily life may be a more severe form of PMS, called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This condition is similar to PMS, but is earmarked by greater severity of emotional symptoms.

Working with a mental health professional can help you feel better. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a good resource you can use for identifying a professional near where you live.

Crying before and during the first few days of your period is very common, and may be associated with PMS. Mild feelings of sadness and depression during this time can often be treated at home with lifestyle changes.

If your feelings of sadness are overwhelming, you may have a condition that requires medical treatment or support from a mental health professional.