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Published on: March 6, 2015
by Anna Medaris Miller for U.S. News:
Women and tears get a bad rap. The same goes for women and anger, women and assertiveness, women and anxiety – the list goes on.
Call women crazy, but a more accurate descriptor might simply be “not men,” suggests Julie Holland, a psychiatrist and author of the new book released this week, “Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy.”
“We feel more deeply, express our emotions more frequently and get moody monthly,” Holland writes. “It’s normal.”
Not only is it normal, it’s a strength.
“Moodiness isn’t a weakness, it isn’t pathology to be stuffed down,” the 49-year-old from New York told U.S. News in an interview. “And the truth is, when you try to stuff down and not feel, you end up sicker.”
Anyone who’s tried not to cry or been told to calm down – only to get weepier or angrier – knows this. “You have to feel your feelings and experience them in order to integrate them and move on,” Holland says. “If you push it down, you get stuck.”
Holland talked to U.S. News about why women are moody, why that’s a good thing – and what women can do to manage their swings more naturally. Her responses have been edited.
Are women really more moody than men?
Women’s and men’s brains are different. The truth is, women are wired to be more verbal and to talk more, to talk about feelings more, to feel feelings more deeply, to express more deeply, to notice feelings in other people – that’s the biology.
This is really one of our biggest assets. Our emotionality is potentially a source of power for us. It’s something that helps to keep us safe and keep our children safe.
What about environmental influences?
We’re totally not sleeping enough. Televisions at night, computer laptops at night, smartphones at night – all of that light is not only interfering with our sleep, but it’s screwing up our metabolism and making us fat.
The problem with less sleep is you have less control over your emotions, too. The frontal lobe sort of inhibits emotional sensors by saying, “Calm down.” When you’re sleep deprived, that whole mechanism does not work very well. This is another potential reason why you’re moody.
How did moodiness come to be viewed as a bad thing?
I do lay some of the responsibility at the feet of Big Pharma. If you look at ads for antidepressants, for anti-anxiety meds, even for anti-psychotics, they have targeted women for decades. Women who are feeling things too deeply and, honestly, women who bother their doctors too much. There are ads from Valium in doctor’s magazines from the 60s that say things like, “For your patient who calls you all the time, try Valium.”
Big Pharma’s targeted women for a long time, and I think that’s just sort of our culture. Women aren’t encouraged to say what they feel, they’re not necessarily encouraged to express dissatisfaction or the fact that they’re angry. And that’s been going on for centuries.
What are the consequences of a culture like that?
My worry is that all of these women being medicated is creating a new normal. As I say in the book, if enough women get breast implants, the rest of us feel flat-chested. There are so many women who are taking the edge off their emotionality or making it harder for them to cry or connect to people. The more women that get medicated, the lower the stigma for other women to get on meds, and that’s totally what’s happening.
It’s not just bad for women, it’s bad for the world, it’s bad for our society. After 9/11, our rates of taking antidepressants and other psych meds went way up and stayed up. And if you look at France right after the Charlie Hebdo attack, they had about a 20 percent bump immediately in prescriptions for sedatives, anti-anxiety meds, sleeping pills. It’s happening in America, it’s happening other places, too.
Our society needs more compassion and empathy and human emotional resonance and response – we don’t need less.
If medication isn’t always the answer, what can women do to better manage their moodiness?
Anything you can do to decrease inflammation is going to make you feel better physically and mentally. Your brain and body are obviously connected, and when you’ve got this sort of mild, chronic pro-inflammatory state in your body, it really makes your brain function very badly. You’re more likely to be anxious, you’re more likely to be depressed and you’re also more likely to be obese.
And so I talk a lot about anti-inflammatory activities like exercise. If you’re doing cardio regularly, I guarantee you’re not going to be as panicky or as anxious – and I don’t guarantee much in my office. My patients who finally get off meds and leave me and go have a good life, they’re the people who’ve adopted a regular cardio routine.
I also talk a lot about a whole foods, anti-inflammatory diet. It’s really about protein and vegetables and trying not to have white foods. Flour, sugar, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes – that stuff’s white, it doesn’t have a lot of nutrients, almost all of it is pro-inflammatory and inflammation isn’t going to keep you happier.
What are some other tips from your book’s “survival guide?”
The No. 1 thing when I talk to people about what to do is just breate. A lot of people are really shallow breathers, and they don’t breathe deeply and they don’t breathe often. When we start getting anxious or uptight, we tend to breathe even less. And as soon as the brain is a little bit low on oxygen, it freaks out – anxiety is the first response.
A lot of the book’s “survival guide” really comes down to what’s natural for us as social primates. Kind of like, what would a cavewoman do? I think that some women in America are sort of veering off course, away from nature and away from what’s natural for us. This sort of disconnection, I think it’s making us sick – psychiatrically sick.
I was going to call this book “Natural Mood,” but that’s a boring title.
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