As the acclaimed writer Virginia Woolf famously said that one time, "Bitches be moody." It's simply in our nature. Women have evolved to be more emotionally nuanced than men, which our patriarchal society has deemed a weakness. Well, screw that.
In her new book 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, Julie Holland, a psychopharmacologist and psychiatrist in New York City, details how modern life is wreaking havoc on women's bodies and minds—and offers a guide to getting back on track. But above all, she combats the notion that moodiness in women is an ailment, something that should be medicated away.
The book struck such a chord with readers in the run-up to its release that HBO recently revealed it's developing a comedy based the material, with the help of Diablo Cody and Oprah Winfrey.
For those of you who are too stressed to read about how to de-stress (or will simply let the book wallow in the purgatory that is your Amazon shopping cart), we read the book for you. Here’s what you need to know.
Plain and simple. Holland explains that women's brains are wired differently than men's brains, with more real estate dedicated to expressing language and emotion as well as detecting feelings in others. It means we're sensitive, and that’s alright. But this sensitivity makes women more inclined to seek out mood-stabilizing medications such as antidepressants. In a recent New York Times column based on the book, Holland puts it succinctly:
At least one in four women in America now takes a psychiatric medication, compared with one in seven men. Women are nearly twice as likely to receive a diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorder than men are. For many women, these drugs greatly improve their lives. But for others they aren’t necessary. The increase in prescriptions for psychiatric medications, often by doctors in other specialties, is creating a new normal, encouraging more women to seek chemical assistance.
The friend who brusquely tells it like it is with no sugarcoating. Those of us who experience premenstrual syndrome (or pickle-munching season, as I like to call it) often find ourselves responding more emotionally to stimuli that wouldn’t phase us at any other point in our menstrual cycle—but this doesn’t mean that we’re flipping out over nothing. Holland writes that “estrogen creates a veil of accommodation"—in other words, higher estrogen levels make us more willing to put up with the day-to-day bothers. When those estrogen levels plummet right before our period, our tolerance level plummets along with it. This doesn't just mean we have a shorter fuse—it means we have the ability to see things for what they are. Which creates an opportunity: If something isn't up to snuff, we can change it.
Given all the hormonal action going on in women’s bodies, it makes sense that we are far more likely to suffer from sleeping problems. Almost a third of women in America report using a sleep aid. Sleep disorders can feed into mood disorders (which women are already more vulnerable to) as well as cognitive function itself.
Sorry couch potatoes (me), exercise is good for your body and your brain. Exercise promotes cell growth in the hippocampus (which regulates the flight-or-fight response) and can improve executive functions, which include cognitive processes, task flexibility, problem solving, and working memory. Life without these things functioning properly might be a bit stressful, no?
Our bodies release hormones (namely cortisol) in response to physical stress such as injury or infection. Under normal conditions, the stress is acute and short-lived, and the body can do what it's gotta do and return to normal. But in today’s taxing world, the chronic stress that defines our lives can lead to chronic inflammation. Holland explains that folks who are depressed often have higher markers of inflammation (cytokines), pointing out that that body carries out the same behavior for depression as it does when it’s trying to fight off illness—“fatigue, apathy, social withdrawal, reduced appetite, and increased sleep.”
Along with sleep deprivation, Vitamin D deficiency is linked with depression. Holland explains that humans are just as responsive to light as other animals, and we need about twenty minutes of sunshine three times a week to keep our Vitamin D levels up. We're also particularly sensitive to weather and barometric pressure—Holland cites a study out of Finland that found a correlation between low pressure and suicide attempts.
Holland has quite a bit to say regarding the biology and endocrinology of sex and how the "drugs" we take (including antidepressants, alcohol, and even porn) affect them. It’s well known that antidepressants lower the sex drive, but she also points out that sex itself can be an antidepressant. Our bodies are basically pleasure machines—and understanding what turns yours on and why, and being able to communicate all that jazz to a partner, can improve intimacy and in turn, our moods.