When The Cut published Anna Silman’s article, “Every Girl I Knew Was On It: Why some women are questioning hormonal birth control,” it brought to light the potential side effects of hormonal birth control that are more difficult to define. These difficult-to-describe symptoms included what some women have described as “brain fog” or “not feeling like themselves.” Silvan writes that her friends and colleagues who stopped taking their hormonal birth control pills felt “‘more alive’, ‘more clear’, ‘more myself’, and ‘like a fog had lifted.’”
Even, Dr. Sarah Hill, a psychologist who was a women’s health researcher and who described feeling like she was living in a “black and white drawing” while on hormonal birth control for ten years. When she stopped, she described herself as feeling more “vibrant and alive.” Hill told Silman that those who take the Pill have lower levels of estrogen and cortisol which can decrease your brain’s ability to absorb details and the richness of an experience. According to Hill, these lower hormone levels could be the reason some women feel emotionally flat when taking hormonal birth control.
Other research has found that certain types of hormonal birth control can affect the brain. For example, a 2017 Swedish study found that women who take one of the most common combined oral contraceptives experienced a decrease in their overall quality of life (mood/well-being, self-control, and energy levels) when compared to those who were taking placebos.
Another research piece, published in Psychoneuroendocrinology in March 2019, found that women who took oral contraceptives experienced an increase in mind wandering. In other words, they found it more difficult to focus and instead found their thoughts drifting to other topics.
And finally, a 2011 study from the University of California – Irvine found that the women in the study who took birth control pills remembered the main points of a traumatic story, while the women who did not take birth control remembered more details of the story. The researchers believe this is due to the changes in estrogen levels from birth control.
Back into focus
While these potential effects may seem less attention-grabbing than some other potential birth control side effects that have been reported like blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, or gallbladder disease, they are nonetheless worth our attention. Why? Because they affect your day to day life. Though these symptoms may seem more subjective than objective, they are legitimate causes for concern. Going through life feeling “flat” and “not like yourself” can impact your decision-making habits, your interactions with others, and your overall experience of your life.
And this makes it a self-care issue.
Authentic self-care is less about the “treat yourself” mentality and more about being attuned to what you need to feel most authentic at any given moment and meeting those needs. Self-care is all about learning to listen to your physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual needs. For some, that means addressing health concerns (like exercise, nutrition, sleep), while for others, that could mean addressing relationship concerns (like learning healthy communication or boundary-setting skills).
For example, skimping on sleep usually shows up the next day as feeling irritable, having trouble concentrating, feeling low energy, and being forgetful. When you notice these changes, it’s your body’s way of telling you that you need more sleep. If you are feeling stressed, on edge, and tense when you’re at work, it’s your body telling you that you need to address those sources of stress (workload, interpersonal issues, and so on) because they are negatively affecting your mind and body.
But, if hormonal birth control is contributing to a decrease in your overall sense of wellbeing, your mood, your self-control, and your energy levels, it is affecting your ability to be attuned to yourself which, in turn, makes it difficult to notice and address the presence of any negative factors in your life.
That is why, in addition to helping with other forms of health management, Fertility Awareness-Based Methods can help women with their self-care and emotional health. As proven, effective, and natural forms of family planning, Fertility Awareness-Based Methods not only eliminate the possibility mind-altering side effects (among others), but they also empower women to notice and address any hormonal imbalances that may be contributing to physical and emotional symptoms. Noticing what your body and mind need is more straightforward when your awareness is not clouded by feeling “flat” or one-dimensional due to hormonal birth control. Practicing self-care is more difficult when you don’t feel quite like yourself, no matter what the reason.