Alongside the monthly bleeding that we get to look forward to, another menstrual cycle side effect many often experience is PMS. For some, it only lasts a few days (some more, some less), and everyone experiences varying levels of PMS intensity. If the symptoms begin to negatively affect your mental health, there are steps you can take to better understand your body, and to improve it each month. Let’s talk PMS...
What is PMS?
PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome, and affects our physical body, emotions and behaviors. Most commonly, women can experience sadness, irritability, anxiousness, tiredness, anger, unexplained crying, absentmindedness, lack of sex drive, eating more or less than usual, and sleeping more or less than usual. These feelings happen because your hormones are rapidly fluctuating, and serotonin levels dip at this point in your cycle.
If you experience particularly bad depression around your period, it could be a sign of premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD. PMDD is thought to affect around 3-8% of women, and may present itself as severe depression or even suicidal thoughts. Always speak to your doctor if you think this could be affecting you.
When do you start to feel sad?
PMS can actually affect women at any stage of their cycle, but it typically happens when estrogen levels lower a few days before menstruation, causing serotonin levels to quickly drop. Low levels of serotonin are directly linked to depression, anxiety and panic disorder, which is why the mind reacts in this way, feeling more sad, stressed, sensitive and irritated.
Why do you feel sad?
PMS is thought to be linked to hormonal fluctuations occurring in the second half of your menstrual cycle. When you begin ovulating, the body releases an egg, which triggers estrogen and progesterone levels to drop, and thus serotonin levels.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep and appetite, so when levels are lowered, things like sleep and food cravings are affected, and feelings of sadness occur.
How long does this last?
This differs for everyone, as no two cycles are the same, but usually PMS should disappear as soon as estrogen and progesterone levels start to rise again, which happens a few days after your period.
Does hormonal birth control help, or make it worse?
This works very much on a person-by-person basis. Some hormonal birth control pills help reduce bloating, breast sensitivity and other physical symptoms, as well as minimising emotional symptoms like depression and anxiety. Others, however, have been known to make symptoms even worse. It often takes a few tries to find a method of contraception that works for you and doesn’t negatively affect your cycle and PMS symptoms. Always speak to your doctor about the options you have.
How can you manage PMS?
In the throes of PMS, it can feel like you’ll never return to your regular mood, but it’s important to maintain perspective throughout the month, and know that what goes down must come up; after a few days your mood will stabilise. A great way to maintain perspective is to track your period cycle, so you can identify which times of the month your PMS symptoms occur. Knowing this can help you prepare for symptoms of depression, avoid stressful situations and limit your exposure to anything that will make you more sad, irritated or anxious. Keeping track of when negative emotions appear can help you keep them in perspective. Managing PMS is different for everyone, but some other things to try are:
- Exercise: This naturally boosts endorphin levels, which studies show can make you feel better during times of depression. Even a brisk walk outside could help you feel instantly better.
- Improve nutrition: It’s easy to satisfy any junk food and sugar cravings you have when PMS rears its ugly head, but eating consciously and nutritiously during this time of the month can help avoid foods that will negatively affect your mood. You don’t have to cut them out altogether, just make mindful, balanced choices.
- Sleep more: Treat yourself to a few extra hours in bed if you can. Your sleep is often affected during PMS, so don’t be opposed to going to bed an hour or so earlier than usual to get a little extra shut-eye. It could make all the difference to your mood.
- Manage stress: Try to avoid stressful situations as much as possible. Use meditation, yoga, deep breathing and other self-care techniques to calm your mind.
- Take vitamins: Studies have shown that the right vitamins and supplements can help relieve symptoms of PMS. Calcium is thought to reduce tiredness and appetite changes, while vitamin B6 can help boost your mood during depression.
Remember, if your PMS symptoms feel unmanageable or have increased in their intensity, there may be options you don’t yet know about. Being a woman with a period does not automatically mean we have to deal with severe depression, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from your doctor or a medical professional.
What are your PMS symptoms like, and how do you manage them? Let us know over on Instagram: @itsyoppie