The physical symptoms of PMS are bad enough: angry skin, lethargy, achiness, and headaches are just some of the familiar (and unwelcome) signs that let us know Aunt Dot is on the way.
It doesn’t stop there, of course. Up to 80% of women of reproductive age may suffer from the emotional effects of PMS, and between 3-8% percent of these women may even have a more severe form of the monthly blues, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. PMDD is marked by impairment in interpersonal interactions and sudden sadness as well as the usual psychological manifestations of PMS: irritability, anxiety, social withdrawal, and difficulty concentrating.
As insane as they are mundane, these emotional symptoms are real for many of us, and there are some months when they manage to steal an otherwise perfectly good week (or two) from us. Beginning in my teens and lasting through college, I experienced some pretty rough premenstrual inner-turmoil. It was so bad by the time I was a freshman in college that my doctor suggested I take a Prozac for at least two weeks of every month. Antidepressants, as well as various forms of oral contraceptives, can be used ameliorate more severe emotional symptoms.
Although I’ve tried both for my symptoms—antidepressants uncomfortably blunted my darker emotions, which were still very present, and birth control just made me bat[expletive] crazy—I’ve found that sustained lifestyle changes have helped the most. Even though the time leading up to That Time isn’t something I look forward to, I now know how to take care of myself so my week isn’t entirely ruined.
The following things have helped me minimize the number of days when I am consumed by a seemingly all-powerful hormonal dysphoria.
Healthy Ways to Deal with PMS:
1. Educate yourself. The endocrine system is quite complex, and I’ve accepted that parts of it will always elude my understanding, but a working knowledge of your hormones’ cycles—and what can imbalance them—will empower you to make better choices. Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life by Dr. Claudia Welch and The Hormonal Acne Solution by Dr. Terry Loong have helped me predict and plan for impending shifts in my body.
2. Establish a routine. The difficult part of lifestyle change is that it must be something you sustain for a while in order to see results later on. Your best bet is establishing a routine around healthy actions. You can start with something small—like going for a walk everyday or drinking hot lemon water every morning—and gradually work your way up to larger changes—like going to bed at the same time every night or weaning yourself off that late-in-the-day cup of coffee. I found it easiest to change one thing at a time. Big or small, try making one change a week. The ultimate idea here is giving your body a predictable (and healthy) lifestyle. That may sound a bit dull, but a routine can mean more balanced hormonal cycles.
3. Eat lots of (whole) plants. Aside from their abundance of antioxidants and vitamins, unprocessed plants have fiber. In my experience, going vegan and thereby increasing my fiber intake was the holy grail for avoiding monthly meltdowns. According to a study on the effects of a vegetarian diet on PMS, vegetarians with a high-fiber diet may excrete up to three times more estrogen than their omnivore counterparts. When your body is more equipped to process and detox excess estrogen, your entire endocrine system will be more in balance. Isn’t fiber great?
4. Reconsider your dairy intake. Kicking dairy has made me feel so much lighter in my body. It’s not something that I can really quantify, but I feel a better sense of emotional balance now that I’ve been years without dairy. There are several possible reasons for this. For instance, even organic, added-hormone-free dairy contains natural hormones from the cow. I can see how this could disrupt one’s endocrine system—it has it hard enough as it is!
5. Practice grounding exercises regularly. Yoga and slower workouts, like walking and strength training, can have a grounding effect on your body. These exercises—combined with a meditation routine—can help lower levels of stress while defeating the common PMS syndrome of feeling washed out to see or overwhelmed.
For more immediate relief:
Sometimes PMS can catch you off guard—even if you do practice a healthy lifestyle. Fortunately, there are a few strategies that work for immediate relief.
1. Recognize that what you’re feeling is temporary and in no way reflective of your merit. In the past, I’ve felt ashamed for being inexplicably sad or anxious, but having PMS or PMDD is not a reflection of your worth in any way. Plus, it will pass in a matter of days. Reminding myself that my symptoms are caused by my hormones in turn reminds me that my currents feelings may be blowing certain issues out of proportion—not that those issues aren’t issues, but my reactions to them may not be coming from a grounded place.
2. Be alone. Sometimes the world can feel over-stimulating when we’re feeling extra sensitive. If you can, take an hour, or more, to be alone and do something calming or even mindless. You body is gearing up to shed your uterine lining. That takes energy! Allow yourself to go inward: read, color, watch TV, sip tea, write in your journal, take a hot bath—just give yourself a little extra TLC.
Photo: porschelinn via Flickr