Body pain. Crying spells. Unexplained irritability. Chocolate cravings followed by guilt for feeling bloated. “Ugh…I am PMS-ing…it is that time of the month again!”, every girl sighs on experiencing these tell-tale signs of Pre- Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) in one or two weeks preceding the commencement of her menstrual cycle.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) has become a catch-word of our generation today for describing a combination of physiological and emotional symptoms that many women undergo after ovulation and before the start of their menstrual period. The number of days and types of symptoms are very likely to vary from person to person. PMS may temporarily go away during the pregnancy period and returns back, often with a different set of symptoms, only to cease its impact after menopause. Moreover, it has become a fad to label every woman showing “apparently erratic behaviour” as suffering from this syndrome but the fact is that quite a few of us get our periods with minimal or no signs of PMS whatsoever! For those of us who do experience PMS, you are at the right place for learning more about it and how to curb its mental toll.
Despite its popularity, exact causes for PMS are unknown. It is considered to be a product of chemical changes in the brain, hormones and/or changes in the ovulation cycle. Conditions like Depression and Anxiety are also associated with PMS, but direction of causal relationship is unknown.
Although PMS is common and may affect most menstruating persons over time and at varying intensity, some go through much extreme experiences. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is associated with extreme mood changes as well as emotionally and physically overwhelming experiences before menstruation for most of the cycles during the preceding years and doesn’t simply represent an exacerbation underlying neurosis. It affects about 3 – 4% of the population. It is more severe than PMS and may require clinical and therapeutic interventions.
Ways you can get control over your PMS
1. Monitor your cycle: A lot of anxiety felt during PMS is not only a consequence but also a cause of the syndrome. On several occasions, women feel a sense of overwhelming confusion when the first sign of blues and period related jitteriness hits them. Not having a “good enough” explanation for such unusual behaviour not only invites negative feedback from others but also an internal sense of unease. In fact, sometimes you may feel unsure as to whether your emotionally reactive state is truly reflective of PMS or something else. In this case then, ignorance is NOT bliss, after all? Maintaining a record of not only when your menstrual cycle begins but also a rough estimate of the phase during which you repeatedly experience PMS symptoms for about 6 months may be beneficial in accurately predicting and attributing your mood shifts to PMS or otherwise. You may go the traditional old way of maintaining a cutesy diary or use modern day, quick access apps like Maya & My Calendar. Nevertheless, if anticipating the onset of your emotional roller coaster does more harm than good to your mental health, then feel free to skip this tip.
2. Mindful PMS-ing: Sometimes, the phrase “mind over matter” can be the key to surpassing edgy days. Mindfulness is simply the intention to pay attention to our body or environment in a non-judgmental manner such that we feel most grounded in the present moment. Sometimes, just picturing the word PAUSE in big, bold letters in your mind while taking deep-belly breaths may help you to calm the storm within. On days you are feeling particularly volatile due to hormonal imbalances, make it a habit to consciously count 3 breaths each time you pass a doorway, or encounter a new person, or pick up the pen to write down some notes. This can serve as a reminder to your storming mind that it still has control over matter (i.e. behaviour). Mindfulness can be as simple as informing your partner that, “I am in a really low mood today due to PMS. I’m doing my best, but if I happen to hurt you in my grumpy state, I am sorry.”
3. Relax a little! : Dealing with PMS can be overwhelming, especially if you stress a lot. It is important to keep your mind calm to keep your health in check. Practicing mindfulness will help you remain in control, whereas, you can use other strategies for being calm. Meditating and progressive muscle relaxation will be helpful, and even if you’ve never meditated before, worry not! There are plenty of apps out there like headspace, mindhouse, etc to help you get started and YouTube never gets old. Breathing exercises like Pranayama (refer to the images below for example of exercises you can try out) will help you relax as well as help you stay fit.
Not only will it help you deal with PMS better, but also help you in handling
those daily stressors better. Lastly, have enough rest and sleep required to
prepare your body for the next day’s tasks.
4. Get that physical motor running: Exercise has been proven to reduce stress, help to uplift mood and reduce pain. It facilitates the increase of endorphins in the body, which is considered to be the body's natural painkiller and one of the ‘happy hormones’. But, instead of exercising just a week before periods, you may want to include it in your daily lifestyle. To avoid overworking your body during periods (which might cause more fatigue and strain), lighter exercises like brisk walking, running, cycling, or swimming are recommended. Aerobics is also helpful and you can move to the tunes of Bollywood! The goal of these exercises is to get your heart pumping and facilitate better flow of blood.
5. Grab those carbs: A group of researchers as early as 1995 reported that carbohydrates and protein- rich foods can significantly improve our moods, focus, and appetitive disturbances during those days. No, eating a bowl full of chips with Nutella may not be the most nutritionally sound snack, but it is definitely an emotionally- sound one! However, you may try replacing your favourite bite of pastry with calcium-rich yoghurt or nutrient-rich fruits like bananas, oranges and strawberries. You need carbs as much as you need any other food compounds. Just ensure that that your body gets these substances in the right proportion from healthier carbohydrates-rich varients.
6. What to avoid: there are some practices you need to refrain from for a better PMS-ing week.
· Avoid smoking or consuming alcohol as they heighten symptoms as well. Caffeine must also be avoided as it might keep you awake from getting the rest you need, making you tired and restless.
· Lastly, and more importantly, avoid blaming PMS for all your health conditions. There might be other health concerns like anxiety or depression that may go unnoticed in the guise of PMS. Hence, again, it is important to keep a track of your cycle and be mindful of the symptoms that co-occur with it and those that are constant regardless of PMS.
Try out these tips and look out for what works for you. If it still gets overwhelming, remember, it's never a bad idea to get an expert’s help.