Menstrual Cycles and Mental Health

Original Article Source:

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is something that most people who have periods will experience. Hormones are powerful, and when they’re fluctuating (as they do before your period) they can make us feel pretty physically and emotionally out of kilter. Sometimes, the symptoms of PMS can go beyond just discomfort, manifesting as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) - a severe form of PMS.

Unfortunately, PMS is common. From bloating and headaches to bad skin and sensitive moods, a whopping 90% of us will experience at least one PMS symptom before our period.

If that wasn’t enough, before our period, hormones can also amplify things like anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions we may already be trying to manage. Thanks, hormones!

In this guide, Yoppie explores PMS, PMDD, uncovering the unique relationship between your period and your mental health to help you get on top of PMS for good!

Why Understanding Mental Health & Menstrual Cycles is Important

Because hormones have a hand in almost everything going on in our bodies, they also affect our brains and therefore, emotions. This is why hormones can directly influence our mental health, even if that change is just periodic and linked to our monthly cycle.

Learning about what your hormones are up to during your cycle can help you understand why you might be feeling a certain way. And although it won’t give you the power to suddenly control how you’re feeling all of the time, it can help you make sense of it.

It also acts as a reminder to stop our inner voice giving us such a hard time, and to be kind to ourselves instead. With the right knowledge and self-care, we can turn meltdowns and angst into understanding and compassion.

Many people will also experience a mental health condition at some point in our lives, whether that’s just briefly or something that has to be managed long term. Understanding how our hormones interplay with existing mental health conditions can help to avoid misdiagnosing PMS or PMDD. We’ll go into more detail about this a bit later in the guide.

Hormonal Changes and How They Affect Your Mood

What may look like on the surface to be uncontrolled anger, destruction and rage may actually be truth, justice and love. - Layla Saad

In the days leading up to your period, you might notice a subtle emotional shift, or it could feel more like dropping off the side of a cliff.

As well as physical symptoms like cramps and headaches, PMS can include emotional symptoms like:

  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Teariness and emotional vulnerability
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Feeling generally unsettled

We’ve all heard PMS being dismissed with shallow quips when emotional reactions are judged to be out of place (usually by people who don’t have periods). The mindless comment “are you on your period or something?” is poised to instil rage rather than bestow any gems of insight.

We’re not immune to occasionally having a good laugh at ourselves when we do indulge in a bit of PMS fuelled behaviour, but generally, PMS just makes us more sensitive to things that would probably already bother us. The rose-tinted spectacles we wore during ovulation have come off and tolerance levels can drop.

What Causes PMS?

As with many issues around women’s health, due to a lack of scientific research, it’s not known for sure exactly what causes PMS. But, there is a strong theory.

During ovulation, the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone peak. During the luteal phase (the phase in your cycle after ovulation) both these hormones begin to fall. Then there’s a second smaller peak as progesterone rises, peaks then drops again. The rapid rise and fall of these hormones can affect chemicals called neurotransmitters in our brains, namely:

  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine

Both of these neurotransmitters influence mood, sleep and energy levels, with low levels sometimes causing:

  • Sadness
  • Sleep problems
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Food cravings

All symptoms of PMS and PMDD

But it seems not everyone is affected in the same way. Some experts believe genetic differences mean some people are more sensitive than others to changing hormones and the influence these have on the brain. This is because research suggests that women who develop PMS or PMDD actually have similar levels of progesterone and oestrogen to those who don’t.

Coping with PMS

As well as tracking your cycle and slowing things down just before your period, here’s some general self care and coping tips to help kick PMS to the curb.

Diet - The food we eat helps us regulate our bodily functions, and one of those functions is the transport of certain hormones. Eating well throughout the month is one of the best and healthiest ways to curb PMS symptoms.

Deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins like Vitamin B6, Iron, Magnesium can affect hormones and make symptoms associated with PMS, worse. Likewise, although you might find yourself craving those sweet, carby meals and snacks - but overloading on sugar can also worsen PMS symptoms.

Exercise can help alleviate PMS symptoms. Especially aerobic exercise. If you’re not an avid exerciser, don’t be put off - you don’t have to join a gym or take up running. Exercise should be available in some form to everyone. Experiment to find one that works for you. From walking, jogging, skipping (jump rope) and swimming to local classes like yoga, pilates and spinning - there’s lots to choose from. Even just switching up your route to work to incorporate 30 minutes walking each day could make a noticeable difference.

Rest - PMS can affect our body clocks, making it more difficult to sleep even if we’re feeling lethargic. To try and counter this, tune out for as long as possible before bedtime. Try putting your phone away (staring at your phone before bed can make it harder to fall asleep), dimming the lights and doing something you find relaxing before shutting your eyes for the night.

Ensure the room you’re sleeping in is ventilated (opening the window for a short period of time each day can help to increase oxygen levels in the room) and make your bed as comfortable as possible.

Essential oils like lavender can also help aid sleep, so popping a few drops on your pillowcase might help you drift off.

Stress management - Stress has a habit of making any symptom worse, including those of PMS. Some people find that massage, yoga and meditation really help. Don’t feel guilty about saying “no”. Although it’s a good time to take stock, It might help to try and avoid having any big or important discussions around this time.

Stop smoking - Studies have shown smoking can make PMS symptoms worse, so, apart from the fact it can cause cancer - another pretty good reason to stop!

Treatment options - If your PMS really has you at the end of your tether, you might want to speak to a healthcare professional to see if specific treatments are worth looking into. As well as lifestyle and habit changes your doctor can suggest things such as hormonal medicines, cognitive behavioural therapy or antidepressants to help beat those monthly blues.

You can read Yoppie's full article here. 

Did you know Managing the Menopause in the Workplace campaign is back? 

Comments are closed