Asking the question ‘what is PMS’ is rather futile. Almost all menstruators will have experienced the familiar feelings of PMS in their menstruating life time and have probably also witnessed the same hormonal effects on others close to them. We all know how it feels; we all know what it is for ourselves. The unexplainable rage, the uncontrollable tears, the ability to be wildly irritated and desperate to be loved by the same individual all at the same time are just some of the feelings we can experience. However, we aren’t all completely sure what causes them. Or why some months we are relatively rational, and others we can feel like something that closely resembles a raging mythical creature that is extremely ticked off!
So what causes the out of control rollercoaster we embark upon in the lead up to and during the early days of our periods?
WHAT’S GOING ON DURING OUR PMS?
The scientific experts are still not completely concrete on the causes of PMS, or why some menstruators experience it worse than others. Not so helpful when knowing the causes can help us understand what we are experiencing, and make the symptoms easier to tolerate.
However, some experts believe that cyclical changes in hormone levels are the cause. Oestrogen and progesterone fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle to cause certain reproductive effects. During the luteal phase, which follows ovulation, our hormones peak and then rapidly decline when a conception doesn’t occur. This can lead to the anxiety, depression and irritability we sometimes feel.
A drop in oestrogen can also prompt the release of norepinephrine, which affects the release of dopamine, acetylcholine and serotonin. This can cause sleep problems, and low or depressed moods.
THE SECRETS TO SURVIVING PMS
Plan ahead - it sounds simple, but a lot of menstruators are continually caught off guard as they don’t always recognise the correlation between their emotional and physical state, and their PMS. This can often create a feeling of helplessness and a misunderstanding which can escalate emotions even more. Learning to spot the early signs of PMS or keeping a log of the feelings that occur can help. Apps like CLUE are great for this. Monthly logging of your feelings can serve as a warning when things are due to start, giving you a heads up. It may not reduce the symptoms; however, the pre-warning and the understanding of why the world is against you can help you feel in relative control and in tune with your emotional state. It also equips you to facilitate any offsetting you can do to manage your PMS.
Take it in your stride – especially leaving any guilt aside. Gynaecologists are becoming increasingly aware that a negative and guilt ridden attitude towards your period can worsen the effects of PMS. The more self-love you have around your body, especially around your period, the more your PMS symptoms lessen and can drop away. Trying to lessen the angst towards your period, and even the emotional rollercoaster you’re feeling, helps to reduce the negative feelings and can in turn lessen the roller-coaster itself.
Be honest – talk about the fact that you’re not feeling yourself as your hormones are taking centre stage. Honesty also helps us avoid some of those situations we’ve all found ourself in, of taking our PMS out on an innocent bystander, partner or friend.
A little TLC goes along way. Accepting the mood swings are a normal part of your life and all menstruators around you, you’ll find it easier to be kind to yourself. Practise self-love: enjoy a daytime movie session, or binge your favourite show, take part in a gentle yoga session or a walk in the ever changing weather. Embrace the world around you with love for yourself instead of retreating into a grey cloud.
There are some natural remedies you can try that may help to manage some of the symptoms you’re feeling. Calcium supplements have been seen in some clinical trials to help with PMS feelings of sadness, irritability and anxiety. Natural sources of calcium include milk, yoghurt, cheese, dark leafy greens such as kale, and cereals. Some dairy-free milks have calcium additives, and you can also take a supplement of calcium as well.
Try to avoid junk foods and refined sugar cravings that can come around the time of PMS. Refined sugar, fat and salt can cause emotional havoc on your mood swings, making the whole thing even worse. You don’t have to avoid them all together; just try to balance them with a healthy portion of fruits, vegetables and complex carbs to balance your blood sugar levels and avoid any drastic drops, which can cause you to be irritable & emotional.
If you’re PMS is craving some chocolate, reach for the dark stuff! Dark chocolate is actually good for you (!!) It’s loaded with antioxidants, as well as rich in iron and magnesium. Studies have also shown that magnesium can reduce the severity of some PMS symptoms, and one 100 gram bar of 65-80% dark chocolate contains over 50% of our recommended daily intake of magnesium. You can read more about what foods to eat just before and during your period in our related article here.
Wearing your beautiful, soft and comfy Rosaseven period underwear is another way you can help yourself during your PMS and the days leading up to your period. You don’t have to worry about if your period comes early as you’ll be ready and protected; this will make you feel far better than any of the chemically produced, plastic ingredient disposable products you no longer need. A pretty and natural way of lifting your mood, and a true act of self-care that can help soften some of the PMS symptoms.