Premenstrual symptoms can really wreak havoc on your emotions, (no surprise there) but have you ever wondered why that time of the month can be such an emotional rollercoaster?
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AGOC), about 85% of women experience at least one PMS symptom leading up to their period. Not only are symptoms a range of physical symptoms, but symptoms also include mental or emotional stress.The most commonly reported mental-emotional symptoms include: irritability, depression, nervousness, anxiety, excessive crying, and anger.
Before diving into what can cause these symptoms, it’s important to understand what the menstrual cycle actually is. The menstrual cycle is the body’s way of preparing the lining of the uterus for a potential fetus and then shedding the lining, if conception does not occur. The first half of the cycle, the follicular phase, is governed by the hormone estrogen. The second half of the cycle, the luteal phase, is governed by the hormone progesterone. If pregnancy does not occur, we have menses, our period. While estrogen and progesterone play a leading role in regulating the menstrual cycle, their effects are not limited to just the uterus. Estrogen is instrumental in bone health and plays a role in blood clotting, hair, skin, and mucous membrane health and Progesterone is your pregnancy hormone.
Let’s talk about how estrogen and progesterone can affect your mood: Estrogen and progesterone have a direct effect on moods due to the way they interact with your brain. Estrogen has been found to increase the amount of serotonin-secretion (the body’s “feel good” chemical) in the brain, allowing for a mostly positive effect on mood. Progesterone, on the other hand, has been found to stimulate the amygdala, the portion in the brain responsible for processing emotions. The main function of the amygdala is to detect danger and to subsequently prepare the body for “flight or fight” situations. Simply put, if the amygdala senses any sort of stressful or potentially dangerous event, whether it is real or just a thought, it will create a stressful environment within your entire body.
How can you manage your PMS symptoms: Although it would be nice to simply label estrogen as the happy-hormone and the progesterone as the depressed/anxious-hormone, it is not so black or white. Depending on your lifestyle and environment, the relative amounts of estrogen and progesterone in your body, and your genetic makeup, you may or may not experience effects on your mood. For example, while estrogen causes increased secretion of serotonin, some women actually feel better when their estrogen levels are low. Rather than favoring one hormone over another, it’s typically best to balance your hormones so that you’re getting the right amount of each and taking care of yourself at the same time. Here are 5 suggestions to keeping your symptoms balanced:
- Keep it clean-While it may be tempting to reach for ice cream and chips when experiencing PMS, the excess sugar, salt, and additives can actually negatively impact your hormones and make PMS symptoms worse. By eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, not only are you getting the vitamins and minerals necessary for the body to metabolize your hormones, but you are also getting enough fiber to help eliminate excess hormones.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol-Too much caffeine in your system can increase the amount of cortisol, the stress-hormone, which could lead to your body having fewer resources to create progesterone, leading to an imbalance.
- Exercise– There are so many benefits to working out even when it comes to PMS symptoms. Exercise improves circulation which helps with bloating and stiff muscles and it releases endorphins! Those are brain-chemicals that naturally help you feel good, so think of that when you need a little boost.
- Avoid stressful situations & people-If you experience anxiety as part of your PMS, then the best thing you can do for yourself is to create an environment that promotes relaxation and is stress free. Whether you love plants, crystals, or pictures of your puppy, surround yourself with things that bring you joy to trigger your brain to relax. It is not always possible to take yourself out of stressful situations like work for example, but by creating a personal oasis for yourself, you are ahead of the game!
- Relax!-During your period and during the days leading up to it is a great time for you to focus on yourself and pamper yourself too. Clear your schedule, get a facial, or have a movie night, but remember to treat yourself!
A simple method I give to my patients is to practice deep belly breathing to trigger your brain to relax. Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest, sit back in your seat, put your feet on the ground and close your eyes Breathe slowly through your nose, feel your belly expand into your hand Hold your breath for several secondsBreathe out through your mouth, feeling your belly sink Repeat 5 times or as many as needed! Dr. Esha Singh, ND