I don’t think I have to remind any girl why our periods can be a drain; both physically and emotionally. I mean, I doubt anyone looks forward to cramps, bloating, backaches, cravings, a fluctuating libido, sudden bouts of anger or sadness, which leads to – of course – the mood swings. No matter how long you’ve had your period, PMS symptoms can always change, and if you tend to have a difficult time dealing with mood swings around your period it can be hard to tell if what you’re experiencing is just a regular change or something abnormal. At the end of the day, your body is yours and you know it best but here are a few tips to help you determine what’s normal and what’s not.
1. Learn how your body works
The first thing you need to know is how hormones work during your period. For those of you who don’t know what happens during menstruation- here’s a simplified version of what your body goes through. Each month a hormone called FSH causes an egg in the ovaries to mature. Another hormone called LH causes this mature egg to be released (this is ovulation). Estrogen and progesterone build up and maintain the thick lining of the uterus in preparation for pregnancy. If the egg isn’t fertilized the lining of the uterus is shed along with the egg. Hence why your period is the death of an ova.
The levels of all these hormones change dramatically throughout the month. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates your mood, sleep, and appetite. Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels influence serotonin levels. Low levels of serotonin are linked to a lot of emotions including sadness and irritability, as well as trouble sleeping and unusual food cravings- all of which are common PMS symptoms.
2. Track your symptoms to identify what your “normal” is
Your menstrual cycle might be regular or somewhat irregular, and your period might be light or heavy, painful or pain-free, long or short, and still be considered normal; “normal” is what’s normal for you. Keeping track of your symptoms will help you identify if your mood swings are linked to your period and if they’re outside the normality of your cycle.
A really easy way to do this is by using a period tracker app like Flow or Clue. There are so many different apps that give you the opportunity of tracking much more than the length of your cycle, these can help keep things in perspective and provide validation for the way you’re feeling. You can also make a chart or print one out (https://bit.ly/2QaPFSH).
3. Impact of lifestyle
If you keep track of all of your symptoms and come to the conclusion that your symptoms are abnormal, a useful step to pinpointing the problem could be examining your lifestyle.
Our bodies are interconnected, so lifestyle can play a role in how both your body and brain feel. There are a lot of lifestyle factors that can help reduce or attribute to the effects of PMS, like:
- Food: An important factor to consider is your diet. It’s scientifically believed that gut bacteria produce other chemicals that affect the brain, so the food you eat does have something to do with the way you’re feeling. Focusing on eating the right nutrients can help keep your blood sugar levels steady which in turn reduces irritability, which is often experienced with severe PMS.
- Exercise: Research suggests that getting regular exercise can greatly reduce the effects of PMS. This happens as a result of the endorphins, brain chemicals that are released during exercise, which can reduce the pain that can be felt from PMS. Exercises can also reduce stress which is another factor that can increase symptoms of PMS. Try to take part in aerobic exercises like walking, running, cycling or swimming to help with feelings of sadness, irritation, and anxiety.
- Sleep: A few days before the start of your period estrogen and progesterone levels drop significantly. This drop in hormone levels is why lots of women have trouble sleeping. This also happens after ovulation, which can be a couple of weeks before menstruation. Not getting enough sleep can ruin your mood if you’re weeks away from your period. To avoid the emotional consequences of lacking sleep try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night, especially in the week or two leading up to your period.
- Stress: Unmanaged stress can intensify mood swings, so finding ways to deal with stress healthily can help reduce the effects of PMS. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga can calm both your mind and body, especially when you feel PMS symptoms coming on. So if you feel like your symptoms have been more severe, make sure to consider what’s been on your plate during this time.
Mood fluctuations are bound to happen but if your period symptoms are so bad they’re interfering with your ability to live your life normally – it’s time to see a medical professional about it. Although we’re taught not to talk about our periods, especially in our society, your health comes before any social stigma. And taking precautions to ensure that what you’re experiencing is normal is very important so if you’re worried make an appointment with a gynecologist and get it checked out.
Mariam El Naggar