The menstrual cycle affects us women on so many levels, seen and unseen to the outside world. The majority of women will experience some degree of Pre Menstrual Syndrome or Tension (PMS/PMT) at some stage in our lives. Not many women have the pleasure of sailing through life without their menstrual cycle ever bothering them.
What is PMS/T?
This is an umbrella term for a variety of symptoms that affect women more or less in the 1-2 weeks leading up to their period. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe (in which case I recommend you seek professional help to support yourself). Symptoms include breast tenderness, mild bloating and digestive upsets, a feeling of inner unrest or anxiety, nervous tension, short temper or impatience, or generally feeling or malaise. Amazingly, these emotions generally go away on the first day of your period, giving you relief and a return of your actual personality. It is estimated that 8% of menstruating women have the more severe experience of symptoms, and it is recommended that they go to seek professional help.
How does PMS/T affect your mental health?
While abdominal bloating or breast tenderness are annoying symptoms and can disrupt your daily life by, for example, requiring you to have two wardrobes hanging in your closet, they are merely annoying. The more severe and serious symptoms to watch out for are those that affect your mental health and personality. Your hormones fluctuate massively in the days leading up to your next period, first causing a surge in estrogen in the second half of your cycle (presumably with view to supporting a potential pregnancy) followed by a steep drop in estrogen levels when the body realises it’s not pregnant. This sharp fall of estrogen also brings with it a sharp fall in serotonin, our “happy hormone” which can cause your brain to be under pressure to keep firing away smoothly.
What can I do to support my mental health during the second half of my cycle?
The first step to take is to recognize that there are hormonal changes happening in your body which are causing your symptoms. Once you recognize it’s “not you” or someone close to you being unkind, you will feel less impatient with yourself and your environment. So, be kind to yourself, cut yourself some slack and plan in downtime during those times that you know you will experience PMS/T. Reducing pressure on yourself and lowering stress levels is actually one of the best methods of reducing PMS/T symptoms reliably.
Can nutrition help improve my mental health related to hormones?
Yes, nutrition plays a huge role in reducing symptoms and feeling better about yourself. Sadly, PMS/T usually comes with mad chocolate cravings. This is actually a craving for magnesium, which helps to relax muscles and tension. Makes sense?! Instead of eating high sugar milk chocolate, which will make your symptoms and cravings worse, chose 85-90% dark chocolate instead. You can also opt for a magnesium supplement in the days leading up to your period to reduce cravings (as well as potential period cramps and feelings of inner unrest).
Try to eat a smart diet full of wholefoods, including fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Don’t ever skip meals, as this will mess with your blood sugars which will mess with your brain. Feed yourself well to feel well. Try to include lots of dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, chard or peas. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, which also aids a healthy blood sugar level and thus a balanced mental state.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself when you’re experiencing low moods or anxiety during the time leading up to your period. Allow yourself time to rest, do something you enjoy, and get plenty of sleep. Importantly, let the people around you know how you are feeling, and why. This gives them a chance to pamper you, support you and make it that much easier for you.