Chances are, if you think every single movie you watch before your period is a tear jerking masterpiece, you may be experiencing hormonal effects on your mood. Mood swings, sadness, or anxiety, are some of the most common symptoms of PMS, and the culprit is thought to be related to the interplay of key hormones in the week or two leading up to your period.
Sometimes, severe PMS, especially severe emotional symptoms, can indicate a condition like PMDD, or PME which can make a mental or physical health condition you already have worse.
There are many ways to manage period-related depression, ranging from vitamins, diet changes, exercise, and good sleep, to medication such as birth control and antidepressants.
What we call premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a collection of physical and emotional symptoms that start a week to a couple days before your period. It can make some people feel grumpier than usual and others feel bloated and achy. It can also cause food cravings (where you might crave chocolate, pasta, and donuts more than usual).
PMS, in some cases, can cause emotional symptoms like mood swings, sadness, anxiety, irritability, or even depression. Having mood swings means that your mood is likely to go between extreme states, especially in ways that seem outsized compared to the trigger, or have no apparent trigger at all. For example, you might wake up in a great mood, and then find yourself crying because the fruit in the bowl looks so colourful or because your dog looks so carefree as he wags his tail.
Related medical conditions
There are also two medical conditions that can make PMS symptoms worse:
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD is similar to PMS, but much more intense. It tends to result in emotional symptoms to the point where it significantly interferes with daily life.
- Premenstrual exacerbation. If you have an existing condition, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, or depression, premenstrual exacerbation is when those symptoms become even worse in the weeks or days leading up to your period.
Why does it happen?
Researchers aren’t entirely sure, but it’s believed to be linked to hormonal fluctuations that happen throughout the menstrual cycle, especially in the second half.
Just before your period, a key sex hormone called progesterone drops. At this point, both estrogen and progesterone are low, which triggers your uterus to shed its lining. It’s believed that the shifts in hormones and how they interact with each other cause these physical and emotional symptoms.
Changes in these hormone levels can also influence your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep cycle, and appetite. Having low levels of serotonin can cause feelings of sadness and irritability, as well as trouble sleeping and food cravings, which are all common PMS symptoms.
How can you manage emotional PMS symptoms?
There are many ways the emotional symptoms of PMS can be managed, ranging from lifestyle factors to medications.
Track your symptoms
Tracking your symptoms can help you spot patterns in your symptoms, as well as give you an idea of what to expect. If you do find yourself experiencing PMS symptoms, the YourCycle App will spot patterns for you and give you recommendations of research backed lifestyle changes that can help mitigate these. Having a log will also be helpful if you end up seeing a healthcare provider about your symptoms.
To track mood-related PMS symptoms, make a note in the YourCycle period tracker when you experience any of these symptoms:
- Sudden, unexplained changes in your mood
- Crying spells
- Poor sleep or too much sleep
- Trouble concentrating
- Lack of interest in your daily activities
- Low energy
There are some vitamins that may help PMS symptoms.
Calcium may help PMS-related feelings of sadness, irritability, and anxiety. Dairy, dark leafy greens, and fortified cereals and milks are all good sources of calcium, but you can also take a supplement.
Vitamin B-6 might also help with PMS symptoms. Fish, white meat, fruit, and fortified cereals and milks are good sources, but, again, you can also take a supplement. Just make sure not to take over 100mg a day!
If you choose to up your intake of calcium, B-6, or both, don’t get disheartened if you don’t see results right away! Everyone’s body reacts differently and it might not be right for you. There can also be a lag of a few weeks or months to see changes.
There are some lifestyle factors that may impact PMS mood swings:
Exercising regularly (about 30 minutes a few times a week), eating regularly and nutritiously, getting good sleep, and managing stress are good habits things to do in general, but for people suffering with PMS mood swings, they are especially important. Doing these might sound obvious but if you aren’t already focusing on these, try giving them a go and tuning in to any changes in how you feel.
There are some medication options for managing PMS-related emotional symptoms. If other treatments aren’t working, consider talking to your GP about whether or not any of the following options could be right for you.
Hormonal birth control
Combined hormonal birth control methods (methods that contain two hormones: estrogen as well as progesterone), such as the combined pill or birth control ring, may help with bloating, tender breasts, and other physical PMS symptoms. They stop your ovulation, which generally stops you from having a menstrual cycle.
Progesterone-only birth control methods also stop your cycle, but the lack of estrogen means that you don’t have as much control over your bleeding as combined methods offer. They can also potentially make symptoms such as bloating and acne worse.
For some people, hormonal birth control can help mood swings and related emotional symptoms, and for others, it can make these things worse. If you’re interested in using birth control to help mitigate your symptoms, talk to a healthcare provider about your risk factors and what method may be right for you.
If all else fails, taking antidepressants may help. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common type of antidepressant used to treat PMS-related mood swings, as well as the most common type of antidepressant in general. These can help by increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain.
For some people who have found that antidepressants are a good solution for them, they may take them daily or only for the 1-2 weeks leading up to your period. If this sounds like an option that might benefit you, start by reaching out to your healthcare provider for a consultation.
PMS is a collection of symptoms that are caused by hormonal fluctuations in your menstrual cycle. This can sometimes feel like it's dragging you down or you might just want to find ways to manage your symptoms. There are many management options, ranging from exercise, diet, vitamin supplementation, and medication. If you’re ever in doubt, pop to your doctor for a check up.
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Post by Miranda Bromage
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