PMS: Though our culture often jokes about it, we don't really talk about it.
An estimated 75 percent of women of childbearing age experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in one form or another, and yet it isn't exactly a topic of everyday conversation.
I spent a good part of my life trying to figure out what was "wrong" with me each month. It turns out, nothing at all.
PMS is simply the natural rise and fall of women's hormone levels, and many of us feel it in a big way. In fact, 3 to 8 percent of us feel it in a really big way — experiencing a severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) that causes extreme mood shifts and even suicidal thoughts.
Since most of us can't go into the Red Tent and drink tea until our periods pass, it's helpful to understand what's actually going on in our bodies so we can take informed action. We are designed to procreate, which is why we tend to feel at our sexy best around the time of ovulation. That's when our estrogen and progesterone levels are at their highest. But estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and serotonin all reach their lowest levels right before a new cycle begins. That low point causes those days right before our period when we can feel uncharacteristically weepy, angry, ugly, or worse.
Here are six ways to find relief from these hormonal symptoms naturally:
1. Keep track and schedule with care.
My gynecologist suggested I keep track of my cycle so PMS wouldn't take me by surprise. I take this one step further and do my best to schedule important meetings, decisions, and trips during the hormonally happy times of the month. Of course, we can't always schedule around our cycles, but whenever possible, I suggest easing the load you have to bear on the days leading up to a cycle.
2. Speak mindfully with your loved ones.
Though it can be embarrassing to talk about your personal hormonal cycle, it's really helpful if your loved ones understand it. Let them know that you may not be at your 100 percent best during this time — you may be extra sensitive, reactive, or distracted — and explain why. If you snap, honestly apologize, let them know you're struggling, and tell them you didn't mean to lash out. Admitting you're vulnerable can help your loved ones be extra gentle with you when you need it most.
3. Honor your natural tendencies.
Extroverts will probably want to spend extra time with friends and confidantes during PMS whereas introverts will probably benefit from retreating and having lots of quiet time alone. Figure out which camp you fall into so that you have fewer opportunities for stress during this critical time.
4. Accept and love your body.
PMS can seem like a curse, but being a woman is an incredible blessing and this is part of the package. Our bodies are miraculous chemistry equations in action; take some time to appreciate their complexity and beauty. Give yourself permission to take extra care of yourself during this time. Go to bed early, have a long bath, get a massage — whatever makes you feel best. As women, our bodies nurture our entire species. The least we can do is take a nap.
5. Practice mindful comfort eating.
Mindful eating is the act of eating with full awareness of all of your senses. It's a great technique to practice at any time, but I especially recommend it during PMS. Make a conscious choice to enjoy foods that make you feel good and then really take your time to savor the taste, aroma, and experience of eating them.
6. Just breathe.
Mindfulness encourages us to be present in the current moment, whatever that may be. And if that moment happens to be hormonally hard for you, take deep breaths. The oxygen will soothe your amygdala (brain's stress center) and lower your cortisol levels (stress hormone). PMS can be Pretty Miserable Sh*t, but it doesn't have to ruin your life.