According to Florida Hospital, 85% of women suffer from PMS symptoms during their childbearing years. Most people, regardless of gender, are familiar with the most common symptoms of cramping, bloating, and irritability. There can be other symptoms as well, such as nervousness, anxiety, visual problems, heart palpitations, an inability to concentrate, and fatigue.
Most women would agree that PMS sucks. PMDD takes it to another level.
According to National Institutes of Health, 2% to 5% of women suffer from PMDD. I’m one of them.
And it can be miserable. They physical symptoms are generally the same, although more extreme. But emotionally is where the real difference lies. Extreme sadness or rage, significant and rapid mood swings, tension or anxiety are all possibilities. You might have one, you might have a few, or you might have them all.
Perhaps the worst part is being able to recognize that something isn’t right but feeling like you have no control over it. It can truly feel like something has taken over and you’re just along for the ride.
While it might feel that way, there are several things you can do to help either ease the symptoms or get them under control. Of course, there are no guarantees here, as every person is an individual. But these are the things that I have personally tried and found to be effective.
Become aware of your thoughts
As I’ve talked about in regard to meditation, our thoughts often run on a loop. In some ways, this can be good, because it allows us to focus on more important thoughts. But it can also be a problem because while we may not be consciously aware of those looping thoughts, they’re still there and they’re still influencing us.
When it comes to PMDD, being aware of your thoughts can be beneficial because it allows you to become aware of when your symptoms are starting to appear. Often, one of the first signs will be a shift in your thoughts. When your thoughts start to take a more negative turn and you’re noticing mood swings or irrational emotions, you’ll know what’s coming.
This is best done by tracking your thoughts. If you don’t already have a consistent meditation practice, consider implementing one, as it’s perhaps the best way to become aware of your thoughts. After your daily meditation, write down the thoughts that stick out to you. After 2–3 months, you should be able to start seeing a pattern that will help you recognize when PMDD is starting each month.
This will then allow you to be prepared for your specific thoughts and mood changes so that you are not only expecting them but prepared to deal with them.
Use your mind to handle overwhelming emotions
Rage, anxiety, sadness, or the swing from one to the next can all feel overwhelming with PMDD. When the feeling hits, it feels justified and you often react as such. You lash out, or wallow in sadness, or let the anxiety grow bigger and bigger.
Instead of just going with your feelings, I recommend using your mind to handle these emotions. Instead of going with the feeling that your rage is justified because your spouse didn’t start dinner when they got home from work, take a step back. Use your mind to consider things such as: did your spouse know you wanted them to start dinner? Did something happen when they got home from work that might have distracted them? In the long run, how important is it that they didn’t start dinner? Is it worth the major argument that you’ll have if you let loose with your rage?
It’s also a good idea to think about the potential consequences of going with the feeling. What happens if you let your anxiety sit and grow? How are relationships damaged permanently if you unleash a temporary rage? How does it affect your job if you wallow in sadness, even for a day?
Take a step back from every emotionally charged situation and allow yourself a chance to look at it logically. Most of the time, you’ll find that going with the emotion and doing what feels “right” for it isn’t the best idea. And in those situations where the feeling is justified, your step back will allow you to approach it from a calmer, better place.
Push yourself to do something active
The physical symptoms of PMDD like cramping, bloating, lower back pain and breast tenderness are typically more severe than they are with PMS. Naturally, this also means we struggle more with getting active. We’re feeling physically miserable, our emotions feel totally out of control, and now someone is telling us we should go for a run, or lift weights?
Well… yes and no.
Yes, I am telling you to get active. But no, I am not suggesting you have to go all out with a hard workout. I know how you feel. I feel the same way. I know that even the thought of a hard workout is exhausting when you’re uterus-deep in PMDD symptoms.
That’s why I suggest you take it easy but still get active. Take a walk. Practice some yoga. Go for a bike ride that’s somewhere between leisurely and intense. It might take a few tries to find what you can handle but you should find something.
The physical activity will release endorphins that will ease your physical symptoms. Those same endorphins can also help bring your emotions back into balance.
Use relaxation techniques
Deep breathing, meditation, counting to 10, putting a cold cloth on the back of your neck… there are plenty of relaxation techniques you can try. While self-care is important all the time, relaxation techniques are critical when you’re in the midst of PMDD symptoms.
Find those techniques that work for you, whether they’re traditional relaxation or not, and utilize them. Every time you feel your emotions starting to overwhelm you, your body begins to stress. This activates the fight-or-flight response, which makes you even more tense and stressed. By using relaxation techniques, you start to calm down, and this will stop the fight-or-flight response.
I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes you might need to use a couple of techniques at once. You might also find that sometimes it takes longer for your techniques to work, depending on how stressed you already are. But it’s worth it to keep trying.
Cut out sugar
I have always craved anything chocolate at that time of the month. Also cookies, cake, and ice cream. And although it’s not an official symptom, I’m pretty sure low willpower is in fact a PMS/PMDD symptom, because I’ve always struggled to resist those cravings.
But what I found was that cutting out sugar, as much as possible, did wonders for my PMDD symptoms. It eliminated migraine headaches, as well as other headaches. It made cramps less severe, breasts less tender, and made me feel less exhausted. And it made my moods and emotions much more balanced, without the extremes or sudden swings.
I also found that when I cut out sugar, I stopped craving all the sugary stuff. I also stopped craving salty stuff. In fact, I didn’t really crave anything at all anymore. And if I did crave something, it was something specific. It was no longer the “I want something sweet/salty, but I don’t know what” craving. Instead it was “I want a chocolate chip cookie” or “I want barbecue potato chips.”
Look for new healthy habits that can ease symptoms
I mentioned tracking your thoughts earlier, but tracking your symptoms is another healthy habit to start if you have PMDD. This will allow you to become aware of when, how often, and how severely your symptoms present. When you’re more aware of those things, it becomes much easier to deal with them in healthier ways. You’ll be able to recognize when cravings will be coming, when mood swings will start, or when cramps will make it difficult for you to get out of bed. This will allow you to plan accordingly, so you don’t give in to cravings, snap at people, or make plans you’ll end up cancelling.
Look at the ways you’ve tried to deal with symptoms in the past that haven’t worked for you. Consider alternatives to those old habits, or ways you can tweak them to make them more effective. Maybe there are things you know you should be doing but don’t. It’s time to start. Whether it’s eating more fresh veggies and fruits during the days leading up to your period or popping a couple of Advil when you know cramps will be starting soon, look for the things you can do that can help ease your symptoms. Even if your efforts don’t make it go away completely, they can make things a lot easier on you.
When my PMDD is in overdrive, I get raging mad over things that don’t call for it. The mere act of my child breathing next to my ear can be enough to piss me off. Most of the time, I can keep a lid on it. But sometimes I’ll start snapping at everyone and struggling to control it.
My doctor prescribed Prozac, taken for 5 days before my period arrives, for this anger. I don’t have to take the Prozac every month. In fact, many months, I don’t take it at all. But every now and then, I’ll suddenly realize that I’m irritated by everyone and everything and when I look at the calendar, it all clicks. I take a pill and suddenly, I’m able to deal with life again.
I’m not one to suggest that you take medication lightly. And there are plenty of natural options for easing symptoms, both emotional and physical, that you can try. But if you really feel like you’re struggling to control your symptoms, particularly if it’s an emotional symptom that could have a negative impact on your relationships or job, you should consider medication. Even if you only take the medication temporarily while you explore other options, sometimes it’s better to medically control the symptoms so you can explore those options without pressure.
Switch up your feminine hygiene products
We tend to get pretty attached to what we use for our periods. Whether it’s pads or tampons, Tampax or Always, we know what we prefer and we stick to it. But many of the storebought options can actually make PMDD’s physical symptoms worse.
Try switching up what you use. Swap pads for reusable cloth pads or period panties, and tampons for menstrual cups or sponges. It can take a little getting used to when you first switch, but it can make bleeding lighter and cramping much less painful, if not eliminated entirely.
There are many brands and options available, so take your time exploring them thoroughly to decide which is right for you. This simple switch alone can make a world of difference. It did for me.
PMDD is rough. There’s no cure, and it may worsen as you get older. Just because you’re stuck with it, however, doesn’t mean you have to live with it as is. Try these tips, look for others, and work with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan that works for you. I promise the relief is worth all the effort it might take.
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