PMS During a Pandemic
PMS (PreMenstrual Syndrome) affects each person differently, if they’re affected at all. It often occurs in the week before your period starts (although it can start 2 weeks before) and lasts until about the second day of your period.
Whilst no one quite knows the cause of PMS it is often linked with the changing serotonin and oestrogen hormone levels, oestrogen levels, in particular, plummet after ovulation and before menstruation and some researchers have suggested that these changes in hormones cause the PMS symptoms. But honestly no one knows, and with 5 studies on erectile dysfunction to every 1 on PMS it may be a slow discovery.
The symptoms of PMS vary from person to person, as do their severity, women who experience severe symptoms are often diagnosed with PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) which can include feeling suicidal. The most common symptoms of PMS are:
Low Self Esteem
So all in all a bunch of laughs. Not.
There is some evidence to suggest that PMS symptoms increase if you are already experiencing stress, or anxiety etc, and surprise surprise a pandemic does not help.
I had begun to note and acknowledge a correlation between my cycle and my state of mind about 6 months previously, prior to that I had wilfully ignored any evidence that suggested that as I felt it made me a slave to my hormones, but as we all know ignoring a problem doesn't change its existence. Acknowledging that my cycle affects my mental state hasn’t changed what happens, but it does help me understand myself better and predict what I’ll need at certain times.
I have had PMS twice during lockdown, and the first time I didn’t realise what was happening to me. I spent a week crying, feeling depressed and like I had nowhere to turn. I would not be unusual if these feelings and emotions were a cause of only the coronavirus and its surrounding stress, and at the time I thought they were.
The second time I experienced PMS I understood what was happening. Instead of acting on feeling like everyone else had stuff going on and priorities other than me, I was able to realise that my PMS was heightening my feelings and that the world wasn’t ending, it would be okay in a week or two. In my experience, the emotional and mental side of PMS is like someone timings the severity of my negative thoughts by 10. On a normal day I may find a friend’s lack of response annoying, but not the end of the world. On a day when I have PMS that lack of response would lead to a spiral of doubt over whether I was important to them, general feeling of loneliness and probably end with me crying into my pillow.
The fact that negative thoughts, in general, are much more frequent for me during lockdown has meant that PMS’s emotional side has been that much harder. When all I crave is a hug from an absent loved one I find it really kicks me in the teeth. I try to find virtual substitutes to face to face connection, but each time I hang up the phone I’m left feeling alone and like I’m a burden on the people around me, even if I’ve been the one to end the call.
So, is there anything that can ease the PMS symptoms? Well there is no cure, and there is still even debate over whether or not it is real, despite 3/4 women experiencing it!!!! I hope you can tell that the first thing I have found that helps is acknowledging and understanding what the hell is going on. Other than that I’ve found these things help:
Communicate- The first time round I was communicating A LOT, particularly with my boyfriend, but because I didn’t understand what was wrong the conversation went something like:
“Somethings wrong, I’m really upset”
“I don’t know”
“Okay, let me know if you figure it out”
“I'm really upset”
And so on. The second time I was able to say I’m going through PMS at the moment so would appreciate a bit of extra reassurance and attention, and I’m sorry if I’m a bit all over the place. Being open with people allows them to realise it’s not that they’ve done something wrong or you just being a crazy person because chances are they just want to be able to support you as best they can.
Find something that makes you laugh- Last night I was in the middle of a PMS breakdown (basically a hormone-induced panic attack where you have no control, but a small part of your brain is confused as to why you’re uncontrollably crying because there’s nothing wrong) and so that tiny part of me which was confused decided to put on the excellent “Buttered Parsnips” by the comedian formerly known as Joe Lycett. Within a couple of minutes the uncontrollable sobs had become laughter. Finding something to make you laugh will never be a bad thing, so even if the PMS is still dragging you down at least you’ll be slightly amused. Laughing also has the added bonus of signalling your brain to make endorphins which make you happy! That is also why fake laughing can make you happier even if you don’t feel it when you start because it tricks your brain.
Exercise- definitely not what you feel like doing when you’re in the middle of a PMS pit, but like laughter, exercise produces endorphins which can help improve your mood. I also find it difficult to concentrate on negative thoughts whilst I’m struggling for breath in the middle of a run, so that’s an unexpected blessing.
Try to get some time away from social media: I find myself when I’m feeling particularly bad just endlessly scrolling through social media waiting for someone to text me or reply. Social media is designed to prompt your brain to produce endorphins which is why it is addictive. However, I don’t find that I feel particularly happy after I emerge from my 2 hour fester on Instagram, instead I find that it leaves me feeling washed out and listless. Quarantine makes it harder than ever to disconnect from your phone, and it feels like there aren’t any other options. I’m really privileged to live in the countryside with a garden and nearby green spaces. But even on the days when I find going outside too much just moving out of my bed, or room or listening to my music will help me shift out of the PMS hole I was stuck in.
If you’re still reading after that huge essay congratulations, I hope it helps you with PMS if you’re finding it difficult, even knowing that other people are going through it too. And if you don’t experience PMS I hope this helps you understand it a little better.