WHAT IS PMS?
Simply put, PMS is no fun, taking its toll on our emotions and bodies for about a week before our period, so during the latter part of the autumn pre-menstrual phase of our menstrual cycle when oestrogen and progesterone levels start to fall in the lead up to menstruation.
PMS is characterised by a whole host of symptoms – over 150, in fact, that can range from mild for some women to so severe that they are debilitating for others. Around 80% of women are affected by PMS at some stage in their reproductive life (Barnhart et al, 1995) and experience at least five of these symptoms:
- Mood-related: depression, sadness, anxiety, anger, irritability, mood swings
- Cognitive: inability to concentrate, indecision
- Pain: headache, tender boobs, aching joints and muscles
- Physiological: insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of appetite, food cravings, excessive tiredness, lack of energy, agitation, altered libido, clumsiness, dizziness, sickness, diarrhoea, heart palpitations, sweating, bloating, weight gain, oily skin, greasy or dry hair
Generally, it’s thought that PMS is caused by an imbalance in both hormones (mainly oestrogen and progesterone) and the neurotransmitters that affect mood, with the most common underlying factors being:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Fluctuations in blood sugar levels
- Environmental factors
BUT ALL IS NOT LOST, YOU CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?
Key areas you can influence in alleviating the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome are not listening to your body, putting yourself last on the priority list and eating junk food.
I’ve talked about the benefits of charting your menstrual cycle in a previous blog. Knowledge is power and developing your awareness of your monthly cycle and honouring it can have a profound effect on your wellbeing by empowering you to voice and act upon your needs at a very practical level to manage your stress and energy levels and heal and maintain your health.
So, starting on day 1, the first day of your period, begin writing (a lovely hardback notebook is great for this) and continue every day – it only takes a few minutes once you get into the habit. There is a list of journaling prompts in the charting your menstrual cycle blog to support you, or if these don’t feel right make up your own.
After two or three months, you’ll start to notice patterns, meaning you’ll no longer be taken by surprise by what’s happening cyclically to your body and mood, enabling you to deal with things with greater awareness and support.
Often what we do in the particular phases of our menstrual cycle is reflected back to us in the opposite side of our cycle. Have a look at your journal. What are you doing in each phase and how does that support your needs at each phase? How do you support yourself at pre-bleed and bleed time and what self care do you plan in for your bleed time (winter) if any? Do you slow down or keep going? How does that impact you?
NATURAL WAYS TO ALLEVIATE THE SYMPTOMS OF PMS
In a recent blog post, I talked about how our energy fluctuates throughout our menstrual cycle. To alleviate or prevent the symptoms of PMS, we need to honour our waning energy levels. Don’t fight them, go with them. Take the time to nurture and nourish yourself – eat well, rest, exercise gently and listen to your body, mind and spirit.
Regular Yoga practice can help prevent the symptoms of PMS as Yoga results in the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood-elevating chemicals, calms the nervous system, increases the flow of oxygenated blood to the reproductive organs, eases stress and encourages deep relaxation.
Gentle restorative poses are ideal for relieving PMS. Why not try Cat pose to tone and relax the spine and abdomen, Child pose to calm the nervous system and soothe the back, Corpse pose to release stress and heal? There are lots of different poses that can support you at this time, we cover these in depth in my Well Woman Cycle Awareness course, or can explore options specific to your own unique needs together in a private session.
When working one to one with my clients, a technique I find very effective for alleviating PMS cramps and bringing warmth and support to the womb is blanket work or using a faja wrap. Get in touch if you would like more info on this.
In Ayurveda, PMS is thought to be an imbalance of apana vayu, the force that regulates menstruation, childbirth, urination and your bowel movements. Varied imbalances can be alleviated by the food we eat, looking at your own dosha and foods to support can be helpful. For example If you suffer from mood swings – vata imbalances – avoiding cold and raw foods and trying warming soups, rice dishes and cooked vegetables can be helpful.
A plant-based Mediterranean-style diet is often ideal if PMS is an issue. Leafy greens such as kale or broccoli and good quality fats such as olive oil, avocados, coconut oil and hemp oil in your daily diet will help counteract hormonal imbalances – high fibre vegetables will help reduce high levels of oestrogen in particular and legumes such as peas can support the synthesis of deficient hormones. And a combination of high quality protein and fat at each meal will help prevent fluctuations in your blood sugar levels. You should also consider taking a high quality fish oil supplement and including fish, such as salmon, on the menu once or twice a week.
Studies have shown that women with PMS often consume high levels of sugar, caffeine, dairy products, salt and refined carbohydrates, so avoid dietary sugar and salt, white flour and caffeinated products such as coffee, black tea and carbonated drinks. But you’ll be pleased to know that dark chocolate (62% cocoa or greater) is the one caffeinated product that’s the exception to the rule – it can help improve your mood and relieve depression, so enjoy in moderation.
Often, the symptoms of PMS are caused by a dominance of oestrogen so it’s very important to be aware of the effects of xenoestrogens, synthetic oestrogens found in a wide range of everyday items, in causing hormonal imbalances and exacerbating the elevated oestrogen levels that contribute to PMS, so worsening the symptoms. I will share more on xenoestrogens and ways we can minimise our exposure to them in a future blog.
And finally, it’s great to see that working with the natural cycles of the body is becoming recognised in wider society. Bex Baxter, Director of Bristol-based company Coexist has introduced company policies to synchronise work with the body’s natural cycles and takes a refreshing view:
“If you work with your natural rhythms, your creativity and intelligence is more fulfilled. And that’s got to be good for business. There is a misconception that taking time off makes a business unproductive – actually it is about synchronising work with the natural cycles of the body. For women, one of these is their menstrual cycles.”
If you suffer from PMS and would like support in embracing your menstrual cycle and alleviating your symptoms, please get in touch. I specialise in working with women one to one and enjoy being part of their journey of reconnection and self-discovery. I support women to find more balance and harmony in their lives by deepening their inner connection to their own body’s needs, helping them cope pre-conception, with fertility issues, prenatally, postnatally or during times of transition, grief or loss and helping alleviate the symptoms of menstruation, perimenopause or menopause.