‘He doesn’t love me!’ vs. ‘Why is she being so unreasonable?’
– An insight into PMS
It’s that time of the month again… Your partner is being annoying, insensitive and you suspect he probably doesn’t even love you any more. Your work seems to be on top of you and your boss is being more horrible than usual. Your children resemble the Adams family offspring. The fridge is rapidly becoming your best friend. All you can see in the mirror is a bloated Jabba the Hutt look-alike. Well, at least your breasts are a bit bigger (woohoo!), but at the price of being painful too. And the stomach cramps… hugging a hot water bottle becomes your idea of a perfect evening. If some or all of this sounds just too familiar then you may be one of many women suffering from the pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), or, as my girlfriends and I quite fittingly call it, the ‘pre-mental’ state.
Around 90 percent of all menstruating women get at least some warning signs of the approaching period, although PMS tends to be more common in women over the age of 30. Food craving and weight gain, fluid retention, breast pain, tiredness and insomnia, dizziness, constipation or diarrhoea, skin problems, mood swings, depression, irritability, lack of concentration and clumsiness are only some of over a 100 symptoms which may constitute PMS. Each woman has her own ‘cocktail’ of symptoms, which can last for anything between a couple of days to a couple of weeks, and which rapidly diminish within one or two days after the start of the period.
It is believed that PMS is a reaction to the reduced production of ovarian hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen levels start declining in the second half of the menstrual cycle and are at their lowest during the seven days before the period. The extent to which oestrogen withdrawal affects our physical and mental state varies, but approximately one third of women say PMS significantly affects their life, while about 5 to 10 percent suffer from severe symptoms which seriously impair their social and occupational functioning. It is scary to think that, since most of us menstruate every month over a period of about 30 years, up to 5000 days (15 years) of our lifetime may be affected by PMS!
‘PMS is thought of as a problem which only affects women but many of the callers to our helpline are men’, said Christopher Ryan from the National Association for the Pre-menstrual Syndrome (NAPS). He said that many men were left frustrated and helpless when their partners suffered from PMS and it was a common cause of relationship problems. PMS is also a major problem in the workplace, revealed the UK Trade Union report into occupational health. Considering the widespread consequences of PMS on the society as a whole, this is clearly a condition which must be acknowledged and dealt with.
Anticipating PMS occurrence and arranging your social and work calendar around it is the first important step. Whenever possible, plan your commitments taking into account that over a certain number of days you won’t be on top form to deal with stressful or physically demanding situations such as moving, work deadlines, parties, etc. If you are lucky and don’t suffer from severe PMS, such careful planning may be enough to help you cope with symptoms and make this time more bearable.
Dietary changes are the next port of call but, since PMS involves a variety of symptoms, different things suit different women. For instance, coffee may help with fluid retention as it is a powerful diuretic whilst, on the other hand, it may worsen breast pain and stomach cramps. However, general dietary advice (particularly from mid-cycle onwards) includes eating three light meals and three healthy snacks a day – low in fat and salt and high in fibre and starch - and consuming plenty of fruit, green vegetables and salad. These measures are likely to help with fluid retention, tiredness, irritability, faintness and constipation, as well as to prevent uncontrollable comfort eating and weight gain. Herbal teas, such as camomile, juniper, dandelion or parsley may also be calming and help prevent fluid retention if consumed several times a day for two weeks before the period.
Taking vitamins and supplements, particularly evening primrose oil, agnus cactus or low dose of vitamin B-6, may additionally help with a variety of symptoms, such as breast pain, stomach cramps and depression, but these need to be taken daily for several months in order to experience any improvement. Physical exercise and practicing relaxation techniques are also recommended as they can be very effective in raising pain thresholds and helping combat stress.
Unfortunately, for some women, healthy diet, rest and avoidance of stress may not be enough to combat PMS. 'Comparing mild PMS to severe PMS is like comparing chalk to cheese', says Nick Panay, chairman of the NAPS. 'But there is a lot that can be done for women with PMS, either with medicines or psychologically. The first stop is for women to see their GP and to look at the NAPS website for advice about clinics.'
It's not me, it's the PMS...
Recognizing the cause and pattern of symptom occurrence is the first step towards dealing with PMS, since many women often misattribute their PMS-related mood swings to external causes (relationship, work) and this, in turn, may cause real problems with their family, partners or co-workers. Unfortunately, this lack of insight into the nature of the problem works both ways, and a survey of more than 1,000 UK men found that 44 percent of men say they do not treat their partners any differently despite their PMS.
While it is easy to blame men, often it is not entirely their fault that they can’t understand why their girlfriend, sister, wife, mother or daughter is being moody and irrational. Discussing the problem and seeking understanding and support from family and friends is therefore of paramount importance and is best done in advance, before PMS kicks in. This may enable them to be more tolerant of our irrational behaviour and avoid picking a bone with us once we become slightly ‘pre-mental’.
For more information and advice visit: www.pms.org.uk.
Published by Hove StressBusters