For years, I put my body last—even in the presence of monthly debilitating pain and volatile mood swings that wrecked both my productivity and personal wellbeing.
I refused to take Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) seriously, even when it was having a serious effect on me. A part of me internalized the stigma of the period: Some people—men, especially—consider menstruation gross or messy, and the pain it causes can be perceived as exaggerated, or simply something you don’t talk about in polite company. (And don’t get me started on those “That time of the month?” jokes.)
But by dismissing the cramps that couldn’t be eased by extra-strength aspirin (along with my depression spells, irritability, brain fog, fatigue, and a profound inability to concentrate), I failed to realize I had Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), a more extreme form of PMS.
Up to eight percent of menstruating women have PMDD. Recent studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have also shown that PMDD is linked to specific genes, which exhibit abnormal cellular and neural sensitivity to the hormonal fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone.
A gynecologist gave me an official diagnosis, along with the frustrating news that there is no real cure for PMDD yet. There is, however, some means to cope with it, including birth control pills and antidepressants. While such medications work for many people, I wanted to try other more natural options first.
For months, I kept a brief, daily record of my moods, and soon realized just how much an impact the last two weeks (the luteal phase) of my cycle had on my behavior. Bad social decisions, fights with a significant other, an inability to cope with work, or personal stress became much more frequent during this time.
Some of the holistic health options that I’ve explored have enhanced my ability to cope with my most difficult PMDD symptoms. These approaches have made a big positive impact on the quality of my life and relationships.
1. Cross-lateral exercises
Cross-lateral exercises help eliminate brain fog, one of the most frustrating aspects of PMDD. This is because the fog literally slows down your mind, making it more frustrating to read or concentrate on the simplest intellectual tasks.
When I find myself slowing down mentally or becoming highly distractible, I take a moment to engage in cross-lateral exercises to help regain my focus and reduce anxiety. These movements involve crossing one’s legs or arms from one side of the body to the other in a rhythmic fashion. Cross-lateral movements are believed, according to the Medical Fitness Association, to directly engage both hemispheres of the brain, energizing sluggish thoughts and enhancing cognitive function. Running, swimming, Pilates, dance, and various calisthenics all incorporate these movements.
Yoga for PMDD can be very effective for pain management. Excruciating cramps caused by uterine muscle contractions are pretty frustrating, especially when they wake you up at 3 a.m., or make it impossible to concentrate on anything other than how much pain you’re in. Holding supine yoga poses, especially Supta Kapotasana (or Reclined Pigeon Pose) and Apanasana (or knees-to-chest pose) are wonderful for relieving my abdominal and lower body muscle pain.
Meditation fosters mindfulness, which allows me to cope with extreme mood swings. From crying spells to irritability, my hormones have often brought me to the edge. Through keeping a daily practice, even 10 minutes a day, I’ve developed a greater awareness of these emotional changes and resisted the impulse to act on them.
4. Cardio Exercise
According to the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, cardio exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on the symptoms caused by menstruation. For me, it’s essential in warding off the bouts of severe fatigue. Jogging or swimming might be the last thing I want to do when I’m exhausted, but the benefits are powerful in restoring my vigor and productivity.
Aromatherapy, especially essential oils like lavender and sage, helps me maintain better perspective, especially during the luteal phase of my cycle. Taking a moment to breathe and soak up the relaxing essence of a calming scent works wonders to lift my mood and relieve stress.
6. Eating Well
A Healthier Diet is especially important for me when it comes to reducing and coping with PMDD symptoms. What we put into our bodies has a direct impact on our ability to sleep and function in a healthy way. For me, PMDD instigates insomnia, so without adequate sleep, my mood and mental capacities suffer. Eliminating coffee and alcohol from my diet during the week before the start of my cycle helps me fall asleep (and stay asleep). Cutting back on salty foods (which I always crave the most) also reduces my cramps and bloating.