“Menstruation is a beautiful, natural process that signifies life, rejuvenation and is considered to be an emotional and physical detox for one’s mind and body.”
Despite how lovely this sounds, getting a period isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It presents itself to most as a troublesome physical discomfort coupled with an internal hormonal war and adds a lot of pressure to one’s already busy schedule. Hence, nearly 75% of menstruators, both young and old, consider period days to be the most stressful time of each month.
Apart from having tense days of pad changes and heavy flows, the occurrence of premenstrual syndrome further extends and escalates the unease menstruators associate with periods.
What is premenstrual syndrome?
Premenstrual syndrome - popularly known as PMS - is a group of symptoms that affect most menstruators. They arise 1-2 weeks before one’s period and disappear a couple of days after it starts.
The symptoms of PMS can be characterised into 2 separate categories - emotional and physical. Some common emotional symptoms are, depression, food cravings, anxiety and mood swings while some common physical symptoms are fatigue, stomach cramps, swollen hands, headache, nausea, pimples, bloating, backaches and sore breasts. However, it is important to note that only a few of these symptoms arise in menstruators and the symptoms also vary across different people. Some may not experience PMS at all!
Due to the diversity in symptoms and occurrence, the exact cause of PMS hasn’t been determined; but, several medical professionals premise that it may be related to the change in levels of hormones (estrogen, progesterone and serotonin).
For some context, in a period cycle, estrogen levels increase during the first half and then see a decrease over the second half. Serotonin (mood regulator) levels generally remain steady throughout the cycle but for someone experiencing PMS, it tends to see a drop along with estrogen (which could explain the depressive symptoms and mood swings in those experiencing PMS).
Progesterone on its own generally produces a ‘calming’ and ‘feel good’ effect on an individual. However, just there is a drop in progesterone level just before the shedding of the endometrial wall of the uterus. Hence, causing an antagonistic effect which increases the severity of PMS symptoms.
Debilitating or very severe symptoms of PMS are not common and could indicate Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder which is a severe form of PMS and requires a doctor’s consultation and treatment to manage the harsh symptoms.
How can one effectively manage PMS?
PMS is generally tolerable depending on the symptoms that one gets. However, depending on their severity and frequency of occurrence, they may have a lasting effect on one’s health and life.
Medicines such as diuretics, painkillers, antidepressants as prescribed by your physician can help with bloating, painful cramps and premenstrual depression respectively.
Using a hot water bottle, engaging in relaxation techniques, avoiding junk food and intense exercises during this time can help reduce cramps and anxiety.
One of the best ways to manage PMS symptoms is to keep track of them.
Not many of us keep a physical menstrual diary around to note down our symptoms and moods when we experience PMS; but, it is a really good habit to cultivate and will help you understand and connect with your body. Noting down symptoms, how their severity changes with changes in your diet or routine, which symptoms you experience and what changes you see in your mood at the time can help you recognise when you are experiencing premenstrual symptoms and give you a better idea on how to manage them.
“Are you PMSing?” Is a question commonly posed to girls and women when they express themselves emotionally in a situation; and over the years, the purpose of this question has changed from worry to finding an excuse to invalidate another’s emotions which isn’t right.
It is important to realise that not every emotion expressed by a menstruator is a symptom of PMS and that there is a lot more to it than just mood swings. This means that not only menstruators but even people who don’t menstruate need to be aware of premenstrual syndrome and its symptoms.
If people are aware of what others might be going through, they find it easier to be empathetic and understanding.
Dealing with the symptoms of PMS may not be a walk in the park, but, with the right mindset and a lot of positive support from those around, it can definitely be a lot easier.
Written by: Sanjana Gandhi
Graphics by: Nikita Dhamija