What does your menstrual cycle have to do with mental health? Well, a lot.
Your menstrual cycle is much more than just the few days you have your period; there are four phases that occur: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. The luteal phase is when people experience the often dreaded pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS). In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 3 out of 4 people who have a period experience symptoms of PMS.
There are a lot of common physical and emotional symptoms that accompany the hormonal changes throughout your menstrual cycle, some of which may have a direct impact on your mental health.
During times of uncertainty, such as the current COVID-19 outbreak, many people experience heightened feelings of anxiety and stress. On top of that, being isolated at home while social distancing can have a negative effect on your mental health. It’s especially important in times like these to take care of ourselves. For more information on how to handle COVID-19 as someone who menstruates, please check out this blog post from the cycle charting app, Clue.
How Hormones Affect Your Mental Health
There are several symptoms that can occur before and during your period, with mild symptoms being very common. If you find that these symptoms prevent you from being able to go to school or work, we recommend speaking with your doctor as this may indicate a deeper issue.
But why do changes in your mental health happen? Well, there are two primary female sex hormones that affect the parts of our brains, which influence mood and behavior: progesterone and estrogen. Progesterone rises after ovulation, right before your period begins, and with this, sometimes so do depressive feelings. Although researchers can’t say for sure what exactly causes PMS, we do know these changing hormones affect some people more than others.
Emotional symptoms include:
- Feeling sad, depressed, anxious or irritable
- Mood swings
- Not wanting to socialize
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Low energy
- Breast Tenderness
- Lower back pain
- Food cravings
- Joint and muscle pain
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea, constipation or nausea
Managing any of these physical symptoms on an ongoing basis can influence your mental health, and even your self-esteem.
What is PMDD?
PMDD stands for premenstrual dysphoric disorder and is a condition in which someone has more severe symptoms than PMS. For example, someone with PMDD might feel depressed, have panic attacks and feel more irritable right before their period. Typically, people with PMDD see these intense symptoms disappear as soon as their period starts. It is important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you think you are experiencing symptoms of PMDD.
While our hormones are designed to naturally fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, there are a few things you can do to help stabilize both your mood and mental health.
We put together 8 tips to help you care for your mental health throughout your menstrual cycle:
1. Track Your Emotions Throughout Your Menstrual Cycle
Tracking your cycle is a great way to plan and track any changes to your mental health. You can track your period with a journal, online at mymonthlycycles.com or by using a period tracking app like Clue or Flo Health.
Apps are a terrific way to not only track your menstrual cycle, but also to receive alerts for when you might be approaching PMS and your period. If you do use an app, we suggest also keeping a journal to write down how you are feeling throughout your cycle to see if there are any patterns. Even writing down a word a day can provide great insight to how you are truly feeling.
2. Get Plenty of Rest
Sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on your mental health. Since your hormone levels drop during your period, which can make you tired, and a lack of iron can also affect your energy levels, it’s important to get plenty of rest.
To help you sleep better, consider these few tips:
- Keep it cool: Set your thermostat between 60-67°F (15-19°C) at night. Cooler temperatures will help regulate your body temperature, which usually rises due to hormones during your period.
- Keep a sleep schedule: By going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, you are helping to ensure you get the amount of sleep you need, which should be somewhere between 7-9 hours.
- Create a comfortable bedroom: Your bedroom should be setup for optimal rest. Make sure to eliminate distractions by unplugging any unnecessary electronics and keep your phone at a distance. Most people sleep best when there is white noise (like a whirring fan), completely pitch black and a cooler temperature.
- Get in a comfortable position: If you are experiencing cramps, try laying on your side or in the fetal position which takes pressure off your abdominal muscles.
3. Engage in Physical Activity
Regular exercise is important for your physical and mental health, but it’s also helpful with regulating your hormonal levels. All you need to experience the benefits is an hour of exercise three times a week.
Cardio is a great way to help increase your blood flow throughout your body, including your reproductive system, while weight training will aid your body in getting stronger and help to boost your metabolism.
If you’re feeling tired, have cramps, a headache, or other symptoms that can make working out seem impossible, light cardio, swimming and yoga are good options. There are many great yoga poses to help your body regulate itself, help with PMS and cramps and provide the support you need.
There are several theories about how physical activity can improve your mental health, such as a prompt release of endorphins and increased levels of serotonin, to name a couple.
4. Nourish Your Body
What we eat has a huge impact on how we feel. It’s important to get plenty of protein, good fats and complex carbohydrates while on your period to help balance blood sugar levels. If you experience bad cramps, do your best to avoid gas producing foods, such as sugary processed foods and raw foods. Since there is a lack of iron during your period, make sure to eat plenty of iron-rich foods like lentils, seeds, red meat and dark, leafy greens.
A lot of people experience premenstrual food cravings, and it’s usually for things like carbs, fats and sweets. The most reported craving? Chocolate. While eating healthy is important, moderation is key – so go ahead and enjoy a special treat! Here are three chocolate recipes to give a try next time you’re craving it.
Want more information on what you should eat and what you should avoid? Check out our guide here.
5. Stay Hydrated
Research has shown that staying hydrated can help your mental health. Keep in mind, on average, people lose about 1-2 ounces of blood during a regular period, contributing to additional loss of fluid. It’s important to drink plenty of water to replace this loss.
The recommended amount of water you need to drink each day is roughly eight 8-ounce glasses. Remember, there are many things that count towards your water intake: milk, tea, juice, smoothies, soup, fruits and vegetables. It also helps to avoid things that dehydrate you like coffee, sugar and alcohol.
6. Pamper Yourself
Everyone should pamper themselves, but especially during PMS and your period. At this time of the month, it’s important that you take the time to shower yourself in self-love and care.
Consider giving yourself a massage, taking a relaxing bath or listening to a happy playlist – anything that will make you feel more relaxed and content.
Check out these great DIY spa products you can make at home for a relaxing night in.
7. Go with the Flow
Trying to ignore the physical and mental symptoms associated with your menstrual cycle isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s important that we learn to embrace how we feel instead of suppressing our emotions. How you are feeling is probably very normal and beating yourself up about it doesn’t do any good. Reach out to a friend, write it down in your journal, take a day off to take care of yourself; do what feels necessary.
8. Stay Connected
Remember, you do not have to go through this alone. If you are having a difficult time, reach out to a family member, a friend, or a professional. It can be difficult to take care of your mental health when you are feeling isolated.
If you cannot go out, especially right now because we are all social distancing, take advantage of technology and text, call or video chat with someone. And don’t forget, there are many online resources available.
How to Relieve PMS and Period Symptoms
There are a lot of things you can do to help relieve PMS and period symptoms in addition to the above suggestions, including:
- Take over-the-counter pain medicine such as ibuprofen (Advil®), naproxen, or acetaminophen (Tylenol®). Always follow the instructions on the bottle and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns, have an allergy to aspirin or severe asthma.
- Using a heating pad or hot water bottle can also help relieve cramps.
- Reducing your salt intake can also help with bloating and breast tenderness.
- Mindfulness and meditation can support your mood
- Supplements such as vitamin D, magnesium and calcium can help alleviate symptoms. In addition to taking a vitamin D supplement, you can also try to spend more time in the sunshine.
- Teas like red raspberry leaf and ginger can support digestive upset or nausea caused by hormone changes.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog is based on research and information available at the time of writing. As new research is made available, we will work to update and adjust our content as appropriate. If you have general questions, or concerns related to your own individual circumstances, please contact our Consumer Support Team, or speak to a healthcare practitioner for more specific questions about your individual circumstances.