Stress and PMS

stress makes PMS worse

Many of you are simultaneously trying to meet the needs of your children, partners, families and bosses.  In which case, you probably already know this: stress has a big impact on PMS.  When you’re stressed, your PMS is worse. And when your PMS is worse, it’s more difficult to handle stress.  Catch-22.

Stress is hard to avoid.  Whether at home or at work, sitting in traffic or travelling on public transport, even while shopping – there are plenty of situations that can potentially raise your blood pressure.  Noise, delays, misunderstandings, events we can’t control, our interactions with other people (especially those!) – all of these contribute to daily stress. 

On top of that, women still do the lion’s share of housework and childcare, as well as usually going out to work as well (and if you’re lucky enough to still have a job, we in the UK are working the longest hours in Europe, which does nothing to reduce stress and tiredness).

At the same time, we’re surrounded by TV ads and magazines showing perfect happy families, dressed in sparkling whites, eating wholesome meals in dust-free houses, all presided over by calm, happy, smiling mums.  Well, it takes a lot of work behind the scenes to make that all happen!

It’s exhausting keeping up, and there’s no let up from all the things we have to do, have, and be.  Even technology, which makes our lives easier in so many ways, can become a pressure when there is less and less time when we are not ‘connected’. 

Sticking-plaster Solutions to Stress

An industry has grown up in response to the stress epidemic, promising ‘Me time’ to women who are stretched in all directions.  This ranges from spa days and pamper sessions, to online bingo, escapist women’s magazines and chocolate and fancy cupcake ‘treats’.  In moderation, all of these have their pluses, but there are practical and psychological downsides too.  For example, I don’t need to tell you how bad sugary snacks are for PMS.  And the potential problems of using gambling as a distracting pastime are pretty obvious.

In any event, these fixes are only temporary.  They only press PAUSE on stress – not STOP.  Relaxation is soon forgotten, if the minute you leave the calm of the spa, all the pressures in your life start shouting for your attention again.

PMS and The Stress Hormone

Stress has a direct physiological impact on us.  It makes us release cortisol, the so-called ‘fight or flight’ hormone.  Cortisol gets us pumped up for action, and no doubt helped us survive as a species during times of very real danger.  These days though, we’re seldom faced with threats like sabre-toothed tigers or exploding volcanoes.  While a little productive stress can mobilise us into activity, the continuous triggering of cortisol has an exhausting and damaging effect. 

It’s also dangerous. Cortisol causes us to gain weight around our middles, which not only make us feel bad about ourselves (the dreaded ‘middle-aged spread’), it’s a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.  And in terms of PMS, continual cortisol release leads to food cravings for saturated fat and refined carbohydrates.  Stimulants like caffeine also raise cortisol levels and aggravate PMS.  

The Three Top Stress Busters For PMS

Exercise

When you’re already busy, I know it’s difficult to motivate yourself to do exercise.  But I keep going on about exercise because it really pays off.  Exercise lifts your mood and tones up your body.  It can make you feel younger and more energetic and help you sleep better.  And if you do it socially in a group, to music, or outside, it can be great fun, rather than being a chore.  No matter how old you are, how unfit you are, or how you feel about your body, there’s a form of exercise out there that will motivate you.

And it’s never too late to start.  I started running a year ago and I feel the benefits in all parts of my life, not just for PMS.  (If you want to know more about how I got started – and how I keep going – check out my weekly blog posts on The Running Bug).

Letting Go

There’s always something more to do in the house, in the garden, at work, or at college.  You’ll never get to the end of that To-Do list.  But actually, how much of it really matters?  The older I get, the more I realise that you can let some things go, without the sky falling down.  Honestly.  Try it.

You don’t need to be perfect.  You don’t need to Do It All.  Your house doesn’t have to be antiseptically clean.  Your clothes don’t have to follow the latest fashion.  You don’t always have to look immaculately groomed. 

We often set ourselves impossibly high standards – and then we are our own harshest critics.  

Why not give yourself a break?  Throw away the never-ending To-Do list in your head and focus on the two or three most important things you need to do each day. You’ll achieve more and relax more.  Lose the guilt and look after yourself.  Do more of the things that you want to do and that give you something back. 

Talking it out

If you live with a male partner, he may struggle to understand just how much your monthly hormone changes get to you.  So it’s important to communicate.  If you can share how PMS feels, and ask for the support you need, you’re be more likely to be able to survive PMS as a couple.  

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I hope I’ve convinced you that managing stress is an important part of the natural approach to preventing and combating PMS.  (Have you noticed how your PMS symptoms are reduced when you’re on a holiday that you’re enjoying?).  If you focus on reducing stress throughout the month, you’ll be more likely to cope during your PMS phase – or even to prevent it. 

Thanks for reading!  Please feel free to leave your comments below, to use the Contact Me page, or to visit the PMS Warrior Facebook page.

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