Menstruation is a natural process that women experience every month, yet it remains taboo in many cultures. Women's bodies and health have often been stigmatized, with menstruation being a prime example. In many societies, menstruation is seen as impure or shameful, leading to a lack of awareness and understanding of menstrual health issues. This trend is sadly reflected when it comes to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which despite their prevalence, are often overlooked, shunned, or dismissed. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at these conditions, the myths, and misconceptions surrounding them, and gain an understanding of what they actually are, how they affect different women, and how to manage them successfully.
What are PMS and PMDD?
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Premenstrual syndrome is a common condition that affects up to 75% of women at some point in their lives. It refers to a range of physical and emotional symptoms that occur in the days or weeks leading up to menstruation. Many women experience mood swings during PMS, which can cause them to feel irritable, anxious, or depressed. PMS can also cause feelings of nervousness, worry, and fear, which can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and trembling. Some can also struggle with insomnia, fatigue, and changes in their appetite or libido.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), on the other hand, affects up to 8% of women of reproductive age and can significantly impact their quality of life. It is different from PMS in both the severity and type of symptoms that are experienced. While PMS symptoms are generally mild and can be managed with self-care measures, PMDD symptoms are severe, debilitating, and require medical intervention.
The symptoms of PMDD can significantly interfere with a woman's daily life, affecting her ability to work, study, socialize, and maintain relationships. For instance, they can make it difficult for a woman to concentrate and complete tasks, impacting her ability to perform well at work or school to the point where she may need to take time off or adjust her workload during her menstrual cycle.
Moreover, PMDD can cause severe mood swings, irritability, and anger, which may strain relationships with partners, family, and friends. Over time, this emotional intensity can also make it difficult for a woman to sustain healthy relationships and increase feelings of isolation.
PMDD can also make it challenging for a woman to practice self-care, including eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and getting enough sleep, because of the intense changes it can induce in her energy levels, sleep cycle and appetite. This can further dysregulate her mood and exacerbate her condition, as it becomes challenging to engage in the practices that would otherwise help manage symptoms.
In addition to the physical and emotional symptoms which can already take a significant toll on a woman’s quality of life, PMDD can contribute to the development of other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, particularly if left untreated.
Common Misconceptions about PMDD
Despite its prevalence, PMDD is still widely misunderstood.
One common misconception is that it is a "made-up" disorder or that women are simply overreacting or being dramatic. This couldn't be further from the truth. PMDD is a real and often debilitating disorder that can render a woman incapable of tending to her day-to-day life and requires medical attention and support.
Another myth is that PMDD is simply an extreme form of PMS and that women with PMDD should just "deal with it." Again, PMDD involves much more severe symptoms that can have a significant and long-lasting impact on a woman's life. It's also important to note that PMDD is not a result of a woman's "weakness" or a reflection of her inability to handle stress and challenges. This condition is caused by a complex interplay of chemical imbalances and should be considered with as much seriousness as any other medical or psychological disorder. You cannot expect a woman suffering from PMDD to be cured if she just "toughens up," much like you cannot ask a diabetic person to recover by spontaneously controlling their blood sugar levels.
Finally, one more stubborn cliché regarding PMDD is that there is no cure for it, and that women who suffer from it are condemned to endure it with no hope of alleviating their distress. Thankfully it is not the case; there are numerous ways to manage PMDD symptoms, which we will address at the end of this blogpost. With the appropriate knowledge, tools and support, it is possible for a woman to lead a healthy and enjoyable life without being taken hostage by the symptoms of this disorder.
What does living with PMDD look like?
Every woman's experience with PMDD is different. Some women may experience more severe symptoms than others, and symptoms can vary from month to month, but there are some common themes that many women with this disorder can relate to. Below are some real-life experiences of women who have PMDD:
"I feel like I'm on an emotional rollercoaster every month. One minute I'm fine, and the next, I'm crying or feeling angry for no reason."
"Sometimes I feel like I'm two different people - one week I'm happy and confident, and the next week I'm anxious and depressed."
"I can barely get out of bed the week before my period. I feel so tired and run down, and I can't concentrate on anything."
"PMDD has impacted my relationships with my family and friends. I sometimes lash out at them for no reason, and it's hard to explain what's going on."
"It's frustrating that so many people don't understand what I'm going through. They think I'm just being moody, but it's so much more than that."
"The physical symptoms of PMDD can be just as challenging as the emotional ones. I often feel bloated and uncomfortable, and my breasts are so tender that even wearing a bra is painful."
Coping with PMDD
Managing the symptoms of PMDD can be challenging, but there are several strategies that can help. These include:
- Medication: Certain medications, such as antidepressants or hormonal birth control, can help manage the symptoms of PMDD. However, it's essential to work with a healthcare provider to find the proper medication and dosage.
- Lifestyle changes: Several lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms of PMDD. For example, regular exercise can help boost mood and reduce stress. A healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can also help improve symptoms. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and salty foods the week before your period may also be helpful.
- Mind-body techniques: Mind-body techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises can help reduce stress and anxiety, which tend to exacerbate PMDD symptoms. Massage therapy or acupuncture may also be helpful for some women.
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy can be a useful treatment option for managing PMDD symptoms. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help manage PMDD symptoms by assisting individuals in identifying and modifying their negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to their emotional distress during the premenstrual phase. Mindfulness-based therapies, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), can help individuals manage PMDD symptoms by teaching them to be more aware of their thoughts and emotions and to respond to them in a non-judgmental and accepting way. Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) can help individuals learn effective communication skills, manage interpersonal stress, and improve their social support systems.
- Support groups: Joining a support group for women with PMDD can provide a sense of community and validation. It can also be helpful to talk to friends and family members about your condition and how they can support you.
It's important to remember that managing PMDD is a process, and it may take time to find the right combination of strategies that work for you. Being patient and compassionate with yourself is essential as you navigate this condition. You can also talk to your loved ones about PMDD and how it affects you. Educating them about the disorder can help them understand what you're going through and provide you with the support you need.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a real and debilitating disorder that affects many women worldwide. Unfortunately, it is often misunderstood and overlooked, leading to feelings of shame and isolation. It's important to validate the experiences of women with PMDD and provide them with the support and resources they need to manage their symptoms.
If you think you may have PMDD, it's essential to speak with a healthcare provider. A healthcare provider can help determine if you have PMDD and develop a treatment plan that works for you. With the right treatment and support, it is possible to manage the symptoms of PMDD and lead a fulfilling life.