An introduction to anxiety and PMS
Anxiety can be described as an unpleasant reaction of body and mind to stress. It gives rise to a variety of symptoms and may be experienced by women suffering from PMS.
One of the reasons is that women affected by PMS (premenstrual syndrome) are generally less able to cope with stress during the week or so before their menstrual bleed and because of this, are more prone to feeling anxious.
Associated symptoms of anxiety can include being more worried or irritable than usual or feeling low in mood. If anxiety is more severe, a feeling of panic may arise. Typically, anxiety symptoms worsen in the week or so before a period is due and improves once menstrual bleeding starts.
Why does PMS cause anxiety?
The reason why women suffering from PMS become more prone to stress and anxiety is not clear. What we know is that the changing level of the female hormones responsible for PMS make women cope less well psychologically, leading to a variety of emotional symptoms.
In addition, the hormone cortisol which is linked to anxiety, increases rapidly in the days immediately before menstruation starts. This makes it more difficult for you to manage the stresses in your life, making you feel more anxious.
Women troubled by anxiety with PMS generally fall into two groups:
- Symptoms of anxiety may be obvious only in the few days before a menstrual period
- Women who are generally prone to feeling stressed find that PMS exacerbates symptoms of anxiety.
These can be made worse if:
What can I do?
As it is with stress, it is important to develop coping strategies for anxiety. This can be as simple as talking a ten minute walk in the fresh air each day, and for others, dietary changes can be helpful.
It is important that both your body and mind are fit, happy and healthy so that you can cope better when you are faced with problems you have to tackle.
- Diet – eating healthily a few days before your period will not help. You will need to maintain a healthy diet throughout the month as this will keep your digestive system healthy. If your digestion is working well, your brain functions better. This allows you to cope better with stress and experience less anxiety
- Exercise – having moderate amounts of exercise weekly has also been shown to improve mental function. Aside from the scientific evidence, getting into the fresh air can do wonders to help clear our heads, put aside our worries and approach the rest of the day with a much more positive attitude
- Relax – make sure that you take time each day for yourself, either to do nothing or with an activity you enjoy. Taking time-out to relax will benefit your mental wellbeing and allow you to face the day ahead with more energy and positivity
- Make lists – feelings of anxiety are generally made worse if you are disorganised and overwhelmed with niggling tasks and chores. Lists help you order your thoughts, and working through these systematically can help reduce your stress levels. Not feeling harassed also means that you can get through your work and household chores faster and better.
How can herbal remedies help?
Herbal remedies have long been used to help women with the symptoms of PMS.
- If you experience a number of PMS symptoms as well as anxiety, then tackling the root of the problem is likely to be the most effective approach. The herb Agnus castus (Chaste Tree or Chasteberry) has been used for many years as a general remedy to relieve PMS symptoms. It works by influencing and ‘balancing’ the female hormones. You will need to take the herb all through the month and to give it 3 months for its full effect to take place.
- If feelings of stress and anxiety are your main problems, you may also wish to address these aspects specifically. Here you have a choice of several herbs. If your symptoms are mild, start off with Avena sativa, more commonly known as oats. Rather than the seeds which are used in foods such as porridge, it is the oat plant (leaves and stalks) which is used medicinally. It works as a tonic for the nervous system
- Valerian containing products are very popular to help people cope better with general stress and anxiety. It is the root of the plant which is used and this is often combined with other herbs, such as Hops, as found in A.Vogel’s Stress Relief drops
- Lastly, feelings of low mood can sometimes accompany stress and anxiety. If this is your main symptom, it will be worth giving St. John’s wort a trial. Note however, that if you are feeling depressed or suicidal, you should seek the advice of your doctor.
What about medicines from my doctor?
Usually, the first approach by your doctor will be to treat your PMS symptoms in a general way using the oral contraceptive pill which helps by suppressing ovulation and controlling the timing of the menstrual cycle. The combined pill, containing progesterone and oestrogen, appears to be more effective when treating PMS.
The use of anti-anxiety or sedative drugs, or anti-depressants, are usually the last resort. They may be appropriate if symptoms are severe and other forms of treatment have failed to bring about benefits.
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