An introduction to irritability and PMS
Irritability is perhaps the most common complaint reported by women in the days leading up to a period and can be part of the premenstrual syndrome.
It is one of the psychological symptoms of PMS and is associated with feelings of being under stress and higher anxiety levels during this time of the month.
Irritability may be manifested in a number of ways, from being a little bit more prickly to a tendency to become angry more easily. In general, these symptoms appear in the two weeks leading up to a period and ease once menstrual bleeding begins.
Feeling irritable can be a difficult symptom to cope with, not only because it tends to make you feel miserable, but also because it affects people around you.
Why does PMS cause irritability?
As with many of the symptoms of PMS, it is not entirely clear why PMS can cause irritability, nor why some women are affected more than others.
What we know now however, is that oestrogen has a major influence on your mental state and mood. Levels of this female hormone fall between time of ovulation and menstruation, taking your mood worth it. This makes you more prone to a variety of psychological symptoms including irritability.
The physical symptoms of PMS such as bloating or headaches can make you feel far from your normal fit and healthy self and these discomforts work to further aggravate your irritability.
What can I do to help myself?
One of the things about feeling irritable is that small problems or negative thoughts can build up to appear a lot more important than they really are. Breaking this train of thought will often help to put things back into perspective.
Instead of snapping at your friend, try taking a deep calming breath and take a step back for a moment to try to think rationally. This requires a bit of practice, but could change your approach each month.
Exercise has often been found to be effective in helping you to find a release from stress, and to clear your head. Endorphins released during exercise also help to raise your mood.
Think about what you are eating. Keeping your blood sugar stable will help to keep your mood stable, so try to eat regular healthy meals, and avoid too much refined sugar. Caffeine and other stimulants are best avoided as they increase irritability.
Are there herbal remedies to help me?
As PMS is at the root of the problem, a solution which works directly to help balance the hormones is usually the first step to take. Extracts of berries from the Agnus castus plant, also known as the Chaste Tree or Chasteberry, have been used traditionally for treating both the physical symptoms of PMS such as menstrual cramps, breast pain and bloating, as well as psychological symptoms such as feeling irritable or moody.
However, this herb will not be suitable for you if you are already taking hormonal treatment, hormonal contraceptives or HRT.
Whilst Agnus castus works at the root of the problem, some women find that more help is needed:
What about medicines from my doctor?
There are no specific medicines that your doctor can recommend for irritability.
If you are feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, sedatives or anti-depressants may be prescribed if symptoms are severe in nature. Most doctors however, will wish to avoid these types of medicines as long as possible because side effects can often outweigh their benefits.
Your doctor may wish to treat PMS itself by suggesting the use of some form of hormonal medication such as the contraceptive pill.
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