Stress and PMS

Being more prone to stress can be part of the premenstrual syndrome

Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
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An introduction to stress and PMS

You may be the most relaxed person in the world or someone who is normally able to cope well despite a stressful job.

But, if PMS makes you more prone to feeling stressed, then every task you face the week before your period becomes a mammoth chore and suddenly, you can’t seem to cope as well a as you usually do.

Feeling under stress makes you more anxious and irritable. It is one of the psychological symptoms of PMS and can test your personal relationships, put a strain on you at work and make normal everyday problems appear overwhelming.

Why does PMS cause stress?

The link between stress and PMS is one which has been the subject of much research over the years and several influential factors have been identified.

Women who suffer PMS have been shown to have higher levels of stress hormones in their blood. This makes you feel less able to cope when giant bears in the form of deadlines or relationship problems come along during this time of the month. Symptoms of anxiety may follow as a result of this mental stress.

All this comes about because the female hormones go ‘out of balance’ in a non-specific way, affecting a variety of body systems.

Of course, we can’t always give hormones all the blame because external factors such as work pressure, illness or financial difficulties can all take their toll. Working out what makes you feel stressed means that you are more likely to be able to tackle the root causes and help you find relief from your symptoms.

What can I do to help my PMS stress?

Lifestyle changes can help. These are:

  • Diet – what you eat affects the way you feel and can have an impact on the level of stress and anxiety experienced. Cut back on alcohol or caffeine and instead, use a coffee substitute or drink relaxing herbal teas containing herbs such as chamomile or peppermint. Make sure that your diet is as natural as possible with fresh ingredients packed with vitamins and minerals. The B group of vitamins, in particular, will help to keep your body and brain healthy, and your stress hormones under control
  • Exercise – not only is this a good way to let off steam, it also releases the ‘happy’ hormone serotonin. This lifts your mood and makes you feel more able to face the challenges before you
  • Relax – this is of course, easier said than done. There is now a wide choice of relaxation techniques available, from deep breathing exercises to yoga and Pilates, and it is likely that you can find one that best suits you. Then, make sure you work some of this into your daily or weekly routine
  • Talk to your friends – just getting something off your chest can have a huge impact on how you feel. People around you are more likely to be sympathetic and tolerant if they understand what you are going through.

How can herbal remedies help?

Many herbs are known to have the ability to help you manage stress levels better. They have become popular because of a relative lack of side effects compared with conventional medicines for the same problem:

  • If stress causes mild symptoms of anxiety, start off with Avena sativa (also known as oats). The stalk and leaves of the oat plant are used medicinally and the oat plant works as a nerve tonic. The oats we commonly refer to in food refer to the seeds (or fruit) of the plant
  • Valerian root extracts are used when symptoms of stress and anxiety are more problematic. It can be found in both stress remedies and remedies to aid sleep. Valerian is usually combined with other herbs such as hops.

The remedies above are intended to treat symptoms of stress specifically. If other symptoms of PMS trouble you as well, you might be better opting for a general PMS remedy. Here, most herbalists will start off with the extract of Agnus castus berries (Chasteberry). It works by influencing the hormones responsible for PMS symptoms and in this way, works on the root of the problem.

What about medicines from my doctor?

If you have not found herbal remedies to be effective, or you are worried about your condition, then seek medical advice.

Conventional medication is usually considered to be a last resort, even by your GP. This is because most prescribed medicines used to treat PMS have unintended side effects. However, your doctor might consider the use of sedatives or anti-depressants to treat specific symptoms if these are severe, or use of the oral contraceptive pill to help to regulate your periods.

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A traditional herbal remedy used to relieve the symptoms of PMS
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