Is it possible to relieve some of the PMS symptoms that affect women
every single month, without using tablets and contraceptives?
90% of women have experienced PMS. The intense mood swings and physical cramps can be destructive and debilitating – and yet, a hot water bottle and patience sometimes seem to be the only solutions. Melissa Wright, a 38 year-old writer, who has suffered with it all of her life, has found it to be more than the passing problem that many see it to be.
“I remember in my teens, I’d often find myself crunched up in a ball in the school toilets waiting for the most intense cramps to pass,” she says. “Today I am better at timing the pain, which helps, but I still don’t feel it’s acceptable to take a day off work with PMS, so I just plan for it as best as I can.”
The National Association for Pre-Menstrual Syndrome suggests that Melissa is not alone. Their figures estimate that some 800,000 women in the UK are seriously affected every month. And physical pain is only part of the problem. Beyond the bloating, the cramps, the breast tenderness and the sleep disturbances – the mood changes – brought on by hormonal fluctuations, can swing between manageable irritability and deep sadness and despair.
Maria Shannon, a 42 year-old corporate lawyer, has been affected by these mood changes for years. “I find there is a window of one week post-period, pre-ovulation where I feel normal and balanced,” she says, “but beyond that, and in the ten days before my period, my moods are increasingly unsteady.” It’s a familiar story for many women.
Mental health charity MIND lists PMDD (an extreme form of PMS known as pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder) on its website, arguing that although it is essentially an endocrine (hormonal) disorder, the mental health symptoms that relate to it can be problematic.
One sufferer on the website explains just how problematic it can get. “The best way for me to describe it is that – once a month – I decided to press my own ‘self-destruct’ button and literally let my life (my normally very happy and satisfying life...) implode around me. Then when the dark thoughts lifted and completely cleared, I spent the next 2 weeks trying to pick up the pieces.”
There are many ways that women try to find relief from PMS, including anti-inflammatories and hormonal contraceptives – but, increasingly, alternatives to tablets and painkillers are being explored. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists are even calling for free cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) on the NHS for women who suffer from severe PMS.
Psychotherapist Helena Lewis, agrees that women should seek help when things become overwhelming. “If PMDD is causing mental health to plummet, seeing a therapist is recommended. It may ‘just be PMDD’ but it’s important to ensure that these issues are being managed appropriately.”
Hemp Oil is another alternative that is beginning to make a noise in the wellness space. Gwyneth Paltrow’s natural health site Goop recently ran an interview with psychopharmacology specialist Dr. Julie Holland, who explained how Hemp Oil’s anti-inflammatory properties and calming effects could be helpful to women suffering from PMS symptoms. There are numerous anecdotal reports supporting these claims and Hemp Oil tampons recently grabbed the headlines, thought to ease symptoms by relaxing the muscles in the uterus and ovaries.
Technology is also proving useful, with fertility apps such as Ovia and Clue allowing women to track their symptoms across the month. It’s something that has helped Melissa Wright feel more in control of her PMS. “My app allows me to input various physical and emotion symptoms all through the month – it doesn’t cure anything, of course, but it really helps to establish some sort of a pattern.”
When all else fails, psychotherapist Helena Lewis recommends some basic self-care. “Avoiding stressful situations, as well as caffeine and alcohol will make a huge difference. Increasing exercise is an effective treatment, and calcium supplements are proven to manage PMS.”