One of my biggest bugaboos when it comes to stereotypes of women is that we become absolute monsters when we’re PMSing. Did your female boss come down a little too hard on you for a mistake you made at the office? She must be PMSing. Is your girlfriend simultaneously freaking out and sobbing over absolutely nothing? Uh oh, she must be about to get her period. Was your best friend’s text reply to you just a little too sharp? Ugh, she needs to start bleeding, already!
Of course, what makes this stereotype most annoying is that it originates from men. So often in society – even in pop culture – periods are viewed as the ultimate in scapegoat paradise, an easy explanation for any behaviour on a woman’s part which is seen as out of the norm. Any anxiety, anger, fits of unabashed emotion are chalked up to the fact that your uterus lining needs to be shed. And the worst part of it all? A lot of times, it’s kinda true.
For as many millenia as women have been menstruating, the process remains one of biology’s more mysterious offerings when it comes to the effects it has on those of us who go through it monthly. Aside from the physical effects – headaches, exhaustion, cramps, etc. – periods can really pack a punch in the emotional department for many. Suddenly we become these creatures of unexplained stress, rage and sadness that are nearly impossible to understand – especially to ourselves.
There’s nothing worse than feeling awful, knowing why you’re feeling awful but being unable to stop it. The week before my period turns me into an absolute nightmare, not only to myself but to those closest to me. I cry at the drop of a hat, I get so stressed that I find myself smoking more cigarettes and sleeping less and worst of all, the other Big P hits: paranoia.
If you don’t generally struggle with paranoia and insecurity, well then, screw you. I kid! You’re lucky. But pre-period, the entire world falls apart for me and my inner train of thought goes something like this: What’s wrong with me? Ugh. I need to lose weight. My hair is a mess. Why do I dress like this? No one likes me. No, not even her. I’m bothering her, she doesn’t want to talk to me, can’t I see that? I’m not loved. Everything is ruined and it’s my fault. I’m wasting my life. I have no talent, I’m a hack and everyone knows it. I need no one to ever speak to me again. I really, really need a hug. Then, inevitably, an hour later or so I’m just fine again.
Charming, right? Of course, even in the midst of this, my normal, logical brain is rolling its eyes at me. Even typing it now – mere hours after having one of these fits – I’m rather horrified. There’s not a single word of the above – besides shedding some pounds, natch – that I believe to be true in my rational state. So why, then, does that feeling take hold so strongly every month, albeit in short (but regular) spells?
Well… no one knows, frankly. While the general belief ties PMS symptoms to everyone’s favourite neurotransmitter serotonin’s interaction with your estrogen and testosterone levels, that theory hasn’t been fully scientifically proven. Many professionals also believe that in the days before your period (get fancy with it: “the luteal phase”), your body’s beta-endorphin levels are radically diminished. To give you a pretty messed up correlation, your body reacts similarly to how it would were you experiencing withdrawal from opiate addiction. Joy!
According to a study by the American Academy of Family Physicians, “More than 200 symptoms have been associated with PMS, but irritability, tension and dysphoria are the most prominent and consistently described.” In addition, the number of women who experience some variation of PMS symptoms monthly? Oh yeah, a staggering 85%. On top of that, an estimated 2-5% of those women struggle with PMDD – PMS’s hell raiser of a big sister which is so severe, many find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Ain’t life grand?
There are, of course, things you can do to try and ease the symptoms: exercise, meditate, make sure you’re drinking enough water and getting enough vitamins and sleep, eat an entire bag of crisps and two bars of chocolate while watching Friends reruns in bed… Okay, maybe not that last part.
Still, knowledge is key. When you begin to notice your patterns of behaviour during these times, you can try to nip them in the bud and talk yourself down from the ledge when they arise – “try” being the operative term, here. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop the feeling. You just have to know that it’ll pass and try not to let it derail you entirely. While the temptation to wallow in all the untrue things your brain tries to convince you of in those moments may be strong, be smart about it.
If you just can’t turn those thoughts off, then turn everything else off – your phone, your laptop, your TV. Let it all out, sure. Scream, cry, listen to depressing music if you must, but remind yourself that you’re doing just that – letting out emotions brought on by hormones, not by truth.
But PMS is still a bitch.