It has taken me decades as a menstruating woman to finally understand my severe mood swings with PMS. And to understand that my depressive dips were a result of not this particular incident at work, or that particular relationship conflict, or the fact that I’m just a crazy and emotional woman who has no control over her emotions. But instead, my hormones. For years, I truly thought I was an overly dramatic, emotionally immature, overgrown little girl, when it came to my emotions. And I look back now, over all of those years, and I wonder how much of that was hormone-related.
Granted, I have a strong, bubbly, intense (at times) personality. But, for most days out of the month, I am a stable friend, a wise and trustworthy confidant, a warm and loving woman to my partner and loved ones, and have my head screwed on pretty tightly. I am financially stable, make thoughtful life choices, and pride myself on my own emotional intelligence and awareness. This is the woman I present to the world most of the time. But during just a fraction of every month, hormones really change all that. And I know it sounds like a cop out to some, but it’s really not.
Hormonal shifts during our menstruation cycle are SO powerful, so underestimated, and almost never talked about in any legitimate kind of way. The only way I really discovered this for myself, was because I have always kept a menstrual calendar.
I use an app called My Calendar, but any app or method will do, as long as you keep accurate track every month.
DISCOVERING THE POWER THAT HORMONES HAD OVER MY LIFE
I was away on vacation with my family (one of my most favorite things to do all year) several years ago. And it’s true, I was in the midst of some man/dating drama at the time. But this man/dating drama, although painful and frustrating, would not typically send me into a tailspin of tears on most days of the month. I think he was like taking an extra long time to text me back or something.
I realized I was “posessed” by hormones when I became so emotional in the middle of dinner with my family, that I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom and sob hysterically. And then I actually left the house to go be alone. Anyone who knows me knows that I would never pass up a chance to have dinner with my extended family. So for this reason, I thought to check my menstrual calendar out of curiosity and desperate confusion. And I realized that I was due to get my period in several days. It was a truly profound “aha” moment.
Ever since then, I have been trying to remain lovingly aware of the power that hormones have over my emotions during this fragile time each month. However, the crazy thing about PMS hormonal dips, is that they always hit when I least expect them to. All of a sudden, the world becomes a very dark and hopeless place. And whatever life difficulty I might be having in that moment, becomes this catastrophic dilemma. I then become inconsolably solemn. Only after several hours of swimming in sadness, do I finally think to check my menstrual calendar. And EVERY time I have checked my menstrual calendar while cowering under my raincloud of doom, I have found that it was always several days before my period. Every single time, without fail.
Image obtained here
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Can any other woman relate to this? I have actually found that when I bring it up with other women, it is often dismissed very quickly. I’m not sure if this kind of thing makes women uncomfortable. Or perhaps women don’t want to believe that they might not be in full control of their emotions at all times. I understand the hesitancy to admit that our ovaries have the capability of taking over and violently steering our sacred vessels for hours or days at a time without relinquishing control. I totally get that this concept feels really disempowering after how far we have all come as women.
However, I tend to feel differently about the whole PMS thing. And I truly believe that only once I have understood and accepted something in its authentic entirety, can I then begin to find a solution, and ultimately heal. I have no shame in the fact that my hormones sometimes turn me into a Sobbing Monster Mouse. I certainly can’t help it. It’s just a thing my body does. And if I try to ignore it, Sobbing Monster Mouse just pushes harder.
“Studies have shown that these [hormonal] fluctuations might trigger a drop in serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter and a natural mood stabilizer. Low serotonin is associated with irritability and aggression, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, and other depression-like symptoms. Once the period begins, estrogen and progesterone stabilize and the mood swings resolve right away.”–SheCares
Self-portrait created during hormonal dark times. Mixed media on original photograph. February 2018. © Libby Saylor
I have been trying to lean into my hormones every month for the last year or so, and really try to uncover ways to soothe my PMS emotions, establish some control where there is at first seemingly none, and find some hope that I might be able to improve my hormonal situation eventually.
NEEDLESS RELATIONSHIP TURMOIL
Another reason why I have been very committed to understanding this part about myself, and to seek solutions, is that this hormonal shift really affects my relationship with my partner. So, when it comes to our dynamic every month, I have begun taking steps to at least warn him when I feel all the PMS feels coming on. I am getting pretty good at anticipating them. Or, if I don’t always anticipate them, I can definitely tell the difference between when something is really wrong, and when my hormones are just intensifying a situation that would never stir up this amount of emotion at any other time. Sure enough, at the first sign of this recognition, I double check my menstrual calendar. And every time, it’s like clockwork.
Luckily, he’s very understanding and supportive, although he has his moments of complete confusion, frustration, and insensitivity to the whole thing. But lately, I have been taking to letting him know that I’m hormonal. And I usually ask that he doesn’t tease me (lovingly and playfully teasing me is one of the main ways he expresses his affection, but during this time, I have NO sense of humor for it). I tell him that I’m extra sensitive, and that if I start to get upset, he shouldn’t engage in arguing with me.
LEARNING AS WE GO
Every nasty, ridiculous, dramatic argument about nothing that we have ever had, has been the result of hormones (I looked back and checked!). And I actually know not to trust myself or what I say when I’m in that state, because I’m just oozing raw feelings and am hanging on by a thread to not completely freak out. So, I have asked that he instead just come over and give me a hug or something, knowing that this is what I need to just calm down.
Roy Lichtenstein, Crying Girl
The only other solution that seems to work is for us to avoid each other completely and literally not talk for days, so as not to risk a possibly hormone-base conflict. This is not ideal of either of us, as we do in fact enjoy each other’s company 🙂 So, this “warning plan” is what I have come up with so far, and it has definitely improved things substantially.
It takes a bit of teamwork. It takes me being emotionally aware enough to realize I’m hormonal and PMS-ing, and to gently and lovingly communicate this, even in my state of extreme non-gentle, anti-love-ness. And it takes him to respect my wishes and adjust his behavior accordingly.
It’s true that managing this hormonal roller coaster every month takes support from loved ones, as I mention in one of my seven points below. Speaking of which, let’s get started…
THE 7 WAYS
[I should start by saying that I don’t use any chemical/hormone-based birth control, so I am attempting to find more natural solutions to this issue. No judgement for those women who have found hormone-based bc methods to really help. I know it has saved so many women in so many different ways, and I don’t advocate for or against it. I just happen to not use it myself, so my recommendations are going to come in a more natural form.]
#1. AVOID SUGAR
I am a bonafide sugar addict and self-proclaimed chocaholic. I have to have some kind of chocolate in the house at all times, or I really do freak out. However, I have gone overboard at times. And when that happens, I try to eat little to no sugar for a few weeks, just to level out.
I noticed one month when I was really taking it easy with sugar that my cramps were markedly less intense, if at all detectable. And I had zero emotional episodes. It was unbelievable and a huge game-changer. Up until that point, I had never found relief from any hormone-based, monthly emotional turbulence. But this was an undeniably recognizable shift. Google also seems to agree with me.
“‘If you’re craving sugar, you’re craving it for a reason,’ Somer says. That reason is shifting levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which can also decrease levels of the chemical serotonin in the brain. These changes may affect a woman’s mood and trigger PMS symptoms.”–WebMD
#2. TAKE A DETOX SHOWER
I don’t know about you. But no matter what kind of mood I’m in, whether hormonal or not, a detox shower always makes me feel better. It gets me out of my funk, and gives me a much-needed opportunity to deliberately care for myself and my body. In my DETOX SHOWER article, I discuss in detail how I take a detox shower when I’m trying to overcome exhaustion and emotional negativity.
You may just be feeling like you want to curl up in a ball and hide from the world, I know. However, if you can in these moments, force yourself out of your ball and stumble (carefully) your way into a shower. It really does help.
Current favorite detox shower indulgent product: Herbivore Botanicals Coco Rose Exfoliating Body Scrub by Herbivore Botanicals
#3. GENTLE SELF-TALK
I can feel so ashamed and frustrated with myself when I am riding my hormonal wave of PMS fury and sorrow. Not only do I feel like shit, but I then start to feel like shit about feeling like shit. I feel disempowered and ashamed of my behavior. And feel frustrated that I haven’t yet figured out how to solve this problem. In those moments, when I can stop the negative self-talk, and start saying REALLY gentle things to myself, it can be amazingly transformative and pivot-producing.
The truth is, this may not necessarily be a flaw of mine, or a problem to solve. This might just be nature, and all I can do is try my best to manage it.
Affirmations are amazingly powerful phrases to tell yourself when you are in a negative space of self-hate. Here are some of mine that work best when I am feeling so deeply low:
“Go easy on yourself, you are a good person.”
“You don’t need to worry about taking care of others in this moment, just take care of yourself.”
“It is okay. You are okay.”
“You are lovely and sweet and I’m sorry you are feeling so terrible right now. Just hang in there.”
#4. GET SOME FRESH AIR AND GENTLY MOVE YOUR BODY
Just a note that #3 and #4 often go hand in hand.
When I’m at my lowest, comatose and catatonic on the bed, staring out the window, numbly gazing out at the world, I often gently but deliberately force myself to go outside and get some fresh air.
Please know that this is not about exercise or getting fit. This is just me, but when I push my body when I am PMS-ing and M-ing, I actually feel worse. It makes sense. Think about what is happening to our bodies. The inner lining of one of our major organs is decaying and leaking out of one of our sacred orifices. It’s crazy what happens to our bodies every month. We are draining life blood and we can literally become weak and peaked from this rather transformative molting of our lower selves.
From my walk today when I was PMS-ing hardcore, Wayne, PA
When I go for a PMS/hormone walk, I don’t walk as briskly as I typically do. And I forget about fitness and getting a certain amount of steps in. Instead, I kind of calmly stroll, all the while, continuing to repeat my self-love affirmations.
In general, move slowly when you are in a negative place. Rushing around just stirs up the emotions and creates more of a frenzy. When I am PMS-ing, I make it a point to take twice as much time to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen. Be gentle with everything. Be gentle with your thoughts and your body movements. It really does help.
#5. REACH OUT
This point is important, but it’s also key who you reach out to and how. During this time of volatile and delicate emotions, try to avoid interacting with anyone who typically triggers you or gets your blood boiling. Reach out to loved ones who know you very well, and who you know will be gentle and loving in your time of need.
Hopefully you have people you feel close enough to that you can let them know that you are hormonal and PMS-ing, just so it’s out there in the open and you don’t have to put on a brave face and pretend you’re fine in front of this person. Then just talk about something normal, or let the other person talk and just quietly listen. If you feel the need to vent, go for it. But otherwise, just enjoy a light chat with a person who loves you, and allow their kindness to infiltrate your body and heart.
Making connections with others when you are in a low place is so beneficial, but only if it’s with the right people in the right way.
#6. TRY USING FLOWER ESSENCE REMEDIES
I don’t claim that flower essences are the answer to hormone troubles. However, I have been experimenting with certain remedies over the last sixth months, and I have found that taking a remedy does seem to take the edge off. Again, the dark emotions do not evaporate, but the remedy does seem to dilute the intensity of my negative moods and I can finally begin to breathe a bit of life back into myself.
I recommend trying BACH Star of Bethlehem for neutralizing grief. This is the one that has been my go-to when I’m PMS-ing, and I have had nothing but positive experiences from this one.
#7. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE LITTLE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY AND/OR WRITE A GRATITUDE LIST
I am not suggesting you write a gratitude list because you are ungrateful, no Goddess. And focusing on the little things that make you happy during this difficult time, doesn’t make you selfish or materialistic. This is simply to help you pivot and return to yourself a bit. The little things that make you happy are YOUR little things, and you don’t need to explain them to anyone else. This is another little self-love exercise and it’s a way of putting the focus on yourself, when you are typically used to (and drained from) focusing on others.
From Left to Right, Top to Bottom: 1. I love knitwear and fuzzy sweaters, so when it’s wintertime and I’m hormonal, it makes me feel better to bundle up in a snuggly sweater. 2. I love my beauty products and my beauty regimen, so when I wash my face during hormonal hours, I make sure to take my time and just feel all the sensory yay moments. 3. I just got this Natural Konjac Sponge from milk + honey and it just makes me happy. 4. I love my plants and am so happy that they are still thriving, so when I feel dumpy, I go stand by my plant and talk to it. 5. I love sleeping next to my partner and am grateful every day for my relationship, so sometimes I just like to appreciate our shared sleeping temple.
These are the things I have found to work for me, based on trial and error, and lots and lots of focus and care. I consider my body, and the hormones that rule them, a top priority, and I don’t intend to try to eliminate all the “not perfect” and frustrating things that come along with the body. I just need to work with myself, work with my temple, and try to understand it. Luckily (er, not so luckily), I get to re-examine this topic every month.
I would love to hear what has been working for you, and I would also love to hear if any of my tips have helped you. I truly hope they do!
Solemn-ish, subdued, and hanging in there.
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Featured photo by Intricate Explorer on Unsplash