Psychology Consultants: On International Women’s Day- 8th March 2018
Women have a monthly ordeal that our male counterparts will never have the distinct displeasure of experiencing. Monthly menstruation can bring with it a long list of unpleasant symptoms like headaches, cramps, frustration and fatigue. But for roughly 5% of the female population, the standard PMS like symptoms are far more debilitating with the luteal phase of menses bringing mood swings, depression, anxiety, insomnia, intense anger and irritability, along with physical symptoms like bloating, fluid retention, headaches and cramping. This is medically known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024721/)
This disorder has been disputed over time, classified as a case of ‘severe’ PMS. However, recent studies (2007) found that women diagnosed with PMDD had variants in oestrogen receptor responsible for regulating mood, lowering serotonin levels, directly linked to sleep and mood. The test confirmed that PMDD is a legitimate endocrine mood disorder with symptoms “surpassing the harshest psychosomatic symptoms of PMS.”
The side effects of this hormone imbalance are a lot to deal with, month in month out, affecting women’s relationships, work, social and family life. Many women, upon realising they have more than “just PMS”, reach out for medical help with treatment typically consisting of anti-depressants and birth control pills, aimed at rebalancing hormones and serotonin levels. Although this may alleviate some of the symptoms of PMDD, there may also be value in cognitive behavioural therapy and non-pharmaceutical treatment like exercise and meditation, as ongoing strategies to cope with symptoms.
Emotional conflict, feelings of being overwhelmed and niggling negative thoughts are commonly experienced when suffering from PMDD and talking to your partner about it is often counterproductive. A psychologist can develop personalised strategies to help women with emotional and mood related struggles at this time, using cognitive behavioural therapy. CBT helps people to recognise unhelpful thought patterns and adopt strategies that empower you to think differently and therefore behave and feel differently. Psychologists can also detect any underlying psychological concerns that may be unrelated symptoms of PMDD. CBT is commonly used to treat sleep difficulties or insomnia which can also be affected during this phase of the month.
Exercise can also form an effective part of a PMDD treatment plan with a wealth of evidence demonstrating the link between aerobic exercise and improved mood. Although there is no official research, anecdotal results show that meditation through art forms like yoga may also help to relieve tension at this time.
If you are struggling with PMDD or PMS symptoms and would like professional help, peruse our team of clinical psychologists here.