Can Mindfulness Ease PMS?

Written by Amy Jane Wood

As women, so many of us are challenged by our monthly cycles. The female body ebbs and flows, and each menstrual phase brings with it a unique set of physical and emotional attributes. These changes can create a permanent feeling of flux and give rise to a cascade of emotions – from times of anger and sadness, anxiety and irritability, to elation and optimism, even precipitating conditions such as PMT (Premenstrual Tension), PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) and PMDD (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder). So what can we do to support ourselves each month? Although we may not be able to completely control our hormonal cycles, the good news is we can change our relationship to them -- and that’s where mindfulness comes in.

Mindfulness helps us to reconnect with the body

We can begin by becoming more aware of our bodies and emotions in each moment and start to recognise familiar patterns in our cycle. Charting thoughts, feelings and symptoms in a diary or on an app over the course of a few months can give us a clearer understanding of our behaviour, and patterns may even come to light that we can then begin to pre-empt. In this way, our moods will no longer take us by surprise and we can take more measures to respond to them with acts of self-care and kindness.

Mindfulness offers emotional rescue

So often we respond to unpleasant emotions in the same way that we do to bodily pain -- with dread and resistance. But what if we could look at them with acceptance and curiosity instead? We might find that we see them in an entirely different light, and that they even ease somewhat. Mindfulness is one of the best tools we have to develop this new way of relating with our moods. There is a lovely poem by Rumi, called ‘The Guest House’ where we see emotions passing through as guests -- it’s a helpful analogy to remember when we’re in the throes of low mood, and a useful reminder of how to put our emotions and their impermanence into perspective.

Mindfulness meditation lowers stress levels

Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our hormones, and further aggravate PMS symptoms, especially dysmenorrhea (pain during menstruation). Happily, mindfulness can offer a helping hand here. Study after study has shown that meditation is a powerful antidote to stress, because it works to deactivate the amygdala -- the area of the brain that controls our stress response. By bringing even just 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation to our day, we can keep our cortisol levels in check, which may help to dissipate some of our PMS symptoms.

A key to improving our relationship with our hormonal cycles is being aware of them in the first instance, and then learning to work with and not against them. If we can better anticipate the highs and lows we can do things like structure our schedule in a way that takes advantage of each varying state. For example, scheduling those challenging meetings for the days where we are most likely to feel assertive or using the more reclusive times of the month to focus on tasks involving less interaction with others.

There may also be times when we feel like we can’t get anything done and in those moments mindfulness allow us to bring a quality of self-compassion and self-care to our experience that provides a measure of relief in itself.  With more awareness and respect for our cycles, the subtle shifts in mood will no longer come as a surprise. Instead we can better anticipate our needs and learn to hold each fleeting state of mind more lightly, as we go with the flow.

MEDITATIONS:

Acceptance Meditation

Love Meditation

Mountain Meditation

COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

Mindfulness for the Female Cycle

The Power of Mindful Self-Compassion

8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

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