PMS

  • Can Mindfulness Ease PMS?

     

    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.

     

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  • How Mindfulness Can Help Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)

    PMS

     

    The symptoms of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) can range from mild irritability, bloating and cramps, to acute depression, anxiety, even suicidal feelings. It can make it hard for us to focus at work, and can sometimes cause conflict at home with our loved ones.

     

    We may find ourselves snapping at people, or feeling tearful for no discernible reason. In short, it can make us feel vulnerable, out of control of our emotions, and that we are not really ourselves.

    Due to the complex nature of PMS, mindfulness unfortunately can’t offer a complete ‘cure’. However, it can offer some much-needed comfort and support to help us get through those difficult times, and can be used in conjunction with other remedies and treatments.

     

    Awareness of Your Cycle

     

    Some women find it useful to track their symptoms by keeping a diary. After two or three months, you may start to notice a pattern in your symptoms.

    Having this knowledge of our fluctuating moods means that they won’t take us by surprise so much. It also enables us to deal with them with greater awareness.

    If we discover that our mood worsens in relation to our cycle, we can mindfully watch out for the negative thoughts or beliefs that come with it. Knowing that our emotional symptoms have a physical cause (i.e. ovulation) might help us go a bit easier on ourselves, and rather than beat ourselves up about it, we can do more to be caring towards ourselves.

     

    Communicating Mindfully with Loved Ones

     

    If we become angry or irritable each month, this will affect how we communicate and interact with our partners, friends, family and even work colleagues.

    Mindfulness can help lessen the negative impact that our changing moods or physical discomfort may have on other people, because it can improve our communication. When we are mindful of how we’re feeling, we can express those feelings in a more neutral, considered way.

    Say for example that we tend to find our partner very irritating during PMS – every little thing they do seems to put us on edge. We may become snappy and a bit mean. If we’re not mindful, we could really hurt our partners feelings, or cause arguments.

    Yet, by regularly checking in with ourselves, and asking, ‘How am I feeling right now?’ we can express our feelings more mindfully.

    For example, if we notice that we’re in a bad mood, we could give our partner a heads up: ‘I’ve woken up in a really low mood. I’m doing my best, but I might be a little grouchy today, I’m sorry’.

    Or if we realise that we’ve snapped at them, we can at least acknowledge it and apologise, explaining that we didn’t mean to hurt their feelings, we’re just struggling right now.

    Simply being open, honest and mindful of what’s happening for us can make those difficult emotions easier to cope with. Trying to hide them or deny them will not only make them harder for us to deal with, but we also won’t be as sensitive to other people’s feelings.

     

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    Can’t Sleep?

     

    Our menstrual cycles can play havoc with our sleeping patterns. If we’re finding it hard to get to sleep, mindfulness can help in a few different ways.

    Thinking long term, it may be worth beginning a regular mindfulness meditation practice. Studies have shown that people who meditate daily experience improved sleep. This may be because meditation helps us step out of stress responses (which prevent us from sleeping) and into a more relaxed state.

    Meditation also helps the brain deal with those internal chattering thoughts – the type that can keep us awake at night! Research shows that meditation decreases activity in the ‘me centre’ of the brain – the part that’s responsible for mind wandering and self-referential thoughts (otherwise known as ‘monkey mind’).

    For more immediate comfort (for example, if you’re reading this in the middle of the night because you can’t sleep) some mindful breathing can help calm a racing or stressed-out mind. Each inhalation and exhalation offers a helpful anchor for our attention, rather than going around and around with whatever is going on in our minds.

     

    Mindful Comfort Eating

     

    Many woman experience food cravings in the lead up to, and during, their periods. The foods we usually want to eat at this time are high in sugar, salt, fat or carbohydrates – like chocolate, crisps, or bread. This isn’t really a problem, unless we overdo it.

    What can sometimes happen is that we’ll go overboard on the junk food then feel unwell, or guilty. Feeling guilty or ashamed then makes us feel even worse, and then we’re caught in a vicious cycle.

    Practicing mindful eating can help us enjoy our comfort foods, without overindulging and making ourselves feel even more bloated or depressed as a result. In learning to identify the seven types of hunger, we can first understand the hunger we are experiencing.

    We can then slow down the whole eating process by taking the time to enjoy how our food smells and looks before we begin to eat. Then, as we take the first bite, we can really savour how good it tastes. This way, not only will we get more pleasure from the food, but by slowing down we also become less likely to eat more than we really want to.

     

    Self-Care

     

    Self-care is always a nice thing to do, but when we’re feeling vulnerable, tired or unwell it’s especially important. Otherwise, what we’re likely to do is ignore, ignore, ignore… until things get so bad that we suddenly can’t cope anymore.

    By cultivating an attitude of self-care we can identify our when we need to restore ourselves. In doing so we can give ourselves the attention and care we need to deal with our symptoms as they arise.

    During PMS, our acts of self-care could take many different forms. It could be that we take some time out to rest, arrange to meet a good friend, treat ourselves to a comforting bubble bath or our favourite film, or if our symptoms are particularly difficult we might decide that we need to visit our doctor to talk about medication or hormone supplement options.

    It's also important that we continue to cultivate self-care when our period begins. This might mean cosying up with a hot water bottle, booking a relaxing massage or taking some gentle exercise to ease any pain we might experience. We may even wish to consider the period products we choose to use.

    Ruby, founder of WUKA Period Pants, says;

     

    "It's so important to put yourself first, and listen to your body. It's why we created so many different styles of WUKA period pants: everybody's different and responds differently during their cycle. For example, finding the right fit, flow, style and comfort in a pair of period pants goes a long way. Bleeding freely with no restrictions, mentally and physically, makes a huge difference."

     

    Whatever form it takes, we can consciously act kindly towards ourselves, listening to our needs and taking action accordingly. If we deny or suppress our needs, we become tense and stressed. However, if we show ourselves compassion, this creates a lighter and more spacious mindset for us to deal with our symptoms.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs a regular Mindfulness for the Female Cycle workshop. View our calendar for upcoming dates. 

     

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