How I Dealt With PMDD Naturally
Do you have a uterus? Do the days or even weeks leading up to your period feel like an actual nightmare and go beyond what the average woman experiences? If yes, then you might have Pre-Menstural Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD.
There are many resources out there on the Internet about PMDD. But if you're anything like me then you may find it even more valuable to read about someone else's personal account of an issue you're dealing with yourself. So come along for the ride. My article is a bit on the long side, but my hope is that my experience may help you in some way. There are of course many other ways to help ease the symptoms of PMDD, but these are the specific steps I've taken that have helped me dramatically.
What Is PMDD?
Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder has recently been recognized officially as a psychological disorder. If you experience five or more of the first 10 symptoms during two weeks or less leading up to your period, and find that the symptoms prevent or inhibit you from functioning in your day to day activities, then you most likely suffer from this condition. However, as with any health issue it is always important to see your doctor!
- Depressed mood
- Irritable and angry
- Poor concentration
- Easily confused
- Low energy
- Generally feeling out of control
- Food cravings and/or an increased appetite
- Can't sleep or desire to sleep too much
- Sore breasts
- Muscle Pain
When my PMDD was at its worst, several years ago, my personal experiences each month would include crying non-stop for hours until I couldn't open my eyes properly, snapping at my partner and taking things extremely personally, feeling completely hopeless and lost, thoughts of wanting to just end my life because of how I was feeling, not able to concentrate at work, scattered thoughts, and feelings of confusion.
The very good news is that since working on all kinds of aspects of my life associated with my mental and physical health, it often doesn't feel like I have PMDD anymore...and maybe I don't.
When I consulted my doctor in regards to PMDD, she suggested I go on anti-depressants. For someone who has been on medication for her mental state before, the idea of having to deal with the side-effects associated with anti-depressants just made me feel all the more upset.
So I decided I wanted to treat my PMDD "naturally", without medication.
Perhaps for some of you, medication may be necessary and there is absolutely nothing wrong with making that choice. What works for one person may not work for another.
The steps I took to "naturally" treat my PMDD
1. Be Conscious of What You Eat Without Obsessing
I've gone through all kinds of food phases: low carb, high "good fat," no gluten. Yes, it is absolutely important to be conscious of what you eat, but don't let it take away from the joy and quality of your life!
These days I eat vegetarian foods and then mostly vegan during my period. This has has a positive impact on my general health, including my PMDD, because foods like dairy and meat can actually make PMDD and menstrual cramping much worse.
You don't have to go vegan or vegetarian—please don't stress about that. Simply cutting back on meat and dairy will help a lot though. Have fun with trying out vegetarian and vegan foods or cooking them at home. You will find that the range of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes opens up another world of eating and you may find that you don't need to rely on meat and dairy as much.
Through my own experimenting and research, I've created some lists below, which keep in mind the importance of protein, iron, and fibre. These considerations are especially important if you are cutting back on meat and dairy, or taking them out all together.
Eat lots of these:
- All kinds of fruits, especially when in season. The fibre and natural sugars will keep you satisfied and not craving processed sweets. Berries in particular pack a punch with vitamins and feel good nutrients.
- Vegetables, especially beets, sweet potato, spinach, kale, carrots, tomatoes (I know it's a fruit but yeah here it is sorry), cauliflower, capsicum, broccoli, peas, edamame (soy beans)
- Nuts, especially macadamia, cashews, almonds, peanuts.
- Avocados. Yes, I didn't put them in with nuts or fruit because I don't know where they belong! And also, they deserves their own section because they are that good for you. Seriously. They have oodles of good fats in them which are very important for your mental health.
- Chia seeds for protein and fibre.
- Quinoa for protein, iron, fibre and magnesium.
- Hemp seeds for protein and omega fatty acids.
- Brown or wild rice.
- Sauces and flavourings: tamari, pickled vegetables (without added sugar), vinegar, turmeric, ginger, miso paste/soup.
- Goji berries for their high iron content, immune boosting properties and complex carb goodness.
- Beautiful fresh herbs like coriander, basil and thyme.
Eat some of these:
- Wholegrain breads like dark rye, pure wholemeal, or bonus points if you can have either of those as a sourdough.
- Pastas or noodles made with buckwheat or pure wholemeal flour.
- Dried fruits like dates, sultanas, apricots, and mangos.
- Cacao powder.
Eat minimally or cut out if you feel you can:
- Dairy and eggs.
- Coffee and highly caffeinated drinks (these drain your adrenals making you more prone to tiredness, a PMDD symptom).
- Sugary drinks and sodas.
- Anything very high in sugar.
- Fried foods.
- White bread and pasta.
Let's talk about fat.
Don't get roped in to the myth of buying everything labeled as "fat-free," or thinking that lowering your fat intake is a healthy choice. By all means, cut down on "bad" fatty foods like fried donuts, cheesy, meaty, take-away pizzas, fried chicken, and such. But your body actually needs fat to survive! Eating a low-fat diet can also increase the likelihood of experiencing depression. So try increasing the amount of "good" fats you consume, such as avocados, nuts, olive oil, and natural yoghurt.
A few tips:
- Try to replace milk chocolate with dark chocolate that has 60% or more cocoa content. This means you get way more benefits of the cocoa (yes, cocoa is very good for you) and there will be less sugar too.
- I have also found that checking out blogs online which focus on healthy eating and cooking are quite helpful. Better yet, why not try Pinterest? You can search for hundreds of healthy recipes and meal ideas and then pin (bookmark) for later reference. I find that the beautiful photography of all the different food ideas can really keep your motivation going!
- If you eat meat, it is recommended to cut back to 4 meals per week and to keep it lean (of course!).
- Please, please, please still have fun with your food! Splurge a couple of times a week on a meal or treat you enjoy. This is just as important as generally being conscious of what you eat.
- Give all kinds of cuisines a go, you will be surprised about how many healthy and vegetarian options each of these have: Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Lebanese, Turkish, Persian, Italian, Greek, Mexican, Ethiopian . . . you name it, baby.
2. Move That Sweet Body of Yours
We were born to use these bodies we find ourselves in. Sitting all day in chairs and trains and cars is just not natural.
Regular exercise has been scientifically proven to actually reduce symptoms of depression and women who do keep up some kind of exercise routine seem to have less complaints about their monthly cycle. I am living proof of this. When I don't stay active, I absolutely pay for it.
The key here though is to choose an exercise activity you enjoy. Obvious, I know, but it's true! It's also important to not push yourself too hard either, especially if you haven't exercised for a while. Let it build up over a couple of months before doing anything too intense.
Here are some fun exercise ideas:
- brisk walking
- aerobic class (or at home by watching on youtube)
- any kind of dance class like hip hop, jazz ballet, belly dancing (or again you can do this from home by watching youtube videos)
- bush walking
- hula hooping
- turning on music really loud and dancing like a mad woman at home
- "no lights no lycra" dance sessions (do a google search on this!)
- bike riding
- partner dance classes (like rock and roll, swing, salsa....you don't have to take anyone either as there will usually be single people there)
- pole dancing classes
- burlesque dancing classes
- martial arts
- kick boxing
- strength training
- intense gardening, sweeping, vacuuming (for an hour or so)
With a list as long as that, you don't really have much of an excuse, especially considering lots of them are for free. See if you can do an activity like one (or many) of the above at least 2 to 3 times per week.
Also just as importantly, aim to go for a half hour walk every single day. Whether this is part of your commute to work or something you do after dinner.
Even simple things like standing up on your commute to work can all add up. Just think of your body as something to move and use....not drag around.
3. Address Any Psychological Issues
Even though I can be quite bubbly and happy, I'm also a naturally depressive and anxious person at times.
Luckily, I have always been a very introspective person so am constantly taking steps to improve the way I think and react. I've also become my own hero by stopping myself from slipping in to that dark place I used to so often go to.
As with lots of people, I had a very difficult childhood and have also faced incredibly traumatic experiences in my adult life. It's taken many years of therapy, reading, self-inquiry and nights screaming at the moon (yes, that's happened) . . . but I feel that thanks to my commitment to addressing my mental health issues, I have gotten to a much better place and my PMDD has taken the back seat.
I recommend finding a good therapist, someone you feel comfortable with and who provides honest but supportive feedback. This might take a bit of shopping around but it is absolutely worth it. Some countries also provide financial help in covering the costs of seeing a mental health specialist, so don't let money problems hinder your quest.
4. Be Social
Every time I make the effort to see a girlfriend, I feel so fulfilled and happy. There is something very unique about girl-to-girl conversation and interaction. There is a mutual understanding and freedom to talk about how we're feeling without the worry of coming across as "too much."
If you're in a relationship it's especially important to not rely on your partner entirely, be it for social, venting or advice purposes, even if he or she is supportive and doesn't complain. It gives you both some space and independence, as you don't want to be a couple so completely enmeshed that they can't remember who they were before they got together.
In this same vein, it's also important to give your partner the room to socialise with their own friends or spend time recharging on their own.
If you're single, being social is just as important (if not more so). To be able to laugh and cry with people you trust is pure nourishment for the soul.
5. If You're in a Relationship, Be Open About Your PMDD
Does your love know about your PMDD? Have a talk with them if you haven't yet. It's comforting to feel like you aren't alone in this monthly struggle and it will also help your partner feel less hurt or perplexed by your changing moods and frustrations.
It's also important to understand that there may be times when they have their own issues to deal with and can't always be there for you. Don't forget to check in with them and ask how they are. It's easy to get caught up in our symptoms and forget that other people suffer too.
6. Treat Yourself!
This one is easy: Do something at least once a week by yourself that you enjoy! Use this time to reconnect with who you are and put everyone else's needs aside for just an hour or so (or more if possible!).
Activities could include having a massage, going window shopping, visiting an art exhibition, taking a long hot bath, reading a book in a sunny spot in your local park, having a special breakfast/lunch/dinner out at a restaurant (don't be afraid to eat in a cafe or restaurant by yourself!), watch a movie, meditate, bake . . . whatever makes you happy.
7. Last But Not Least, Get Some Shut-Eye
I have a love affair with my bed, that is if I'm in a good phase of sleeping. I love sleep and dreams and feeling all cosy. But sometimes my bed can feel like a rectangle of sadness if my PMDD is playing up and taking away my ability to sleep properly.
Not sleeping properly can make you feel more aggravated, tired (duh), confused, and depressed. See if you can try some of my tips below to avoid this.
- Take a high dose magnesium supplement an hour before you go to bed.
- Avoid television and mobile/computer screens after 9 p.m. as the light emitted from these really mess with your sleep patterns.
- Finish your nightly meal by 7 p.m.
- Be tucked up in bed by 10 p.m., if you can
- When trying to fall asleep, take slow deep breaths, counting backwards with each breath. I start at 60 and count down with each slow exhale. This gives your brain something to concentrate on while relaxing your entire body.
- Wear some comfortable ear plugs. Can I emphasise comfortable? They need to be ones that mold to the shape of your ear canal. Once you put these babies in, you will feel so relaxed by the complete silence. It makes me feel like I'm in a safe little pod with no outside noises to frustrate me!
- Don't have a clock visible! Counting how many hours of sleep you have left will only make you feel more anxious.
I Could Go On . . .
. . . and on about other changes I have been making, but I don't want you to feel bombarded. You will find little things to change along the way too, it all comes naturally when you start altering your life in a positive way.
Be patient with your new lifestyle, as your PMDD won't just disappear instantly (if only). It took a few months of me following through with my above suggestions before I saw a reduction in my monthly symptoms. But as I mentioned earlier, I can now safely say that my PMDD is pretty much in the past. This has however taken a couple of years of shifting, learning, and being aware.
I truly do hope this can help. Sending you oceans of love on your journey.