Have you ever had one of those weeks where you are just sad and anxious, and you don’t know why, but the minute your period shows up, it’s like an explanation fell on your lap? We’ve been there, too. You probably thought you had depression, but it was just our good friend, PMS (Premenstrual Symptom).
Some of the symptoms of PMS, such as sadness, anxiety, irritability, and mood swings, look a lot like depression, which could cause some confusion. Furthermore, the diagnostic criteria for both PMS and depression are based on reported symptoms, making it subjective and challenging to differentiate between the two. Addressing this issue is crucial to ensure accurate diagnosis and timely mental health support for women.
To clear up this confusion and help us better understand our reproductive and mental health, we spoke to a medical doctor, Dr. Mansour H., who was gracious enough to clarify the issue. She helped us understand the difference between depression and PMS and even gave us some coping techniques to use during menstrual cycles. Let’s get into it!
How do you differentiate between depression and PMS?
According to Dr. Masour, compared to PMS, the symptoms of depression are long-term and debilitating. They severely affect a person’s work and social life. Meanwhile, for PMS, the emotional symptoms are less severe and occur during the menstrual cycle. They also come with physical symptoms like tender breasts, backaches, joint pains, and so on. Therefore, a diagnosis of depression can only be made when the relationship between your menstrual cycle and mood is absent.
However, there is a severe form of PMS that might need medical attention; it is referred to as PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder). The symptoms completely distort daily activities. One is not able to concentrate and experiences intense paranoia, insomnia and much more. Women who suffer from PMDD are often advised to adopt lifestyle changes and are sometimes given drug prescriptions. In chronic cases, if left unattended, PMDD can lead to suicide. Tracking your symptoms before or during a menstrual cycle can help you understand your mental health better. But do remember that only a medical professional can give a diagnosis for depression.
What are the impacts of hormonal fluctuations on mood and mental health?
Dr. Masour says the hormone estrogen is responsible for the mood changes during PMS. This hormone plays a significant role in the sexual and reproductive development of a woman. The male and female bodies have this hormone, but it is produced more in the female body. Estrogen acts on the ovaries, which leads to the release of an egg. It performs other vital functions, such as assisting the “happy hormone” known as serotonin, which influences happiness.
When estrogen is present, serotonin is secreted. It also modifies the effect of serotonin in the brain and prevents serotonin reuptake. This means that when the brain produces serotonin, estrogen prevents it from being taken back up to be metabolised. There is a decline in estrogen in the days leading up to menstruation, and it is dangerously low during menstruation. When estrogen is low, the activity of serotonin is reduced. This is why you may experience sadness and a loss of interest during PMS and menstruation.
The coping mechanisms needed to handle PMS effects on mental health
Here are some of the coping mechanisms Dr. Mansour wants you to take to improve your mental health during PMS.
Engage in relaxation activities
PMS can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to fatigue and exacerbating mood swings. Relaxation techniques, such as gentle yoga before sleep, can enhance sleep quality and contribute to better overall mental health. Engaging in activities like listening to calming music, taking a warm bath, or spending time in nature can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural stress relievers, which can alleviate feelings of anxiety and irritability.
Eat food that is rich in estrogen, especially during menstrual cycles. These foods are fruits, including apples, grapes, pears, and plums, and grains, such as oats, barley, and wheat. Liquids are obtained from plants, specifically coffee, olive oil, tea, and red wine. Nuts and seeds include peanuts, flaxseeds, sunflower, and sesame seeds. These foods can help improve your mood during PMS as they assist in the production of estrogen.
Prioritise good sleep by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a calming bedtime routine, and ensuring your sleep environment is conducive to rest. Quality sleep can positively impact mood and energy levels.
Keep a journal to track your emotions, symptoms, and any patterns you notice. This can help you identify triggers and develop coping strategies that work for you.
In conclusion, navigating the challenges of PMS requires a holistic approach that encompasses physical, emotional, and lifestyle considerations. By incorporating mindful practices, maintaining a balanced diet, and fostering self-care, you can better manage the impact of PMS on your mental well-being.