By Susan Reznik
For a few days I've been incredibly tired and so depressed that it feels like my bike is tearing under the asphalt when I'm driving home from work. The weather is too nice for a February day and the alpine glow, which lets the Bernese Oberland mountains shine in a mixture of pink and gold over the roofs of Bern's old town, doesn't lighten my mood either.
I'm sad and also angry at myself that despite all the visible beauty I'm sinking into self-pity. My breasts also feel as if someone had implanted what felt like 20 kilograms of sandbags and anyway everything is just too much.
So I'm writing a text about PMS and, ironically, I'm right in the middle of it myself. PMS, Premenstrual Syndrome. During some months it doesn't affect me at all and during others it seems to pull the rug out from under my feet. A few days later I get my period and with that these conditions go away too.
Not just a little bad mood
In fact, quite a lot of menstruating people are affected by PMS. Almost every woman has experienced PMS symptoms at some point, and approximately 40% experience PMS-related symptoms on a monthly basis. A third feel restricted in everyday life by PMS and in about five percent it even causes a dysphoric disorder, PMDD. This manifests itself in severe mental health problems. Main features of this are anxiety symptoms and strong depressive moods in the second half of the cycle.
PMS occurs in the second half of the cycle, i.e. after ovulation and before menstruation, and can last as little as a few days or as long as two weeks. The symptoms improve with the onset of menstruation. The most common symptoms are: irritability, anxiety, acne, hunger, breast tenderness, fatigue, mood swings, edema, headaches and depressive moods. But PMS is not just PMS. More than 150 different characteristics and symptoms are known under PMS. However, why some women are more affected and others, with the same hormonal situation, less so, still raises questions.
Because spoiler alert: As with most complaints and clinical pictures that only affect the female part of society, PMS has not yet been sufficiently researched and it is not conclusively clear what causes premenstrual syndrome. The most likely theory and the current state of research explain PMS as follows: It is caused by an imbalance in the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone is formed in the second half of the cycle, i.e. before the onset of menstruation. The female cycle is particularly sensitive to its breakdown products.
In addition, familial predisposition, the interaction of progesterone and messenger substances in the brain, stress, nicotine and alcohol consumption, lack of sleep and lack of exercise are other factors that can promote PMS. It has also been found that women particularly affected by PMS have reduced levels of serotonin, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs that increase serotonin sometimes relieve symptoms of PMS. It is assumed that a lack of serotonin is involved in the development of PMS.
So now we know that PMS isn't just a myth. However, as with many issues that explicitly affect only the female body, PMS has not received as much attention in the scientific community until now. According to an article in Die Zeit , until well into the 20th century, the focus of research on menstruation was primarily on childbearing capacity, not on women's well-being.
In the article, the neuropsychologist Beate Ditzen from the University of Heidelberg says that menstruation is actually a stroke of luck for medical research. Because the connection between hormones, behavior and feelings can be examined in a picture-perfect way in the female menstrual cycle. Nevertheless, according to the publication portal “ResearchGate”, there are five times more published studies on erectile dysfunction in men than on premenstrual syndrome. Although these are significantly less common than PMS.
"Calm down, are you on your period?"
Unfortunately, PMS is not taken seriously enough in our society. It's the source of 1000's of jokes and the internet is full of "funny" t-shirts for guys who seem to be struggling with their partner's PMS. While the problems of PMS serve as a joke in our society, it is no fun for those affected. Because PMS is a real problem and can clearly be traced back to biological processes in the female body.
But PMS is always dismissed as something that's just there and that we're supposed to deal with as best we can. "It's just the way it is," we learn very early on. And so we train ourselves to hide the symptoms as well as possible or to push them away with medication. After all, who wants to be the endorsement of a “bitchy, aggressive, PMS trulla” terrorizing those around them, right? - Stop!
You can allow yourself to not feel good sometimes, and most importantly, you can take time for yourself. The calm, the shutting down, paying attention to you and your feelings. We usually don't admit our need for retreat and relaxation or feel guilty if we can't do less on some days. Your feelings are valid and not hysterical nonsense.
Also important: Your thoughts are not you. Believe your intuition, but not all your thoughts. Most people are meanest and hardest on themselves anyway.
You are not alone in this
First the bad news: Our products cannot magic away your PMS either. Even though we have often been in the situation where we craved an elixir that takes away all the tedium of PMS with one sip. But what our products can do : support you as best as possible during this time and alleviate the symptoms.
And the good news is, we can learn to live with PMS. We do this by carefully observing and getting to know our cycle. Pay attention to our body and also allow ourselves the rest before the period. Change the narrative of “it just is” for yourself and listen to your body. You can live with your cycle and above all: you are not alone!