I rarely talk about the PMS anxiety and mood swings I used to experience every month just a few years ago. I would honestly sit and wonder how I could live the rest of my life when I was out-of-my-mind miserable 14 days out of every month.
Literally every single month, for the two weeks before my period, I was an emotional wreck.
That was my PMS reality.
I basically wanted to crawl into my bed and hide from the world for the last half of every month.
Worst of all, I hated myself.
I felt like a horrible mom for snapping at my kids. A terrible wife for the angry outbursts toward my husband.
I would hide in my bathroom and cry because I didn’t know why I felt so out of control.
I felt like failure as a woman.
Was it really supposed to be like this?
When I asked that question, deep down I knew the answer was no.
I felt intuitively that I needed to take better care of myself, that my body was crying out for something I wasn’t giving it.
Today I’ve invited Dr. Deborah Epstein (The PMS Doc) back to share some deep insights into the true cause behind PMS mood swings, and simple changes you can start making today that make a real difference in the way you feel during those 1-2 weeks before your period.
I love her advice so much.
It pretty much echoes exactly what I did to turn around my own PMS symptoms and finally put a stop to my PMS mood swings every month. Now I feel so much more in balance and those out-of-control feelings are long gone. It’s a night and day difference.
If you’re struggling with PMS mood swings or anxiety, be sure to read Dr. Deb’s advice below and take notes! I know you’re going to learn some awesome stuff today.
Get Rid of PMS Anxiety and Mood Swings Once and For All
Are Menstrual Mood Swings Real?
If you can believe it, an argument has been raging these last few years, about whether PMS is real or a myth.
If you’re scoffing (cursing?) incredulously, I bet you suffer from PMS anxiety or mood swings, and the very existence of a debate strikes you as nuts.
On the one hand, some experts believe that the medical evidence does not show that the regular variations in women’s hormones cause mood swings. (Which isn’t surprising; trouble occurs when the hormones are out of balance.) They argue that PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) is not a “thing,” and it’s a disservice to women to say it is.
On the other hand, many women argue that it is a disservice to women with PMS, to call PMS a myth, because it invalidates their experience.
Maybe you know you have PMS, and you couldn’t care less what the scientists say, or what they’re arguing about. Perhaps:
- your doctor told you that your menstrual mood swings were all in your head. Did you want to slap her, even though it was only week 2 of your cycle?
- you’re one of the many women who feel irritable, angry, anxious, weepy, or outright depressed, and you tend to get this way predictably for a few days each month.
I, for one, believe you.
Sandra Was Ready to Get Her Uterus Scraped
A couple of years ago, I got a call from a longtime patient I’ll call Sandra, who had moved away and subsequently returned to town. We had previously treated Sandra’s minor fertility challenge with herbs, nutrition, and related naturopathic medical treatment. So, she wanted my opinion as she wrestled with her latest struggle.
Now Sandra had 2 kids. A friend of hers had just recently gotten her uterus “scraped” for excessive menstrual bleeding, and her PMS had also improved. At this point in her life, Sandra was desperate, and practically ready to sign up for the same procedure on the spot. But, she guessed I might have other options, and decided to check in with me before resorting to an invasive procedure.
“Wait, give me 6 months!”
I convinced her to let me give it a shot, first.
Sandra’s periods had always been heavy. But since I’d last seen her, she had also developed pre-menstrual tension, and found herself snapping at her kids in the days before her period was due. This was unusual for Sandra, who is a patient with patience. She felt that on those special days each month, she just could not marshal her usual skills and resources.
Worse, her cycles had become quite short. So, besides the fact that she bled for 7 days, they were only 21 days apart (counting from Day 1 to Day 1). She really only had 2 weeks at a time off her period, and some of those precious few days she found herself uncharacteristically irritable. (Small wonder!)
I understood why Sandra felt desperate. If you happen to be a mom, you’ll know what I mean when I say that we moms spend enough time as it is, agonizing over whether we’re terrible mothers and scarring our children for life. (Hint: you don’t have to be a perfect mom! You only need to be “good enough.”)
So when something fixable (like PMS) is making their kids’ lives harder, moms like Sandra tend to jump into action.
Before I tell you the end to Sandra’s story, let me explain why PMS happens, and why I say it’s fixable, even though your doctor might’ve told you it’s not.
In the 3 Secrets to How to Relieve Period Cramps, we looked at inflammation, hormone balance, and toxicity, as the primary drivers of period pain. And those matter a great deal in this case too.
For mood swings, we want to add another consideration; the involvement of the nervous system. In fact, if your moods get messy, it’s worthwhile keeping track on a calendar (or period tracker app), of both your cycle and your moods.
Are your moods in fact related to your cycle? Do they consistently cause trouble either mid-cycle, pre-menstrually, or while you’re bleeding?
If so, you’re interested in supporting both your hormones and your nervous system. If not, you might be better off focusing your efforts on your nervous system and emotions, without getting distracted by hormones that may be fine.
In addition, the glands of the endocrine (hormone) system itself are also interconnected. In fact, the thyroid, adrenal glands, and ovaries comprise a famous triad. If one of these three is under-functioning, one of the others might over-function to compensate.
Solving PMS Anxiety and Mood Swings: Eat Your Medicine
I rarely make global statements, but here’s one: it’s hard to be healthy without a foundation of high-powered nutrition.
That doesn’t mean that nutrition alone will solve your menstrual mood swings, but it’s essential groundwork. You can’t out-supplement a poor diet. Hop over to the article on relieving menstrual cramps for an introduction to anti-inflammatory, high-powered nutrition.
In particular, it’s important to make sure you’re eating (and absorbing) foods that supply the right raw materials:
- Your body digests proteins down to its building blocks, which are called amino acids. Then it rearranges them and makes neurotransmitters, among other things. It’s like when your kids cannibalize their Lego creations to build something new. In order to create the so-called “feel-good” neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine), you need those building blocks.
- Likewise your body needs healthy fats to make certain hormones, including estrogen and progesterone.
On the flip side, here are the high-impact foods to replace:
- Keep sugar and flours to a minimum, since they contribute little to no nutrition. Rather, they “take up space” on your meal plan that should go to high-powered foods. Instead, eat more good sources of protein, fats, fruits, and vegetables.
- Replace inflammatory oils with healthy fats.
- For some women, caffeine and alcohol can wreak havoc. Consider a 1-month experiment in which you remove them, and experience how that changes your PMS. If that’s too big a step this month, try starting with the one week before you expect your period.
- Some women do better with avoiding dairy. A 1-month experiment could be useful here as well.
And what about those pesky PMS cravings, or that depressed mood that sends you in search of sugar? Cravings are your body’s way of telling you it needs something; they’re just not terribly precise. Cookies and potato chips don’t count as “needs,” so experiment this month: try answering your cravings with deep and rich nutrition. I’d love to hear what happens when you do (so please do comment!).
Solving PMS Anxiety and Mood Swings: Nutrients You Need
You might already eat a rich and nutritious real-food diet, and still have mood swings, or cramps. Unfortunately, a good diet isn’t a guarantee that you’re replete with all the nutrients that are necessary to both build and metabolize all your hormones and neurotransmitters. You might not absorb them effectively, or you might use them up faster than you can eat them.
Nutrients you may need more of could include:
- Vitamin B6, which is especially important for both healthy hormone and neurotransmitter synthesis and metabolism.
- Tip: Oral contraceptives are well-known to deplete vitamins, especially B-6
- B-complex – other B-family vitamins are important for healthy neurotransmitter balance, including B-1, (B-2 and B-3 also play a role), B-5 (especially important for the adrenal glands and stress), B-12, and Folate.
- Vitamin D
- Calcium – do avoid the “carbonate” form (citrate is better and safer)
- Magnesium – well-absorbed forms include citrate, aspartate, glycinate, malate, orotate.
- Tip: a magnesium deficiency can masquerade as sugar or chocolate cravings!
- Vitamin E (especially if your breasts get tender, and for help with premenstrual tension, depression, and insomnia) – be sure to only use natural (not synthetic) forms
- Omega-3 fatty acids – which are both anti-inflammatory and “food” for the nervous system. Be sure to use only top-quality brands that have a clear reputation for safety (avoiding rancidity during processing) and distilling out heavy metals (in the case of fish oil).
- L-Tryptophan – this amino acid is a precursor to the feel-good hormone serotonin, and the sleep-hormone, melatonin (so it’s also great for pre-menstrual insomnia). Note that the conversion pathways rely on sufficient B-6.
Solving PMS Anxiety and Mood Swings: Healing Herbs
Herbs for PMS mood swings could easily become their own article, but let me briefly share a few of my favorites.
For hormone balancing: Angelica sinensis (Dong quai) and Cimicifuga racemosa (black cohosh) have balancing effects on estrogen. I also like Trifolium pratense (red clover blossom); it’s gentler but has the virtue of also being a mild lymphatic circulator and “blood cleanser.” Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste Tree berry) is effective at supporting low progesterone, which is common in PMS.
- Tip: you can read more about these herbs in “Free Yourself from Period Pain – without Drugs” – currently available as a free e-book.
- Tip: cabbage-family vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, arugula, kale, radishes, and more…) as well as flax seeds, are famous for helping balance estrogen metabolism.
A wonderful and well-known herb for mild to moderate depressed mood, is Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort). I find that it helps restore you to your coping resources when you feel “off.” [However, don’t use it if you’re on any medications, including hormonal birth control, without talking to your personal doctor. It can have an impact on how other drugs are metabolized, and they might not work as well. Eek about your birth control pills, right?]
There are so many herbs that are calming when you’re feeling tense or anxious. Some of my favorite reliable and gentle herbs in this category include Verbena (vervain), Scutellaria (skullcap), and the ever-trusty Matricaria (chamomile).
Solving PMS Anxiety and Mood Swings: Healthy Habits
Much like the impossibility of out-supplementing a non-nutritious diet, you can’t out-supplement insufficient self-care. Developing healthy lifestyle habits – even one small new habit at a time helps – is essential for health and balance.
At the top of my list along with real-food nutrition, is getting enough sleep. That’s because healing happens at night, under the influence of growth hormone. Let’s look briefly at sleep, stress, and exercise.
If insomnia affects you premenstrually, Vitex and L-Tryptophan (both discussed above), can be very helpful. For a starting place about more generalized insomnia, read about developing these healthy bedtime habits.
Moods and hormones can swing more widely, when stress is a factor. Improving how we cope with stress is one angle. And for so many of us, taking a look at actually reducing stressors (where there’s even the smallest amount of flexibility), is crucial. Sometimes it turns that what we take for granted as an obligation, isn’t truly an obligation. Could there be stressors in your life that you perceive now as obligations, that may, on close inspection, reveal themselves to be more akin to longstanding habits?
Exercise helps clear estrogen from the body at the end of its life cycle. It also decreases stress-associated neurotransmitters, and increases endorphins (which help you feel good). So give yourself permission to take time for that walk.
The Emotional Angle and Positive Self-Talk
Perhaps because I’m both a naturopathic doctor and a mom, I seem to be temperamentally predisposed to talk a lot about food and nutrition, and worry about your vitamin deficiencies. If you come over to my house, probably I’m going to feed you something. A nice nourishing soup, perhaps.
But I’d be remiss if I only focused on the physical, and neglected the emotional angle.
What sometimes comes out in premenstrual moods, are feelings that are real and just beneath the surface… and the rest of the month we have our behavior under control. But there can be a fine line between appropriately controlled behavior, and suppressed emotion.
If you are suppressing emotions in order to control your behavior, you could be stepping over the helpful side of that line. It may be worth some introspection, some reading, some journaling, or discussion with a therapist.
What if something’s not right in your life, and you’ve been habitually dismissing it as PMS when in fact your PMS is just a messenger? Of course you want to suss that out.
It’s also worth pondering: are there negative messages or shame we have internalized about our cycles in particular, or being a woman in general? Could these be coming out in the form of physical PMS symptoms or emotional lability?
Shifting our perceptions and changing our self-talk are absolutely learnable and immensely valuable skills to develop.
Toxins Causing Trouble
Last, there’s one more notable common denominator between hormones and the nervous system: toxicity.
It’s an unfortunate fact of modern life that we’re living in a world in which toxins are pervasive, especially in the developed world. We seem to have generally accepted loads of toxic chemicals as if this were a reasonable price to pay for convenience.
The 3 organ systems most notably affected by toxins are the endocrine system, the nervous system, and the immune system.
If you have something awry with any of these 3 systems, it’s worthwhile to wonder whether toxins are in the mix. When your menstrual mood swings lead you to suspect 2 out of those 3 systems are out of whack (in this case, both the endocrine and nervous systems), even more so.
But don’t despair. Detoxification strategies that focus on what I like to call a “Real-food Reset,” including judicious use of herbs and nutrients that enhance natural detoxification (rather than just trendy fasts) can help you metabolize toxins that are stored in the body and potentially contributing to your imbalance.
- Tip: If you might be interested in a safe physician-led group-coaching program of this nature, by me, The PMS Doc, just subscribe to my newsletter. I promise to share information as soon as it becomes available.
PMS Mood Swings: Sandra’s Story
So, what happened with Sandra? We addressed the angles outlined in this article, and she started doing much better, with her uterus intact.
- We powered up her nutrition, reducing the inflammation-causing foods that had crept back in.
- We added in hormone-balancing herbs.
- We supplemented with vitamins that support building and metabolizing hormones and neurotransmitters.
- We emphasized strategies around getting herself into bed sooner and sleeping longer.
- When she was ready, we incorporated a Real-Food Reset w/detoxifying herbs and nutrients.
Her periods began to lengthen to a more normal cycle, and the amount of time she felt snippy and outside of her normal control, shortened, within the first several months.
Sandra’s story is still being written, and there’s no true “ending.” We’ve concluded that her mood swings are more than only hormonal, and have recently added herbs and nutrients to support her nervous system as well.
But the most important result has been that she feels like herself again. She’s back to being able to be the mom she wants to be to her kids.
What About You?
So, how you are doing. Are menstrual mood swings real for you? Have you found any techniques for coping with or reducing them? I’d love it if you would be willing to share your story, in the comments section. And if you have any questions, please share those as well; I promise to check back regularly.
Dr. Deborah Epstein, better known as “The PMS Doc” offers affordable group-coaching programs that help women put down the hot-water bottle and the Midol, and learn how to free themselves from period pain. She is in private practice in Seattle, Washington, where she is a licensed naturopathic physician. Her e-book, Free Yourself from Period Pain – Without Drugs, is currently available as a free download.
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