THE ONCE-A-MONTH BLUES…
BY STEPHANIE BENDER
HOW FAMILIES CAN MANAGE THE MOOD SWINGS
Some women yell–at their kids, at their husbands.. Some close the drapes and hide out, battling despondency, fear, paranoia. Some panic. Some cry.. Some become angry. Some clean obsessively. Some can’t lift a finger.
PMS–Premenstrual Syndrome–is a normal part of the menstrual cycle, but it affects women in varying degrees. Some women experience mild headaches, while others battle their emotions. Medical experts estimate that up to 80 percent of all women have had PMS symptoms at some point, but only 80 percent experience symptoms severe enough to require medical treatment.
In spite of these statistics, much uncertainty surrounds PMS, and medical professionals still do not agree on its cause or treatment. Because of this, many women who suffer from PMS don’t receive appropriate care because a number of physicians, especially those who don’t specialize in the treatment of PMS, aren’t sure how to successfully treat it.
Though its symptoms vary in range and intensity, PMS can be a debilitating affliction, not only for women as individuals, but for families as well. That’s why it’s crucial that both men and women understand what PMS is and how to deal with it practically.
Women need to know that they’re not crazy, that it’s not all in their heads, and that they can do something about PMS. Even more important though, they need to be encouraged not to give up hope, because help is possible for the PMS sufferer and her family,
WHAT IS PMS?
PMS is assumed to be a physical and psychological disorder that occurs regularly, in the same phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle (between ovulation and the onset of menstruation), followed by a symptom-free phase. Common PMS symptoms include fatigue, depression, tension, headaches and mood swings, to name just a few. Symptoms can last from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
Women emotionally stable at any other time of the month often find themselves barely able to cope during PMS. For some, PMS is analogous to being thrown into the middle of a great sea and being left alone to survive. It’s all they can do to tread water and simply breathe.
To truly qualify as PMS, symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with some aspect of daily living. It’s easy to use the term “PMS” as an excuse for unacceptable behavior or a catchall for problems, but not all physical or emotional problems are necessarily caused by PMS. In fact, genuine PMS sufferers experience their symptoms cyclically and repeatedly in directly in direct relationship to their menstrual cycles and do not experience those same symptoms after the onset of menstruation. The pattern is unmistakable.
If you think you (or your spouse) suffers from PMS, the first step is diagnosis. PMS may affect the emotions, but in order to treat it, you need to approach it objectively. In other words, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
The best way to get the facts is by charting your menstrual cycle, along with any physical or psychological symptoms you experience during this time. This may sound laborious and painstaking, but it’s the only way to get an objective representation of your symptoms. By charting your cycle consistently over a period of several months, you may detect an obvious pattern; this pattern will help determine whether PMS is the culprit.
If your ob-gyn diagnoses PMS (hopefully, you are seeing a PMS sensitive physician), you can take practical steps toward gaining control. PMS doesn’t have to be endured; it can be controlled–if you are willing to follow some simple guidelines. These guidelines involve fundamentally changing your diet and exercise habits. Here are the basics:
During PMS times, some women tend to crave quick-energy foods. Sugar is one. However, some believe refined sugar can trigger or intensify PMS symptoms because it actually produces a “high high” along with a corresponding “low low.” The result can be an emotional roller coaster ride that drains both energy and emotions. A diet rich in complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, on the other hand, results in a slower release of sugar into the bloodstream. This provides a more stable blood sugar level, with a corresponding stability in mood and emotion.
Though it’s important to eat the healthiest foods possible throughout your cycle, it’s even more important during PMS. Quite simply, your diet at this time should be as low as possible in caffeine, salt, sugar and alcohol, and high in complex carbohydrates. Vitamin supplements are a good idea as well, but consult a physician or nutritionist about proper doses.
It’s no secret that regular exercise–30 to 45 minutes, three times a week–both energizes and relaxes. Physical exertion gives your body an opportunity to release pent-up tension and anxiety while allowing the brain to produce endorphins that relieve pain and elevate mood. In fact, many medical experts agree that exercise is one of the best treatments. And exercise is free!
By taking charge of your diet and exercise habits, and by keeping a record of these changes over a period of a few months, you may begin to recognize noticeable changes in your PMS symptoms. If symptoms haven’t eased, consult a PMS-sensitive doctor. Keep in mind, however, that there’s no quick fix with PMS. Adjusting your habits and routines requires planning and gentle discipline, but if you’re willing to make the adjustments, you’ll find yourself gradually gaining control of your symptoms.
A FAMILY PROBLEM, TOO.
One husband told me, “PMS has nearly destroyed our marriage. After going through monthly ups and downs, experiencing the emotional wounds, I’m beginning to give up hope that our marriage will ever be what God intended.”
More and more men are aware that PMS is not just a woman’s problem.” it’s their problem too. PMS may be a physiological problem originating in a woman’s body, but its impact is profoundly felt by those closest to her–husbands, children, friends, family. Though statistics aren’t available, some health professionals suspect that PMS is one of the primary contributors to marital breakdown. Common problems and struggles encountered by all couples are often magnified many times when PMS enters the picture.
These struggles may be bad enough in a marriage where the husband understands PMS, is sympathetic, and can provide support. Unfortunately, understanding is not always present. More often than not, men don’t have a clue about what’s going on because PMS has never been explained to them and they have no comparable cyclical alteration of their lifestyle.
“I questioned what was wrong with our marriage,” one husband told me, “but I didn’t know where to turn for help. “Even if men suspect PMS is the source of their pain, they often view it not as something to solve together with their wives, but as something to blame. Sometimes they blame their wives. A vicious cycle of guilt and blame ensues, and the marriage spirals downward.
PMS affects children, too. A moody and unpredictable mother creates insecure, tense or anxious children. Children crave consistency, and when their mom isn’t consistent in her moods or reactions, the children become confused. Sometimes, too, children feel responsible for their mom’s misery, especially if she’s prone to outbursts such as, “You’re driving me crazy!” And, in extreme cases, the mother may go too far and lash out physically at her children.
PMS affects another important relationship–a woman’s relationship to the Lord. Christian women suffering from PMS often experience a profound sense of spiritual shame. They convince themselves that the discord caused by PMS is their fault and begin to tolerate self-condemning thoughts. If only my spiritual walk were stronger. If only I could trust God more. If only…
On and on it goes, and an already low self-esteem plunges deeper into an abyss of feeling unworthy and disgraced.
COMMUNICATION IS THE KEY.
PMS may affect the family, but it doesn’t have to tear it apart. This is where communication becomes so important. Women need to learn how to communicate their physical and emotional needs to their husbands, preferably during a time when they’re not experiencing PMS. Husbands, too, should be open about their feelings and let their wives know how PMS is affecting them.
Communication may involve devising strategies that enable couples to work together. If finances permit, a Couple might choose to arrange for a house-cleaning service or baby-sitter during the wife’s PMS. If not, everyone in the family can pitch in and help with household chores. And it’s always a good idea to establish a strong network of support–close friends or family members-who are willing to step in and give a hand. These strategies should be worked out before a woman’s PMS sets in, so the added stress of decision-making isn’t foisted upon her during that time.
When communicating to children about PMS, it’s important to be positive. Reassure them that they’re loved and accepted, even when your balance is off kilter. Let them know that you’re going to be okay and, most of all, that they’re not the source of your problems.
Finally, Christian women don’t need to be weighted down by guilt or shame. God knows us exactly as we are. He understands our anxieties and our fluctuating emotions, and He does not condemn us for them. Keep that in mind if you find yourself struggling spiritually.
In Romans 8:35 the question is asked, “What shall separate us from the love of Christ?” The answer, of course, is nothing because “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.”
Probably the best thing you can do for yourself during PMS is simply believe. Believe that in spite of how bad you feel, in spite of your imagined sense of unworthiness, God still loves you. If nothing else, PMS can become a vibrant example of what Christianity is all about–“the just shall live by faith.” And even during your worst moments, you can choose to believe that nothing shall be able to separate you from the love of God, Not even PMS.
OTHER SYMPTOMS RELATED TO PMS
loss of control weight gain
sudden mood swings acne
emotional over-responsiveness migraines
unexplained crying sweating
decreased concentration joint and muscle pain
withdrawal changes in sensitivity to sex drive
food cravings nightmares
suicidal thoughts seizures
HUSBANDS AND PMS
“I have bad days, but I just pull myself out of them,” men often complain. “Why can’t she do the same?”
Sounds a bit like Professor Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady”–“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” The fact is, with PMS, it’s not a matter of willpower. Many women who experience PMS are strong-willed, capable individuals who just happen to experience severe symptoms. No matter how hard they try, they simply can’t make up their minds not to have PMS.
That’s not to say they can’t manage their PMS. They can. But in the meantime, there are some things men can do to assist their wives as they recover. Here are some suggestions.
Get informed. Find out as much as you can about PMS. Accompany your wife to her medical appointments; ask questions; read the literature. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to participate in helping her gain control.
Be supportive. Learn what kind of support your wife needs; it’s different for every woman. Accompany your wife on a walk or jog; give her a break from household duties; or whip up a snack (healthy!) and invite her to join you.
Be objective. Don’t take mood swings personally–this only complicates the situation. Recognize that PMS is a normal part of a woman’s life and treat it as such. When you discuss emotions of feelings, don’t blame or accuse. Simply express your thoughts and feelings. No doubt she’ll appreciate your openness and respond positively.
Stephanie Bender, M.A. (in Clinical Psychology, lives in Boulder, Colo., where she is director of Full Circle Women’s Health, a clinic offering counseling for women suffering from problems associated with PMS, postpartum depression and menopause. If you would like a packet of free information, call toll free, (800) 418-4040. She was assisted in this article by Elaine Minamide of Escondido, Calif. While the clinic has successfully treated thousands of women, Stephanie Bender is not a medical doctor, and any medical questions should be directed to your physician.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY FOCUS ON THE FAMILY, MAY 1996, PAGES 10-12. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.