PMS is one of those universally known acronyms that women (and men) freely use. But what does PMS stand for and what does it truly mean?
PMS is the term used for Pre-Menstrual Syndrome. It's a medically known term that was introduced in the 1930's to describe the symptoms that may arise during the lead up to a woman's period, such as: frustration, anger, sadness, depression, pain, discomfort, headaches, dizziness, clumsiness, sore breasts, swollen breasts... and the list goes on.
How does the menstrual period affect women today?
Women regularly experience physical and emotional symptoms in the week before and during their periods with 84% report feeling bloated and moody, 81% have cramps, 80% feel irritable, 78% are fatigued, 67% experience angry feelings and over half report having ‘severe symptoms’ from heavy bleeding (64%) to ‘really bad cramps’ (63%)[i].
We all experience pain and discomfort differently but when 81% of women say they’ve experienced dysmenorrhea (painful cramps)[ii]., it makes painful cramping appear to be ‘normal’ for women. Even though this cramping occurs because the prostaglandin hormone causes the uterus to cramp, causing the abdomen to spasm, it has to be asked: is it possible to have a period without cramping and other discomforts?
Women tend to put physical discomforts and reactions down to one very simple thing – their period – and that's where they stop.
I have often heard men and women refer to another woman’s behaviour in this way; "What's wrong with her?... Oh, she must have her period" or "Must be that time of the month" – like irritability is a given symptom that everyone should just expect from women. The consensus seems to be that being a woman means we have a period, which means we will have Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) and that's just the way it goes.
Even historically the time before a woman’s period has been [falsely] viewed as a state of hysteria or a regression into an uncontrollable animalistic state. It is definitely a reality that women experience a variety of symptoms and mood swings around this time and they can sometimes be quite disruptive, uncomfortable and even debilitating... this is undeniable.
Whilst being a woman does mean that in most cases we are biologically and physiologically wired to have a menstrual cycle, when we globally accept PMS as a given part of this cycle we lose all consideration for the possibility that we actually have control over what we experience every month.
What's really going on with PMS and why is it such a struggle for so many women? Is this just the way our bodies are designed to be?
What causes PMS?
Let's take a look at the physiology. Medical experts are unclear as to exactly what causes PMS, although it is clear that contributing factors may be hormone imbalances and various vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. This is something to explore with your naturopath or nutritionist. But the fact is, our hormones are always striving for balance... as is the rest of our body. Which means that it’s worth remembering that first and foremost your body is always working with you.
Yep, that's right – your body is on YOUR team.
So, if things aren't quite right, if you find yourself feeling snappy, irritable, clumsy or just downright miserable, then far from working against you, your body is just letting you know something. So Pre Menstrual Syndrome then is simply a way that your body is saying 'come on, let's deal with this imbalance.’ And when we don't listen to our body, somehow the intensity just keeps on building, where before long there is an inevitable explosion of discomfort and possibly even debilitating symptoms for some women and what some would describe as 'crazy days' and just not feeling themselves. Like it or not, this is your body's way of loving you to the core.
But the question is, how does our body get to a physical state of imbalance and is it something that we should just accept and put up with?
The truth is we have more control over Pre-Menstrual Syndrome than we think. As with any illness, disorder or disease, these symptoms don't just appear out of the blue. Our body is smarter than that, it knows what it is doing and it knows what is needed.
So perhaps what we need to do is pay more attention to how we are living in the month leading up to our cycle and to listen to what our body is saying?
Approaching Pre-Menstrual Syndrome by bringing awareness and understanding to the table, along with a decent dose of tender loving care, may be just the recipe for shifting those unforgiving thoughts prior to and including the first day of your period. We may experience some crazy days and some worse than others, but I say, bring it on, let's put a pause on thinking of our periods as bad luck or a curse to be suffered and see what's really going on each and every month we experience Pre Menstrual Syndrome.
We, as women, deserve this. We may even find an age-old ancient truth, a wisdom in the body that defies any idea, concept or medical definition that might try to define us as women. Far from being crazy, our body is with us all the way and like any instrument or tool, its output is only ever the product of our input. Without bias or denial, our body is the most honest tool we have and with every physical, mental or emotional discomfort it is forever ‘reporting back’ to us imbalances that let us know that the way we are ‘living’ ourselves is in some way out of balance and in need of adjustment or correction.
What does PMS stand for? Purposely Made Symptoms!
We simply need to give ourselves the opportunity to really stop, notice and feel our bodies and listen to the many signals that it continually, lovingly, presents to us that about being in or out of the balance we are designed to live well in and from which our menstrual cycle can naturally flow.