Getting your period can be tough on your mental health. Sadness, frustration, and anger are emotions we typically associate with hormonal fluctuations both before and during menstruation, but what if you also have a mental illness to contend with on top of PMS?
Historically, research on the relationship between menstruation and mental illness has suffered from the effects of stigma. Subjects have been considered “too emotional” in the first place and certain variables, such as race, age, economic demographic, and the presence of outside stressors have failed to be included. Recent data on this topic has been more sensitive to these important factors, although there is still no clear-cut consensus on how hormonal changes can have an effect on pre-existing mental illnesses. This article attempts to deconstruct some of the available data while also offering suggestions for support and self-care.
Exploring the relationship between mental health and menstruation
The relationship between your mental health and your period is determined by several factors, making it tricky to parse in many cases. If appropriate, getting a formal diagnosis is an empowering first step; it provides a framework for treatment options while also giving you an opportunity to become familiar with the ins and outs of the illness. So far, studies have shown there is a definite link between PMS, your period, and the following mental illnesses: bipolar I and II disorder, panic disorder, psychosis, depression, and anxiety disorders. One common denominator researchers seem to agree on is that healthcare providers tend to rely on the diagnosis of premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a serious but relatively rare condition which causes extreme anxiety, depression, and mood fluctuations up to two weeks before menstruation begins. By focusing on the possibility of a PMDD diagnosis, doctors and researchers may actually be ignoring the symptoms of a pre-existing mental illness.
Options for self-care
When it comes to self-care and your own mental health, it’s important to do what’s right and appropriate for your unique set of circumstances. Most of the following suggestions offer physical relief, which may or may not relieve some of the anxieties associated with mental illness. If psychiatric help is warranted or welcomed, check with your mental health provider to get their input on menstruation and mental health.
Meditation or mindful deep breathing
For some individuals, this type of guided breathing can work wonders to ground your thoughts and calm the nervous system—the caveat being that for individuals who are dealing with on-going trauma, PTSD, panic attacks, or psychosis meditation and deep breathing can actually cause a person to dissociate and worsen symptoms (even inducing panic attacks).
Whether you prefer gentle stretching or active poses, yoga can be a good way to relieve physical tension while offering a sensation of control over your body and your mood. Again, be careful with (or avoid altogether) deep breathing and meditation-based yoga if you suffer from any of the above mental health issues.
Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to help with both cramps as well as symptoms of depression or anxiety. There is very limited research on the effect exercise has on mania or hypomania, some individuals find this kind of exercise helpful in terms of actual physical release and the after-effect of tiredness. Other people with bipolar disorder find that this kind of exercise exacerbates their mania or hypomania or even leads to rapid cycling bipolar mania.
Online and in-person resources
Ideally, every person who suffers from a mental illness would have a mental health provider (social worker, therapist, or psychiatrist) who could offer support and guidance on this issue. Like many other countries, mental health services are severely underfunded in Canada and getting help can be both costly and time-consuming. Having support in the form of family or loved ones is important—sometimes just having someone to call or someone to check in on your mental state can be an incredibly powerful coping tool.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada offers a list of Mental Health First Aid resources on their website. Some of the options listed include out-patient services, group therapy, and toll-free hotlines.
Ashley Linkletter is a mental health, food, and nutrition writer based in Vancouver, BC.
Photo by Andrei Lazarev on Unsplash