Your PMS Survival Guide—11 Ways to Ease the Misery
PMS means cramps, cravings, mood swings, and even migraines for 20 to 50 percent of women of childbearing age. Here's how to feel better fast.
Change an irritable attitude by clearing your calendar
Feeling like you could snap at anyone at a moment’s notice is a classic symptom of PMS. “In my practice, this is the most common symptom women report,” says gynecologist Barb Depree, MD, of Lakeshore Health Partners in Zeeland, Michigan. “Charting your period and preparing for the PMS days can be a lifesaver,” she says. That means don’t overschedule yourself (here’s how to say no to annoying requests), even consider postponing important decisions until later in the week. Not only will you avoid potential conflict, but the self-nurturing will boost your mood. It’s a way of cycle syncing, or working with your cycle.
Reduce PMS discomfort with exercise
“Exercise will help every single PMS symptom,” says Dr. Depree, particularly cardio. In one 2013 study, young women who did 60 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week for two months experienced fewer PMS symptoms across the board. As a PMS treatment, exercise may help balance estrogen and progesterone and decrease hormone-like substances linked to pain and PMS cramps. Dr. Depree recommends her patients step it up a bit more and exercise 45 minutes five days a week during the week leading up to their period. That should include higher intensity bouts to raise your heart rate, if possible. And, of course, exercising consistently during the rest of the month will help buffer symptoms too, she says. (These gym hacks will make your sweat session less of a chore.)
Be vigilant against colds and flu
“During this time, your immune system seems to be more vulnerable, particularly if you have premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD, a more severe form of PMS,” says Dr. Depree. The number-one way to safeguard yourself from illness is to wash your hands. Do it right—for 20 seconds under running water with soap—and frequently. And try to avoid touching these everyday items that are germier than a toilet seat.
Lift your mood with self care
The severity of PMS symptoms can be related to the stressors in your life. So do whatever you need to do to de-stress, whether that’s reading, deep breathing, or chatting with a friend, advises Joanne Kakaty-Monzo, DO, clinical associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Make sure you put fun stuff in your life, and fill your life with positive, uplifting friends and family,” she says.
Limit alcohol consumption to keep your emotions balanced
Sometimes when you don’t feel great, you reach for a glass of vino expecting to feel better. But when you’re struggling during this time of the month, alcohol does the exact opposite, making PMS symptoms worse, says Dr. Kakaty-Monzo. For a better PMS treatment, make yourself a fun (low-sugar!) mocktail to sip instead.
Use yoga to relieve menstrual cramping
Just say “om.” In a 2016 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, women who took 12 weeks of yoga classes reported less cramping and needed less pain-relieving medication to reduce those cramps. They also reported greater energy and better moods, to boot. It may be yoga’s ability to put you more in touch with your body sensations—and, oddly, accept pain—that helped the participants feel better, say researchers. Try this blissfully short 10-minute yoga workout.
Eat this breakfast to lower PMS risk
Skip the cold cereal and serve up an egg atop a whole grain English muffin instead. The combo offers a good source of two key B vitamins: riboflavin (B2) and thiamin (B1), which have been shown in an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study to reduce risk of premenstrual syndrome by 35 percent. These B vitamins may help make neurotransmitters that are major players in your mood. Other good sources of B vitamins include mushrooms and roasted almonds (B2) and black beans and acorn squash (B1). These signs suggest you could be running low on B12, an important but often overlooked vitamin.
Load up on vitamin D to decrease breast tenderness
The sunshine vitamin can address specific PMS symptoms, reports a study in 2014 in the journal BMC Women’s Health. Higher blood levels of vitamin D were associated with 21 percent less breast tenderness and 19 percent lower odds of depression. D may help regulate specific hormonal systems that affect blood pressure and can affect bloating and painful breasts, for instance. The National Institutes of Health recommends women get 600 IU daily, and good dietary sources are fatty fish like salmon and tuna. Pay attention to the signs that you need to bone up on vitamin D.
Get a little mindful to decrease depression during PMS
Having anxiety increases your risk for suffering from premenstrual syndrome. That’s why it pays to slow down a bit. Women who used a technique called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for eight weeks, which teaches you to accept negative thoughts and respond to them calmly and constructively, experienced less depression and anxiety compared to a control group, per research in 2016. To learn more about MBCT, the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School is a great place to start. These other lifestyle changes can also help lift a black cloud.
Consider going on birth control
Your doctor may suggest you go on a hormonal birth control pill to help manage a range of PMS symptoms. “Because we know the cause of PMS is hormone fluctuations, the pill will shut down ovarian hormone production,” avoiding these peaks and valleys, says Dr. Depree. Because the pill is most effective at keeping hormone levels steady when it’s taken continuously, Dr. Depree has her patients skip the placebo pills.
Try a diuretic for PMS bloating
One accidental bump of your boob and you’re in pain central. Or perhaps fitting into your skinniest jeans will so not happen. To treat such PMS symptoms as breast tenderness and water retention, ask your doc for a low-dose diuretic like spironolactone. This medication helps your kidneys flush sodium from the body, which boosts levels of potassium, a nutrient known to ease PMS symptoms. (Try eating these potassium-rich foods too.) You’ll typically take these a few days out of the month when symptoms are at their worst. Breathe easy: You’ll be zippering them back up in no time.