In the days or weeks just before menstruation, it’s common to feel on edge. You know how it goes: One minute you’re content and calm, the next you’re a bundle of nerves.
And just like that, everything (and everyone) becomes a source of anxiety. Am I cut out for this job? Is my partner ignoring me? Do my classmates remember that embarrassing thing I did… in third grade?
Needless to say, there’s nothing like your period’s impending arrival to make you feel uneasy and tense. It’s a hallmark symptom of premenstrual syndrome, better known as PMS. It can also be difficult to understand *why* the heck all of this is happening, especially when you’re knee deep in anxious thoughts.
Let’s look at why you feel more anxious before your period, along with ways to manage it.
From menstruation to mood, hormones control just about everything.
If your body were an orchestra, your hormones would be the conductors. They direct every aspect of the performance, from appetite and metabolism to immunity and fertility. But since hormones often work behind the scenes, it’s easy to overlook their effects. That is, of course, until they let Aunt Flo take the stage to the tune of stress and anxiety.
Specifically, estrogen and progesterone—two female reproductive hormones—are directing this piece.
Here’s what happens: During ovulation (days 14 to 21 of your cycle), one of your ovaries releases an egg. Meanwhile, estrogen and progesterone increase to prepare for pregnancy. You’ll have a lot of mental and physical energy during this time.
Both estrogen and progesterone continue to rise in the first half of your luteal phase (days 22 to 28). But if the egg is unfertilized, your hormones drastically drop. Finally, you start bleeding—and your menstrual cycle begins once again.
This hormonal plunge is behind the psychological symptoms associated with PMS.
That’s because estrogen and progesterone affect the neurotransmitters in your brain, which include:
- Serotonin. Known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter, serotonin regulates your mood. It’s also involved in your sexual behavior, cognitive function, and even your sleep-wake cycle.
- Dopamine. Dopamine controls the feeling of pleasure and reward. It also affects motivation and learning.
- GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid). GABA balances the activity of your brain cells. When GABA pathways are altered, anxiety can develop.
- Glutamate. This neurotransmitter is in charge of cognitive function, like memory and learning.
So, as your estrogen and progesterone rise and fall, these neurotransmitters are thrown for a loop. This can contribute to the mental and emotional symptoms before your period, including heightened levels of anxiety and stress.
A history of anxiety plays a role, too.
If you’re prone to stress in general, PMS could intensify your anxiety levels.
The same goes if you’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It’s important to note, though, that GAD can cause anxiety at any time of the month—not just before your period.
If you think you have GAD, or if PMS is exacerbating your symptoms, talk to a mental health specialist.
Luckily, it’s possible to reduce premenstrual anxiety.
The first step is to pay attention to your emotional and mental health throughout your menstrual cycle. The more you practice awareness, the better you can handle those anxious feelings.
From there, focus on small yet mighty lifestyle habits. Here’s what you can do:
- Stay active. Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce the psychological symptoms of PMS, including anxiety and stress. Bonus: It can also decrease physical PMS symptoms like headaches, bloating, and digestive problems.
- Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can increase anxiety and stress even further. Do your best to prioritize sleep, especially when you’re experiencing PMS.
- Relax. Relaxation methods can work wonders for anxiety. Try meditation, yoga, or simply getting lost in your favorite hobby.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Fuel up on whole foods like veggies, fruits, lean protein, and complex carbs. Limit processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine—all of which can worsen your PMS symptoms.
- Supplement with vitamins and minerals. While you’re at it, focus on vitamins and minerals like vitamin B6, magnesium, and calcium. Our PMS Elixir Multivitamin Supplement makes it easy to get all the essential nutrients necessary for PMS support.
Bottom line: It’s normal to feel anxious before your period. Yet, that doesn’t mean you need to feel overwhelmed by these monthly psychological shifts. Through a regular practice of self-care and mindfulness, you can control your premenstrual anxiety before it controls you.