Cramps and cravings may be the more famous PMS symptoms, but feeling depressed ahead of your period is also common and can be even more difficult to handle. Many of us have experienced those pre-period days where everything suddenly feels hopeless or overwhelming.
This is normal. But that doesn’t mean you have to just deal with PMS depression each month. There’s a biological reason behind these emotions, as well as ways to get relief from the sadness and physical symptoms that impact our mood.
What causes PMS depression?
The key difference between PMS-related depression and other forms of depression is the cyclical link to your period. Hormonal shifts leading up to menstruation influence the levels of serotonin in your body, which can cause physical and mental changes.
If related to PMS, the symptoms will usually begin every month right after ovulation, which triggers a spike in progesterone and often a mood comedown. The premenstrual depression will likely resolve when you start bleeding. This cycle typically happens in the one to two weeks leading up to your period.
Common signs of PMS depression
There is some overlap between symptoms of PMS and depression — both physical and psychological. These can include fatigue, anxiety, irritability, sadness, forgetfulness, trouble sleeping, headaches, nausea and a decreased interest in sex.
For most people, these are manageable and don’t cause major disruptions to their normal lives. But a significant portion – between 5% and 10% — experience a more intense form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder* (PMDD).
Severity is what differentiates PMDD from PMS. Though you may experience the same symptoms, they will have a much bigger impact on your physical and mental well-being.
Solutions for dealing with PMS depression
Many women experience complete relief from PMS depression once their periods begin, but there are also lifestyle changes you can make to reduce symptoms.
Nutrition is a great place to start. A diet high in whole foods including grains, fruits and vegetables can help you feel better all month long. Watch how much salt, caffeine and alcohol you consume because these can all worsen PMS symptoms. Vitamins formulated for menstrual health are another easy way to support a healthy menstrual cycle overall (and combat cramps to boot).
Exercise is proven to be a mood-booster and helps with physical symptoms as well. Meditation, yoga and breathing exercises can help you reduce stress and get better sleep. If aches and pains have you feeling down, over-the-counter medication may help or you can get natural, targeted relief from cramps with heat patches.
Feelings of depression before your period can range from mild to severe enough that it’s best to seek professional help. If you think you may have PMDD, contact your doctor. Medication such as birth control or antidepressants may be necessary to regulate your hormones. If you are unclear whether your feelings of depression are related to your period, try using a period tracker to follow when the symptoms begin and end to get more insight.