The Highly Sensitive Person and PMS
It’s unfortunate that we still don’t know as much as we should about the woman’s body. We’re just starting to talk about endometriosis, we still haven’t found a cure for PMS, and a lot of times when we seek medical help, no matter what our symptoms are, the solution is birth control — which, for most women, come with major side effects. It also takes a series of trial and error before the right birth control is found for our unique, hormonal makeup.
In my experience
I have PMDD. I get irritable, bloated, crampy, and very anxious about a week before my period. Then the day after I get my period, I’m kicking ass again. My energy level goes up, my confidence is back, and I’m back to thinking, “I’m fine! I got life under control!”
Only in recent years have I learned to better manage my mood swings around my period. From the day I first got my period in 6th grade gym class, through college, and for the first several years of working the 9 to 5, I struggled. My symptoms were so severe that I felt helpless, and I had no choice but to surrender to the overwhelming emotions and physical pain.
I knew this was no way to live. It was impacting my relationships, work, and other aspects of my life. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about the science of PMS and the art of PMS. In other words, what’s really going on with our bodies and how we can use our knowledge to make the best of it.
Do I still get moody? Yes! But when I do, I’m able to do some major self-talk and tell myself that it’s my period, but it’s also a time for me to reflect on what’s really bothering me. Because even though my emotions are escalated the days leading up to my period, the feelings I’m feeling — their 100% valid and science proves it.
Now, let’s talk about you
Every woman is different. How severe our mood swings are before our periods and how we manage our fluctuating moods vary. But as I started my journey into building a higher EQ with a focus on the HSP (a highly sensitive person), I knew that I had to get a grip on what was going on with my menstrual cycle, how and when it was impacting my moods, and how I can better manage them.
By understanding our mind and body more, we can use our newfound knowledge to better identify and manage our emotions — even when we’re over-aroused, irritable, and our sensitivity is heightened. Even though it may not feel like it sometimes, the mood swings we feel the days leading up to our period can be controlled, and we can still kick ass, as long as we take care of our bodies and listen to what it’s trying to tell us.
“What I stress with my patients is this: the thoughts and feelings that come up during this phase of your cycle are real; they are genuine. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or underappreciated … or that things are out of balance, chances are it’s all true.”
– Julie Holland, MD
Julie Holland, MD is the author of Moody Bitches. This is not an affiliate pitch — I believe every woman should own a copy of this book (more on that below). With her ability to teach the science of our bodies in layman’s terms while offering straightforward, no bullshit advice on how to better manage our bodies, I started making connections between a woman’s menstrual cycle, the science of an HSP, and emotional intelligence best practices on self-management.
Here is what I learned.
At the beginning of your menstrual cycle, known as the follicular phase, is when the ovary is nurturing a developing egg. Estrogen levels climb and dominate over progesterone levels. The key thing to remember here is that estrogen makes you feel more nurturing and forgiving — which means your tolerance for other people and situations is at an all-time high. You may not realize it, but you could be putting up with a lot of shit during this time in your cycle. Estrogen acts as a stress hormone, so when estrogen is high you’re a pretty easy bitch to be with.
The second half of your cycle, the luteal phase, is the two weeks between when the egg is released and your period begins. Progesterone levels take over and estrogen is no longer dominating. Progesterone sucks because it makes you sluggish and cranky (and it peaks around day 21). As you get closer to your period, estrogen levels drop hard and fast, which means you’re no longer tolerant of what is bugging you as you were at the beginning of your cycle.
When estrogen levels drop, it causes serotonin levels to drop a few days before your period, which is most likely the primary cause for PMS symptoms. Low levels of serotonin are like losing your emotional armor when it comes to dealing with everyday situations. Everything you’ve been tolerant about comes to the forefront, and you’re no longer willing to put up with the world’s shit.
75 percent of women experience PMS. I started to wonder if being an HSP also heightens PMS symptoms for some women; I don’t have the credentials or the facts to prove this is the case. (You could argue that PMDD is tied to being an HSP, but I haven’t dug into this theory yet — if you have insight, reach out!). But just think — if you’re already a sensitive person, it’s no wonder your hyper-awareness peaks during your menstrual cycle. And for the lovely HSP women that I’m close to, we all suffer from PMS that knocks us off our feet.
One important thing to note here — being highly sensitive does not have anything to do with a woman’s menstrual cycle. In fact, 20% of the population that’s considered highly sensitive is split equally between women and men.
The point I’m trying to make here is that women who just so happen to be highly sensitive and also suffer from PMS may experience emotions at a higher intensity.
What do you do if you’re an HSP who also suffers from PMS?
From what I’ve read, here’s what I believe:
If you’re feeling highly irritable, angry, or upset towards work, a friend, your significant other, or any situation or person in your life and those feelings are magnified during the days leading up to your period, you may want to listen closely to what your body is telling you. After all, that’s the gift of being hyper-aware in the first place.
The extremity of how these situations are impacting you emotionally is probably your period talking. But no, the emotion itself is not lying to you — you’re just feeling it at a very intense level. You can look at is as close friend texting you in all caps telling you for the third time to leave your cheating boyfriend. Life you loving best friend, your feelings are just trying to tell you something on megaphone — most likely because you’ve been ignoring them.
It’s true that during stages of our menstrual cycle we tend to be ‘drunk’ on hormones, but at the same time PMS can be reframed and viewed as an emotionally ‘sober’ experience. If your irritability is severe, then evaluate your current situation and get a grasp on how tolerant you’ve been. Mad at your co-worker? Worrying about money? Dissatisfied in your relationship? Chances are — it’s time to give less of yourself and make some changes.
My advice is that you journal your feelings during this time but refrain from taking any action until your period subsides. After your period ends, read what you wrote and think about what changes you can make in the next few weeks, so you feel less irritable. Can you confront your co-worker? Can you start a side hustle or cut back on monthly subscriptions? Can you discuss your dissatisfaction with your significant other? This won’t help the cramps, but it might help with the moodiness and irritability you’re feeling.
Another suggestion is to use an app to track your periods (see my recommendation below!). This will help you further understand why your feelings are more intense than usual, and it will give you better insight into how to manage them.
Again, I am neither a psychologist or a gynecologist, but I am someone who has suffered from severe PMS her whole life and identify as being highly sensitive. Although I still struggle with an “emotional hijack” from time to time (special thanks to all my friends who put up with my venting text sessions), understanding my emotions, tracking my period, and learning to listen to what my body is telling me has significantly changed my life. I might get into a bitchy mood sometimes, I might have to vent once in a while, but I have made better decisions in my life and have been impulsive. Has it taken away PMS for good? No, but I’m more in control of my body and my mind than ever before.
Two resources I highly recommend
This is not an ad. I am recommending these two products because I truly love them.
Moody Bitches by Julie Holland, MD
If you’re looking to manage your emotions during your period, learn from them, and use them to your advantage, I highly recommend the book Moody Bitches by Julie Holland, MD. This book is not sit-down and read the entire thing in one day book, but a great reference book that I believe should be on every woman’s bookshelf. If you’ve ever asked the following questions, you need this book:
- Is the drug my doctor subscribed safe? What is it doing to my body?
- Why am I attracted to certain men/women over others? Why am I more attracted to men during specific periods of my menstrual cycle?
- Am I having enough sex? Too much sex?
- Is it normal to be this bitchy?
Another resource is the Clue app. It’s completely free, user-friendly, and makes it very easy to track your period. I don’t use a lot of apps, but I’ve been using Clue for years. You can track everything such as pain, bloating, sleep, sex drive, and more.
The more you track, the more insight into your menstrual cycle can provide insights and predictions for your menstrual cycle. It’s also a great tool to have handy when you have an appointment with your gyno. You can go over your symptoms and when you experience them each month for a better diagnosis.
There is still so much we don’t know about the women’s body, but that doesn’t mean we have to surrender to our fluctuating hormones. The more we know, the more we can fall in love with our bodies by showing it gratitude and listening to what it has to say. By doing so, you’ll feel more in control of your life, your emotions, and the decisions you make.