For many women, experiencing PMS symptoms including low mood and anxiety is all too familiar, with as many as 85% of women in their reproductive years, said to experience at least one symptom of PMS every single month. Some women are not bothered by milder symptoms, however for some, these symptoms are severe enough to affect with their daily functioning and can affect things like their work performance and even their relationships.
There is also more severe form of PMS called PMDD, which can be really debilitating and affects 3-8% of women - including symptoms of depression, feeling hopeless, feeling out of control, lack of interest in activities you would usually enjoy and even suicidal feelings.
During this post, I take a deeper dive into some of the things that can affect mood into the lead up to your period and more importantly, what you can do to help manage it!
Understanding causes of low mood before your period
1. Hormonal fluctuations (specifically low progesterone)
🧠You’ve probably heard that progesterone is crucial for fertility, as it maintains a healthy uterine lining for pregnancy, but it also plays a vital role in regulating mood by stimulating a neurotransmitter called GABA, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation during the latter half of your menstrual cycle. Optimal levels of progesterone can also help us to better deal with stress during this time, help to reduce muscle tension and aid in better sleep.
✨However, there’s a catch…
✅ Our bodies can only produce significant amounts of progesterone after ovulation, which requires regular menstrual cycles to maintain optimal levels. And just to clarify, synthetic 'progestins' in hormonal contraceptive control pills don't yield the same effects, and ovulation is not likely to occur while using them correctly. We also know that women with PMDD are more sensitive to the effects of oestrogen and progesterone.
Symptoms of low progesterone include things like:
· Low libido
· Mood swings and anxiety during the luteal phase (2nd half of your cycle)
· Breast tenderness
· Headaches and migraines
· Irregular cycles
· Short cycles (less than 21 days)
· Mid-cycle spotting
🔎 There are a couple of ways to determine if low progesterone is contributing to your PMS anxiety. First things first, I would always recommend getting some testing done to ensure that it is in fact low progesterone causing your unwanted symptoms. You can request a simple day 21 progesterone test from your GP (though bear in mind this is based on a woman having a 28-day cycle so will need to be adjusted depending on your cycle length).
However, sometimes doing this test alone isn’t enough or can be tricky to test if you have irregular cycles which is why I recommend all my clients track their cycle to see if these symptoms are more prevalent during their luteal phase (more on that below!).
Surprisingly, stress can have a huge impact on your monthly cycle. However, while some stress can be seen as a good thing (such as the stress you might feel during a work interview or a driving test!) but I think it’s important for women to understand that stress can come from a variety of sources. For example, skipping breakfast, exercising too late or being ill can all cause the same stress response in the body. The issue with chronic stress (a consistent sense of feeling pressured and overwhelmed over a long period of time) is that it can reduces serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine which has been linked to anxiety.
From a hormonal point of view, chronic stress can also affect progesterone levels as your body will always prioritise cortisol (the stress hormone) production over progesterone production in times of stress. After all, these hormones are made from the same building blocks!
3) Nutrient deficiencies
Nutrient deficiencies such as Vitamin B6, Essential Fatty Acids such as Omega-3’s and also Magnesium have also been shown to impact PMS and not surprisingly, they all play a crucial role in regulating serotonin! It's therefore no surprise that making a few subtle tweaks to your diet can have a huge impact on PMS anxiety.
💫 Here Are My Top 5 Tips for Managing Hormonal Shifts and Regulating Mood During This Part of Your Cycle:
✏️ Tracking Your Cycle: If you're grappling with anxiety one to two weeks before your period, it could be due to hormonal fluctuations in the luteal phase. Keeping a cycle journal can help you monitor these changes and work out if you’re experiencing these symptoms during the same time every month. When you track your menstrual cycle, you’re more in control of your body and you can avoid period surprises! Cycle tracking also allows you to establish what is normal for you, creating a baseline against which you can monitor changes to symptoms. If you‘re tracking your cycle consistently, when things deviate from your usual cycle, you're more likely to notice and pay attention, and will naturally feel more in control.
🛏️ Prioritise Sleep Quality: Establishing a good sleep routine is SO important for regulating oestrogen and progesterone, which can impact PMS severity, so to ensure you get sufficient sleep, create a bedtime routine that minimises exposure to artificial light and screens at least 1 hour before bed.
☕️ Limit Caffeine Intake: During the luteal phase, consider reducing caffeine consumption, especially in the afternoon. Caffeine can mimic anxiety symptoms and deplete essential nutrients like magnesium, folate, and vitamin B6, which are crucial for hormonal health, mood regulation, and brain health.
🌳 Reduce Stress: We know stress plays havoc with our hormones, so it’s really important to manage it where possible! Whether it’s incorporating gentle restorative exercises such as yoga and Pilates, and spending time outdoors to promote relaxation and manage stress, find a technique that works for you, and do it daily!
🛁 Increase Magnesium: Magnesium is an ESSENTIAL mineral for our overall health as its involved in over 300 enzyme reactions within the body including helping to support with things like energy production and hormonal balance. Epsom salt baths are a simple and relaxing way to help increase the body’s levels of magnesium. I like adding 2 handfuls to a warm bath (not too hot as this can be overstimulating) as well as few drops of lavender essential oil and soak for a minimum of 20 minutes.
Found this post useful?
If you’re experiencing anxiety before your period, please know that you don’t have to face it alone!
That’s why I created my online programme, The Ultimate PMS Solution - a self-paced programme and has been designed to empower you with a deeper understanding of your body and cycle, and how to implement the exact nutrition and lifestyle steps to achieve symptomless cycles, improved mood, vibrant energy, better sleep and more!
For more information on the programme, click here.