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PMS Is Real — But It’s Not What You Think

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Both women and men are guilty of it: They blame emotional behavior on a woman’s menstrual cycles, and thereby discount any thoughts or opinions that woman may have. PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is the popular name for a period of female hormonal instability before menstruation. Unfortunately, premenstrual disorders are very real and afflict a surprising number of women. Yet, in popular culture, PMS has become a funny joke, where women lose control of their feelings — and sometimes their bodies — and men are forced to cope with a person who reacts to stresses like a toddler or wild animal.

There has been some debate since the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s concerning the validity of diagnosing premenstrual hormonal shifts as actual mental disorders. Contradicting studies confirm or deny the presence of uncontrolled emotional shifts before a period. This varying research confuses already anxious women, who are told by their culture that their emotions may be invalid. The truth is that premenstrual disorders do exist — just not in every woman and not to the extremes depicted in the media. To be prepared for the next time it’s your time of the month, stock up on important feminine care supplies and learn more about the controversy that is PMS.

Female Emotional Disorders Have a Long History

Humans have been attempting to ascribe mental illness to women’s mood swings since humans first started writing down language — and probably before. Largely called “female hysteria,” this disorder was described myriad times starting back in the second millennium BCE and extending until the psychologists of the mid-20th century argued against its presence in women alone.

The symptoms of hysteria were in constant flux throughout the centuries as the cultural understanding of female sexuality ebbed and flowed. For example, in Ancient Greece, hysteria was diagnosed among virgins who feared and refused to worship the phallus, while in the Middle Ages, hysteria was marked in women who had too much unsated sexual desire. Still, many of the core symptoms of hysteria are eerily similar to those of PMS: passionate, melancholic, evil, and generally insane.

Many unfortunate attempts were made to cure women of their hysteria; however, because the disease wasn’t understood, these treatments were ineffectual if not downright cruel. Some physicians attempted to move the uterus with various tonics, while others inserted objects into the vagina to stimulate a nonexistent gland. Still other physicians blasted women with powerful jets of water.

Female hysteria doesn’t exist, but most physicians agree that premenstrual disorders do — and what’s better is they have viable treatment options.

PMDD Is the Diagnosable Disease

woman hunched over in discomfort on couch

Due to its negative press, psychiatrists have largely abandoned PMS as a diagnosis. In reality, roughly one in three women suffer symptoms of PMS, which include vague and widespread experiences like bloating, weight gain, and headaches. Many physicians now believe that so many women suffer from PMS — roughly one in three — that the diagnosis isn’t valuable to women or medicine.

 Instead, women with irregular or intense premenstrual symptoms suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD is accurately described as a severe case of PMS, where symptoms make a woman unable to complete regular daily tasks or retain social relationships. Symptoms include:

  • Marked anger
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Lack of appetite
  • Changes in sleep
  • Tension throughout body
  • And more

When a woman experiences at least five of those symptoms within a 10 day period, she may be diagnosed with PMDD. Only three to five percent of menstruating women have been diagnosed with PMDD, despite the plethora of unstable women depicted in our culture.

While there is no universal cure for PMDD as each woman experiences the disorder differently, there are various techniques one may employ to mitigate the symptoms. Learning as much as possible about the causes and effects of the disorder will help one react appropriately during a PMDD flare. Additionally, lifestyle changes — like a strict diet and exercise routine —can help diminish symptoms. During the premenstrual period, it can be useful to be as comfortable as possible and avoid triggers that make one upset.

It’s Dangerous to Blame PMS

“Oh, I’m just getting my period,” women say, trying to excuse their weepiness or quick temper, permitting men to make the exact same assumptions any time of the month for any emotional reaction they don’t appreciate. In fact, some men use this excuse at any time during the month, regardless of the current week of the woman’s cycle. This means that a large chunk of women are encouraging men to always disregard their thoughts and emotions.

If a woman does suffer noticeable symptoms of PMS or PMDD, instead of ignoring her feelings, she should discuss them with her friends or family. During the time of a flare, if her emotions do seem out of control, loved ones should be encouraged to ask before assuming that her opinion is the result of her affliction and not her long-held beliefs. With work, women can conquer the incorrect cultural association between the menstrual cycle and insanity, and we can be one step closer toward total equality between the sexes.

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