A Guidebook for Dealing with PMS {Part 4: Tracking Your Cycles}

Today we come to the end of this PMS series. We’ve talked about changing the way we eat, about adding supplements to our lives, and about exercise, breathing, and rest. Now we’re going to talk about tracking our cycles.

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1. Count Those Days, Ladies

For nearly a decade, I charted for both birth control and pregnancy achievement. I tracked my symptoms, including my morning waking temperature and cervical fluid. But after we moved overseas and decided for safety reasons not to have any more children (I tend to hemorrhage really badly at birth), I didn’t think I needed to chart anymore.

It felt like freedom not to have to keep track of symptoms, not to have to remember to take my temperature. So when my PMS got really bad and my husband suggested returning to some form of charting, I resisted. I didn’t want an extra complication in my life. I felt that life was heavy enough without charting. I thought that keeping better track of my cycles sounded like too much of a burden.

Honestly, charting felt like a cross I had to carry. This wasn’t fair, I thought. Why couldn’t my body work the way it used to work, so simply, so easily, without my doing anything to make it run nicely? Why did things have to change and force me to do extra work?

But as Simcha Fisher reminds us in her book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, “A cross is a cross.” (Note: my copy of this book is underlined up and down. Regardless of whether you practice NFP, the wisdom Simcha offers on married sexuality is some of the best I’ve read anywhere.) This might seem like a small thing, but it felt huge to me at the time.

I started keeping better track of my cycles anyway. At first, yes, it seemed so obnoxious. But over time I’ve become accustomed to it again (though I’m not tracking temperature). And somewhere along the lines I realigned my thinking with Fisher’s: “I can see my fertility as a gift that I need help caring for, not as a burden.”

Because I’m keeping track of the days, I now know when to be more prepared for anxiety and OCD symptoms, when to work out harder or more consistently, when to do my breathing exercises, and when to try harder not to yell at my kids for something silly (because I’ll just feel terrible and have to apologize later).

I am not perfect at this, but I am more aware than before. I purposely try to stop myself from overreacting to little things in the second half of my cycle. I also have to be careful just before ovulation, because there’s a hormonal shift that occurs then too. I can become irrational just at ovulation instead of after. It varies from month to month, so I keep watch.

Some days I wake up and am angry at the whole world. Lots of people in specific and lots of people in general. That’s often a wake-up call that PMS is beginning. I try to be aware of when it happens and take my anger and angst less seriously. Thankfully I have a husband who, while taking PMS seriously, doesn’t take my extreme statements too seriously.

Do you remember Steve Martin’s Father of the Bride? I loved that movie as a teenager, and this clip in particular describes irrational, overreacting me at certain times of the month (in addition to making me laugh!).

Here’s some more cycle-related humor. A friend shared this photo, and “stupid fruit time” has become part of our family vernacular.

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But to return to more serious matter, my OB-GYN says this about PMS in the late 30s: “Your hormones will be getting more wacky as your girls hit puberty, so getting the PMS stuff under control NOW will significantly help you when they are going the reverse hormone process in a very few short years.”

This statement was another wake-up call for me. It forced me to consider the way my hormonal issues will impact my daughters, the way their hormonal issues will impact me, and the way all of our combined hormones will impact our family relationships. And if there’s one thing I don’t want to sacrifice on the altar of PMS, it’s family relationships.

So I am committed to feeding myself quality food, supplementing where I need to, exercising and resting regularly, and counting the days of my menstrual cycle.

If you have never kept track of your cycles, you might want to read up on fertility awareness with Toni Weschler’s book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. In it, she explains that not every woman ovulates on Day 14. Some ovulate earlier, some later, and it can change from month to month too. Likewise, the second half of your cycle, the luteal phase, can vary in length.

Although women’s cycle lengths can vary, here is a graphic my OB friend sent me that shows all the differing hormones and changes throughout the month. Weschler’s book has many graphics like this.

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2. Beware Those Blood Sugar Dips

Also called being “hangry,” low blood sugar problems can be exacerbated in the pre-menstrual time. Some mornings I wake up feeling fine, but then I walk into the kitchen to find that someone has used my favorite mug. (But watch out family, because my favorite mug tends to change from month to month.)

Or I walk into the living room to find that someone has left a pile of books right where I want to sit and read and sip decaf out of that favorite mug. Or someone is already awake and making noise or asking me to do something for them, even though they know they’re not supposed to ask yet.

In these moments I try to remember that I need to put something in my mouth before letting rude or thoughtless words slip out of my mouth. There have even been times my husband has said something innocuous to me at the breakfast table, and I’ve wanted to snap back. In those times I try to remember not to respond in the moment but rather to say, “I need to eat something.” He understands this statement implicitly (or impliedly as it were – inside joke between the two of us).

Nearly always, I feel more in control of my emotions after I’ve eaten something. I’m usually not even upset about the offending person or event. And if I still am, I can discuss it more reasonably. So if you get hangry, especially in the mornings, try to be aware of it. Remember: eat before talking. Food before fighting.

The pre-menstrual time may also be the time that you are craving junk food. It’s really better if you don’t give in to that craving. As we talked about before, high-sugar and processed foods do nothing to lift our mood. Unhealthy food actually worsens our blood sugar highs and lows and consequently, worsens our mood swings (except for very dark chocolate – indulge in that one!).

 

3. Watch Your Self-Talk

Now a word about your inner world. Do not believe everything your brain says to you in the week or so before your period! Do not believe that everyone is judging you. Do not believe that everyone is angry with you or rejecting you. Even if they don’t respond to your text right away.

Do not believe that your husband, or your co-worker, or your children, or that your God, are out to get you. That’s the hormones talking, and we do not have to believe them!

Since I’ve implemented the steps I offered in parts 1, 2, and 3, my mood is more stable, but I still have days and even hours when it’s not. I still have to be mindful of what’s going on inside me.

So I’ll echo the encouragement from my OB: “You are NOT ALONE!!” Truly, we are in this together. We are sisters in this messy, fallen, chemically-complicated, tech-driven modern world. That is unfortunately the world we live in. But instead of cursing it, let us choose life rather than death.

I love the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30: “Today I am giving you a choice. You can choose life and success or death and disaster (verse 15, Contemporary English Version).

He continues in verses 19 and 20: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life (NIV).

A year ago when I realized I needed to make a lot of changes in my life, life was truly a disaster. I felt overwhelmed. I was in such a dark place that when I read about various changes I could make, I interpreted the advice as PRESSURE. I could not see it as possibility. I thought it was “pull myself up by my bootstraps” and “cure myself.” Changing, choosing life, felt like one more thing I could not handle.

But now after a year of making small changes, of making slow but steady progress, I feel the promise rather than the pressure. I know that I am not the Healer, but I see the ways in which God invites me to participate in my own healing. I now know that what felt like rock-bottom was actually an invitation from God to be a priest taking better care of my temple.

My mindset has morphed from Jacob’s begrudging “everything is against me” (in Genesis 42:36) into gratitude that I’ve been given this chance to make healthy changes. I am getting better at choosing life.

Together, we can choose life. We can choose what to put in our bodies, how to move our bodies, and what to think and believe, especially during certain days of the month. So resist the temptation to believe you have no control over your PMS. We have so many ways to manage it more effectively.

And remember, on the days when we don’t make good choices, there is grace. We don’t have to “choose life” perfectly. The God of peace is with us and within us. So make the best decisions that you can, and then, dear soul, be at rest.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Here are some of the main sources of information that I relied on over this past year.

Karen Hurd is a nutritionist with a Masters in biochemistry. She explains how to eat for better mental health and offers several free resources. I also rented her PMS seminar.

Dr. Aviva Romm is a midwife and M.D. I purchased her book The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution and also depended heavily on her website. Here’s a post specifically on PMS.

Christa Orrechio is also a nutritionist whose advice I followed. Here’s her post on PMS.

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