Pre-cycle and menstrual cycle symptoms are your body’s stress signals. Learn to identify and listen to what those signals are saying. Only then can you effectively implement corrective adaptive coping strategies, as opposed to the ones that have lead to further dysfunction, pain, and symptoms. Let’s take PMS for example…
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is usually a recurrent (monthly) condition that occurs in the luteal phase (second half) of a woman’s cycle, and is characterized by a number of significant mental, physical, and behavioural changes. These changes are often severe enough to disrupt quality of life and affect one’s normal activities of daily living.
Medscape breaks down PMS into the following categories and its associated symptoms:
PMS-A (anxiety): symptoms include the following
Difficulty sleeping, Tense feelings, Irritability, Clumsiness, Mood swings
PMS-C (craving): symptoms include the following
Headache, Cravings for sweet foods, Cravings for salty foods, Cravings for other types of food
PMS-D (depression): symptoms include the following
Depression, Angry feelings for no reason, Feelings that are easily upset, Poor concentration or memory, Feelings of low self-worth, Violent feelings
PMS-H (hydration): symptoms include the following
Weight gain, Abdominal bloating, Breast tenderness, Swelling of extremities
PMS-O (other): symptoms include the following
Dysmenorrhea (painful periods), Change in bowel habits, Frequent urination, Hot flashes or cold sweats, General aches or pains, Nausea, Acne, Allergic reactions, Upper respiratory tract infections
Reference: Premenstrual Syndrome Clinical Presentation: History, Physical Examination https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/953696-clinical?src=soc_tw_share via @medscape
Sounds like almost every symptom under the sun, right? Pretty miserable, and in my experience women often have symptoms from multiple categories. And that’s just pre-cycle… Although, I have to mention that some women with PMS feel the relief of symptoms when their flow starts.
But what is this saying about your health?
Our hormones interact and function as a team. Hormones are susceptible to many influences so it is important to identify and then address the principle causes of YOUR hormonal disruption to ensure you get to the heart of the problem.
Enter, STRESS and SLEEP. We all understand theimportance of stress and sleep, why it is important to reduce stress, the use of mindfulness or meditation as a tool, and how to make effective sleep hygiene changes for a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, knowing what to do is not the same as doing it. We often make changes only when the consequences of not doing so becomes too painful.
The foundation for optimal hormonal balance.
You might be wondering why the strong emphasis on stress and sleep. There is a highly complex interplay between hormones, sleep patterns, and the central nervous system (CNS) – the extent of which is not completely understood yet. Stress in all its manifestations has an impact on our emotional and physical health. But to what degree? Our stress response is highly individual and everyone has a different optimal level. Do you know your tolerance and capacity for stress? What is happening in the brain when faced with chronic stress, and how does that affect your hormones? How do you build a more robust and resilient system to adapt and mitigate the harmful effects of those stressors? Not surprisingly, it starts with changing our environment via sleep, food, and thoughts.
Each of you is unique and will respond differently to changes in your environment, often due to different underlying hormone irregularities, needs, and adaptive mechanisms. My intention with this information is simple but powerful: empowerment. I want to empower YOU to make the changes that you need to support a healthy, robust and resilient system. What does that look like to you?
Lighter and/or shorter periods
Reduced use of pain-relieving medications
Feeling energetic, focused, and capable
Sleeping more/improved quality of sleep
Feeling refreshed upon waking
Reduced weight fluctuations
Improved digestive function, ie. less bloating
Supportive and loving self-narrative
High functioning, kiss-ass, sick kitty… ready to take on the world and anything it has to throw at her!
Most of you reading this right now are likely well informed, health-conscious, and intelligent. FANTASTIC, RIGHT!? But let me remind you that knowing what to do and doing it are different things entirely. We all know what to do, in theory. We all know that we need to sleep earlier, eat more vegetables, move our bodies, quit smoking, drink less, connect with others, practice meditation or cultivate a mindfulness practice, find a way to manage stress, and so on, while also working and taking care of our families! This is ALOT. And although it is common knowledge that this is what we are supposed to do, knowing what to do is quite trivial. Doing it is hard. I will not pretend to offer a quick fix or to say that this is easy. You know what to do, but you need support. And you are NOT alone. I can be a part of your support team.
Ask yourself right now, how do you make changes stick? How do you put these changes in effect? How do you change your environment to support your goals?
If you don’t take the time to think about these things, then you will not be prepared to make the necessary changes that will support long-lasting results. Not solving these problems now means setting yourself up for failure, set-backs, and complete derailing – the effects of which can be harmful to your physical, mental and emotional health.
My goal is to provide you with a variety of tools and strategies that you need to recover from hormonal dysfunction. By changing your environment to support your stress response, you will be in a better position to optimally manage your pre-cycle symptoms and your period. It is important for all women to feel supported in this process. Sick Kitty represents a movement from a place of helplessness, hopelessness and uncertainly to a place of empowerment around improving women’s health.
Keep in mind that this process takes time. Definitely more than a few days.I want to strongly emphasize this point because it’s important to manage expectations realistically, and to be informed. Many hormone-related concerns require a minimum 1-3 month commitment to see changes, depending on the concern. That isn’t to say that you won’t notice any benefits from starting right now. In fact, you should start riiiiiiight meow. Make the commitment in this very moment. Pause to think about your weakest link: stress or sleep? In my experience, food choices are highly reflective of these two factors. But if your diet is sorely lacking in nutritious whole foods (ie you haven’t eaten a green leafy veg in a few weeks), then that’s a good place to start too.
A few ideas to get you started… Again, nothing that you don’t know, but this is about accountability and making a commitment in this very moment to making one single change today. So take your pick:
1. Sleep. If sleep is your weakest link, then make an effort to think about the barriers to getting a good night’s sleep. Which ones do you have control over? Make a list of positive motivators to getting a good night’s sleep. Right them down. Perhaps you are motivated by negatives, ie, the consequences of not getting a good night’s sleep. That’s ok. Write those out too. Whatever motivates you is absolutely fine. Now, try going to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual, and avoid any blue light exposure for at least an hour (ideally, 3 hours) before bed. Or use blue light-blocking glasses. Also, please download f.lux or similar software. How well do you sleep? Take my quiz to find out your sleep score. Take Quiz.
2. Stress or constant worrying. Easily, the hardest thing to manage, ever. Especially because how we interpret our environment and the stressors within it is so deeply personal and subconscious. People react differently to the same environmental stressors. All of your thoughts, experiences, and beliefs will influence how you interpret and respond to stress. That means past trauma, abuse, or even a constant sense of self disappointment.
In addition, we didn’t evolve in an environment where this level of chronic stimulation was expected. We are pushed to our limits, AND we don’t have the self-care practices in place to manage all of its damaging effects, ie. to support helpful adaptations to those stressors. We adapt, of course, but by becoming overweight, insulin-resistant, tired (or wired), foggy-minded, irritable, anxious, depressed, constantly sick and run-down… I think you get the point.
This is great news for those with an open-mind. A change in perspective is just what your highly sensitive and hyper vigilant nervous system needs. Change your thoughts to change your response to stress. This will not be easy. Be prepared to work on this for the rest of your life. However, it will become easier with time and practice. So, how do we start changing our thoughts? Well, we have to start with learning our triggers. What triggers stress for you? It could be checking emails, Monday mornings, work meetings, a colleague at work. Perhaps you are a new mother. Maybe you just got promoted at work and you feel inadequately prepared for your new role. Or you just lost your job and you’re trying to figure out how to support your family. Stress is all around you, and that is not going to change. The stressor might change, but its presence in your life will not. So we need to learn how to manage our response to stress. That is what meditation and mindfulness is all about. The power of these tools is not to take stress away. When our perception about a stressful stimuli changes so that we interpret it as less alarming, our nervous system responds by becoming less reactive, less fearful, less anxious. This is a beautiful example of how changing our thoughts changes our physiology. Our emotional brains can alter basic regulatory functions in our nervous system. Think about something arousing or scary, and something changes – your heart starts beating faster. That is what I’m talking about! So where do you start? Luckily, there are a ton of really good apps out there to get you started. My recommendation is to sign up for meditation guide “Waking Up” for free for 10 days: https://wakingup.com/. Schedule 5-10 minutes in your calendar today to commit to day 1 of this app designed by Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, philosopher, and best-selling author. Take advantage of the free trial, and please do not dismiss this recommendation. The effects of stress on our physical and emotional health are strongly documented and backed by good science.
3. Nutrition: Just eat 1 cup of any green leafy vegetable today. Lightly steamed, raw, cooked into a food. Choice of food and cooking method should be based on your digestive health, needs and taste 🙂 Sometimes it is easier to add to your diet, rather than restricting. Focus on this change first, make it a habit, then think about adding another cup per day. Nutrients from real whole foods (ie. minimally processed and pulled from the earth), will feed your microbiota, driving important biochemical processes, resulting in better functioning cells! That’s just plain common sense. Again, knowing what to do is easy. Doing it is hard. One small change at a time, please!
Invest in yourself by taking the time to make one small change, today, and then every day here after. Whatever your choice, the most important factor will be follow-through and consistency.
I love this statement: “Don’t underestimate even the smallest leap if it is moving you forward” – Correne Wilkie
Dr. Stefania Tiveron, ND