I spent many years thinking that my ultra-miserable period was just normal — until I finally read a description of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and felt a scary shiver of recognition. PMDD is a condition that afflicts up to 10 percent of menstruating women, but I had never even heard of it before. Put simply, it's the worst possible version of PMS you could possibly imagine. You experience all the good ol' classic premenstrual symptoms, like bloating, cramps, and mood swings, only everything is amplified in such an extreme way that it becomes difficult to carry out your day-to-day life normally.
I was actually thrilled to find out that the symptoms of PMDD described me to a T. Not because it's fun to be diagnosed with a health issue like PMDD, but because it was a relief to know there was an explanation to all the monthly madness. The biggest indicator that I was suffering from this condition was how much the drastic changes in my mood and self-esteem affected my relationships with important people in my life. Every day leading up to my period, I would fall into a scuffle with everyone, from my boyfriend to my co-workers.
If all this sounds familiar, don't worry. Know that there's no need for you to senselessly suffer from this disorder; there are a lot of different treatment methods for PMDD. You can try prescription medication, use a different birth control method, or sample a cocktail of holistic methods. Whatever you choose is entirely up to you and your doctor. However, there is one thing you should do, no matter what you've chosen as your treatment, which will help you manage all your symptoms: track your cycle. Keeping a close eye on how your cycle ebbs and flows, and how you feel from day to day, will allow you to take control of symptoms before they arise, giving you the confidence and information you need to care for your number one (that's you; you're your number one).
Here are five ways you can keep track of your menstrual cycle.
1. Download An App That Lets You Track Your Cycle
The days of marking down when you're menstruating on your paper calendar are long over. What good would technology be if it didn't make our periods easier to track? Now you can download apps on just about every electronic device you own. Kindara is my personal favorite, but there are all sorts of options out there. These programs allow you to enter in which days you bleed and cramp, as well as give you reminders to take your temperature and check your cervix fluids in case you also want to know when you're ovulating.
Knowing where you are in your cycle does you a lot of good when you're face-to-face with PMDD; it can help you feel less like you're merely at the mercy of an unpredictable monster. Instead of being hit all of a sudden with sharp mood swings, you can simply look at your iPhone and see that it's coming up around the corner. This allows you to plan accordingly. Take some time to yourself, schedule a massage, or thin out your social calendar for the next few days.
2. Write Down Every So Often How You're Feeling
I admit, this is just another way to say that you should be journaling. But keeping a diary can do wonders for your health. It reduces stress and anxiety, keeps depressive feelings at bay, and has even been known to relieve symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. It's a habit you don't want to pass up if you're suffering from PMDD, because it can gives you a healthy outlet when you're feeling particularly moody or misunderstood.
Furthermore, if you start to read back on your journal entries and connect them to where you are in your cycle, you can get a good sense of what to expect next month in the week leading up to your period. When I'm feeling totally hopeless and convinced that my life will amount to nothing, I can peek at my journal and see that these feelings are only temporary, and they don't have power over me.
3. Jot Down What You're Eating & Your Level Of Activity
Diet and lifestyle habits play important roles in all shades of our menstrual health. Eating minimal amounts of sugar gives you less inflammation and cramps. Eggs and salmon keep bloating at bay. If you write down what you're eating before and during your period for a few months, you can look back and piece together which foods make you feel worse and which relieve your PMDD symptoms.
The same goes for exercising. If you make notes of how active you are on certain days, you can eventually figure out how much movement gives you the best results. Everyone is different Some women swear by getting sweaty when they're PMSing, while others benefit more from something chill, like restorative yoga. Jot everything down to figure out what you like best.
4. Record How Much Sleep You're Getting
Like a true millennial, you probably love sleep more than life itself and yet don't get enough of it. Let that be your mistake no more, because your PMDD (and PMS) is afraid of a good night's sleep. It fears it. Whether you're an app lover or an old-fashioned gal who writes in her journal, make it a point to record how much sleep, particularly during the hardest time of the month.
Any snoozes you get during the day matter, too. Write down how often you're napping, as well as what time of day and for how long. Naps can be a really useful way to keep your energy levels up and relieve stress, but they're not always done right. They should be short and sweet, and they should be scheduled at a certain time of day. If you're sleeping for too long when the sun's out, at weird hours, naps could actually have the opposite effect on you —instead of energizing you, it could make your depressive symptoms worse.
You'll want to know all this information when you're trying to get a hold of your PMDD. You might find that naps make you feel worse and you should just stick with eight hours of nighttime sleep. But you won't know your preference if you don't keep an account of your sleep patterns over an extended period of time.
5. Bring All Your Notes To Your Doctor
Don't let your hard work go to waste — and definitely don't think it'll be too much information for your doctor. Your OBGYN wants to know what your day-to-day issues are (if they don't, find another one who does) so they can give you the best possible treatment. The more information they have, the easier it will be to decide on medication or suggest daily therapeutic habits that you would never have considered yourself.
I know this all might sound like a homework assignment. If you try not to view it as an obligation, though, tracking your period could possibly become a thing you enjoy doing. The best thing it did for me was remind me that PMDD isn't a frightening force that can't be tamed. It's something you can take control of yourself — and truly believing that is half the battle.
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