Emotional carnage – and the other things left in the path of PMS

Image“Why am I writing a post on PMS?”

I had to ask myself this before going through with it. Maybe I’m tired of it being used as the butt of jokes, or the panacea to account for my outbursts, every time, all the time.

“She must be PMSing.”

Sorry guys. It’s not an excuse. It’s not a disease. It’s part of being a woman. We know guys don’t like it, but guess what? Neither do we. This is a post of camaraderie. PMS bonding. To let women out there know that they’re not alone in their desire to spend the day crying, to yell at someone for breathing loudly, and to wonder whether eating all three rows of chocolate chip cookies is a bit much.

But while cramps, bloating, and acne will often leave women wanting to curl up on their couch for a week each month (I REFUSE, capital letters, underline, to weigh myself during this week), the physical impact of Premenstrual Syndrome is not as painful, grim, or anxiety-provoking as its emotional one. When there are websites dedicated entirely to taking a light-hearted look at PMS (jokes and quizzes included), it’s an attempt to find humor, camaraderie, anything – to help add meaning to an often misunderstood and chaotic time in women’s lives.

We conducted a study at Queendom.com in an attempt to understand the aspects of PMS that tend to be the most problematic for women. PMS and PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, a more severe and debilitating form of Premenstrual Syndrome) are not officially part of the DSM-IV, the diagnostic manual of psychological disorders. Yet, for many women, it’s the emotional fluctuations in mood and thinking that tend to cause the most difficulties. Assessing various symptoms and their level of severity, our analysis of nearly 2000 women reveals that:

  • Emotional symptoms tend to be the most difficult to deal with, with an average score of 51 (on a scale from 0 to 100). Anger/Irritability is the biggest problem (score of 56), followed by Impulsivity (52), Anxiety (48), and Sadness (47).
  • Cognitive Symptoms, with an average score of 49, also cause problems for many women, particularly Exaggerating Thinking (51) and Attention/Concentration Difficulties (47).
  • The Physical Symptoms (average score of 36) that have the most notable impact include Fatigue and Sleep Problems (59), Cramps (55), and Increased food intake/cravings (51).
  • Women of all ages agreed that fatigue, cramps, anger, impulsivity, and exaggerated thinking were the most problematic symptoms, but women over 25 were more likely to eat more and to crave unhealthy food when dealing with PMS.

Now, initially, it seems like the level of severity, as reflected in the average scores, is not all that problematic. However, when we started to dig deeper and analyze women’s responses to individual questions, we started to see a different picture. For example, only 20% of women rated their overall PMS symptoms as mild; 47% rated them as moderate. There is, however, another 33% of women who rated their experience as severe – that’s one third of our sample whose symptoms are so bad that it affects their life to a debilitating degree. And when we analyzed which area of women’s lives is most impacted by PMS, it was relationships that came out on top. In addition, 8% of women admitted that they’ve had a relationship end due to their difficulties with PMS, and another 12% said that while it wasn’t the only cause of conflict, it was a contributing factor in a break-up. This is notable.

Our study on PMS also reveals that:

  • 44% of women rated their emotional symptoms (anger, irritability, sadness, anxiety, etc.) as severe, 38% as moderate, 18 as mild.
  • 19% have consulted a medical or mental health professional for help on dealing with PMS symptoms; 27% are considering it, and 2% have been officially diagnosed with PMDD.
  • 10% have been reprimanded at work/school, or lost a job, due to PMS symptoms; 7% said that it contributed to the problem, but wasn’t the only cause of conflict.

What dealing with PMS…

  • 17% feel suicidal.
  • 35% feel unable to console themselves, or to be consoled by others.
  • 37% feel like everything is the end of the world.
  • 37% make decisions without thinking them through.
  • 39% jump to conclusions or misjudge people/situations.
  • 40% feel hopeless.
  • 40% eat more calories than usual.
  • 41% start to have doubts that have no basis in reality – fear of their partner leaving, fear of being fired, etc.
  • 42% start to suspect that other people don’t like them, or are talking about them behind their back.
  • 44% say things that they later regret.
  • 44% dislike themselves or feel unlovable.
  • 45% said that their self-esteem takes a serious hit.
  • 49% worry about things they normally wouldn’t.
  • 50% feel a sense of dread.
  • 51% become argumentative.
  • 51% obsess over problems in their life.
  • 53% of women said that they get irritated or impatient about the smallest things.
  • 53% cry for minor reasons or for no reason at all.
  • 55% feel physically drained.
  • 59% exaggerate the seriousness of negative events, making them more upsetting than it should be.

I understand that PMS is often the butt of many jokes, but for some women, there is little humor in it. Whether or not it should be made an official mood disorder, however, might not be as important as understanding that women don’t intentionally lash out or use PMS as excuse to do so. A little more understanding and empathy can go a long way.

Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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