History senior Razuan Elsadig usually exercises to help relieve her premenstrual syndrome symptoms, but the pandemic resulted in prolonged periods of inactivity that intensified them.
Stress plays a huge role in the premenstrual syndrome symptoms she gets. Elsadig said she experienced increased cramping and hormonal acne in college, and it made her realize how mental health can manifest physically.
According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, women who reported high stress levels two weeks prior to menstruation were two to four times more likely to report moderate to severe premenstrual symptoms than women who reported less stress. The American Psychological Association’s 2020 Stress in America report stated that nearly eight in 10 adults say the pandemic is a significant source of stress, with the highest level of stress being reported by Generation Z.
Premenstrual syndrome occurs during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle before the period starts. It causes physical and behavioral symptoms, said Melinda Madison, women’s health care nurse practitioner.
Madison said there are behavioral symptoms like mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depression, increased appetite, cravings and diminished desire to do anything. Physical symptoms include abdominal bloating, extreme fatigue, breast tenderness, headaches, hot flashes and dizziness.
Some only experience physical or behavioral symptoms, while others have both types, Madison said. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and in extreme cases they could be a more severe form of premenstrual syndrome called premenstrual dysphoric disorder, she said.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a chronic medical condition that needs treatment. Symptoms appear the week before menstruation and end within a few days of one’s period. These symptoms interfere with one’s ability to function at home, work and in relationships, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
UTA alumna Mimi Vu said she becomes irritable and has random waves of sadness before her period. She said all of her emotions are heightened, she gets bloated and has strong cravings every seven to 10 days before her period.
“My negative emotions will just become hyperfixated on one thing or person,” she said. “Sometimes it does affect the way I interact with people.”
Conservative treatments such as relaxation techniques, vitamin supplements, aerobic exercise, walking or yoga are recommended first. If those options don’t help, birth control pills or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can be prescribed, said Madison.
Avoiding sweets, eating at least one salad a day, drinking eight cups of water, exercise and focusing on her health has helped alleviate some of her premenstrual syndrome symptoms, Elsadig said.
In the medical field, syndrome means the cause is unknown, Madison said.
“We've studied it and have some thoughts and triggers, but we don't actually know the cause [of premenstrual syndrome]. But it's a real thing,” she said.
The media using premenstrual syndrome as an explanation for a woman's behavior as a joke has fostered an environment where invalidating emotions and experiences is normal, said Vu.
Stigmas about periods saying they are unclean or something to be ashamed of stem from lack of awareness, said Elsadig. Patriarchal societies minimize women’s struggles and pain because they don’t experience it. They assume we’re being dramatic or try to compare our pain to theirs, she said.
Understanding what was happening to her body during her period and why it needed to happen helped her appreciate her menstrual cycle and being a woman, Elsadig said. Talking about our experiences will help decrease the stigma, she said.