Is worrying about premenstrual symptoms making your premenstrual symptoms worse?

Is worrying about premenstrual symptoms making your premenstrual symptoms worse?

When my heart started racing out of the blue yesterday evening, I immediately went through my mental checklist: Had I drunk too much tea? Nope. Had I forgotten to eat and was now experiencing a sudden drop in blood sugar? Nope nope. Did I just make a career-ending political joke on Twitter that was being retweeted thousands of times before I could delete it? Nope nope nope.

So, like any normal, mature adult, I immediately assumed I was having a heart attack and my demise was surely imminent. Surprisingly, this did not calm my racing heart, but instead encouraged it to speed up.

Luckily before full panic could set in, I then realized where I was in my cycle–my premenstrual Week 4–and I remembered that a racing heart can be a symptom of declining estrogen since a drop in this hormone can trigger bursts of noradrenaline, which is the same brain chemical that gets churned out when you have a near-miss traffic accident or almost slice your thumb off while cutting veggies, making your heart pound and your palms sweat. And, I knew that while this side effect is annoying, it usually lasts just a few minutes and then passes, leaving you calm again.

And, it did.

I bring this up to you today because research suggests that the way you react to premenstrual symptoms can affect their intensity. Specifically, the more anxious you are about premenstrual side effects, the worse they seem to get. The less anxious you are about them, the less intense they become. Which is exactly what I experienced last night.

Why does anxiety play such a pivotal role in the kind of symptoms you experience in your premenstrual week? The researchers believe it may be because anxiety makes you hyper-vigilant about every little change in emotion and physical sensation—such as irritability, feeling blue, getting dizzy, having a headache or experiencing a pounding heart. This, in turn, makes you more prone to focusing on them and worrying about them worsening, which, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, then makes them worse.

What can you do if you suspect anxiety could be exacerbating physical or emotional symptoms in your premenstrual week? Two things:

1) When a premenstrual symptom pops up, try reminding yourself that it’s a normal–albeit annoying–side effect of declining estrogen. This realization alone may help steer you away from doom-and-gloom scenarios in your head like it did with me.

2) Try exercising, doing yoga and/or meditating on a regular basis. Numerous studies show that these three activities help anxiety-prone individuals enjoy more calm by creating certain changes in the brain that make you more emotionally resilient. This way, you’ll be less prone to having an intense and negative response when a premenstrual symptom arises.

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[Photo: Freddie Pena]
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