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PMS & PMDD Fatigue & Tiredness
by Dr. Daniel J. Heller
It’s a few days or even a few weeks before your period, and you just don’t feel like doing anything. Many women end up cancelling dates with friends, putting off obligations, or even spending days on the couch, never getting out of their pajamas or sweats, because of premenstrual fatigue caused by PMS or PMDD. Many women may not even realize that that fatigue is a monthly pattern. If you often feel you’re too exhausted or tired to do much of anything, you may want to see if there is a monthly pattern to your symptoms, and see if they may be PMS fatigue. Of course, it can be there completely normal to feel tired, or even exhausted. But if your fatigue and tiredness follow a regular, monthly pattern, especially before your period, you are probably experiencing menstrual fatigue. If so, you’re not alone: fatigue is one of the most common PMS and PMDD symptoms.
The draining effects of fatigue and lethargy are often mistaken for depression or social withdrawal—or even worse, for laziness—which can lead you to question and berate yourself for not "getting with it," for being unproductive, and for avoiding friends, family, and even work. This would be an unfortunate misunderstanding: PMS and PMDD are real, physical conditions that can cause overpowering fatigue, and you can’t make this tiredness go away with willpower alone.
You may have noticed that in our society, there is an expectation that we should have a nearly permanent positive attitude. Even though it’s normal, and probably even healthy, to sometimes feel down or negative, the whole culture sometimes gives us the message that we ought to be outgoing, energetic, and productive all the time. Even though almost no one is really like this, you can begin to suspect there’s something wrong with you if you’re not always sunny and happy. These social demands, along with our own perfectionism, can be quite exhausting! Of course, when PMS fatigue or depression is added on top of this, it adds even more stress.
Take a step back for a moment, though, and consider the impact of the whole range of PMS symptoms. If you have more than a couple of these symptoms, it makes total sense that you would feel tired, and that you might not only want, but need to spend time chilling at home, on the couch, maybe never even getting out of your pajamas. PMS and PMDD fatigue may just be a message from your body telling you that you need to slow down, rest, and take it easy for a bit.
Fortunately, premenstrual fatigue isn’t written in stone—as you’ll see, there are plenty of steps you can take to prevent it.
Many women are able to boost their energy level just by applying our PMS Balance Diet and our hypoglycemia diet, but we have other tips you can use to address chronic fatigue, and even to get a "rapid recharge."
Don’t Eat What You Shouldn’t Eat: Believe it or not, the most common cause of fatigue is the food you eat. Even more than anemia or insomnia, women feel tired because of eating food that would make anyone feel tired, and because of eating food that makes you want to take a nap, but your friends seem to be able to eat without any consequences. We’ve written about what not to eat to clarify that first category. The second category is more difficult to define, but it is a kind of individual food allergy or food intolerance. You can think of it as "one woman’s meat is another woman’s poison." The most common foods to cause persistent fatigue are wheat, sugar, and alcohol. But don’t take our word for it: test yourself for food allergies and find out for yourself if certain specific foods make you feel fatigued.
Home Spa Rest & Relaxation Treatment
First, ask yourself how long will your spa treatment be? Next, pick a physical quality about yourself that you like and are comfortable with. Whatever it is, focus on it (it could be your hair, your smile, your eyes or legs, or whatever you decide) during your R&R.
Now get two of your best, fluffiest bath towels. Place a couple of drops of a favorite essential oil (lavender or rose are wonderfully relaxing) on each towel and place them in the dryer for a few minutes. While the towels are warming, run your bath water, adding a few more drops of an essential oil to the bathwater, and smile inwardly—and outwardly, if you like—to yourself. Select the clothes you want to change into when you get out of the bath, light a few candles near your tub, and set up your music player with whatever music is going to be calming and soothing to you. This is also the time to grab a hand towel, and to gently brush and pull your hair up (if desired).
Once you have your bath towels warmed up, fold them to keep in the warmth. Roll up the hand towel to serve as a neck pillow, light the candles, undress, and carefully get into the tub.
Now, take several relaxed and calm cleansing breaths, smile again, think about your focus, and relax. Enjoy your treatment—you deserve it!
Rest and sleep: It might seem obvious, but too little sleep and rest really does make us tired. Life moves fast nowadays, with so many demands and so much to keep up with, and this can exhaust your energy and attention—but just knowing that this is the case isn’t enough. That’s why it’s so important to set aside some time, even just a little, to take care of you, and to rest and relax. Too often, we feel guilty if we’re "doing nothing" because we think we must be productive at all times; or, we fill our lives with constant activity, as if we’d fall apart if we stopped moving.
One important historical point about sleep: did you know the average American used to sleep nine hours per night in the year 1900? That went down to eight hours by 1950, with the advent of electricity, and seven hours by 1990, by which time there was a television in every house, if not in every room in every house! With the Internet and cable and satellite TV and mobile technology, we wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that that number has fallen below seven. One simple sleep tip: turn off all electronics in your bedroom, including anything with glowing LED lights. The darker the room in which you sleep, the better.
Exercise: We've covered the importance of exercise in addressing PMS symptoms elsewhere on this site, so we won't belabor the point here. But remember, every little bit of physical activity helps. It might seem puzzling that exercise could make you feel less tired, but it does. What’s more, regular daily exercise all month long prevents PMS and PMDD symptoms.
Find your passion in life: What do you really look forward to? What "gets your motor running?" Chances are, when your interest is piqued and you’re excited about something, you’re not quite so fatigued. In fact, you may be just plain energized. Activities and pursuits that interest and engage you keep you feeling full of life, but feelings of boredom and "same old same old" will usually rob you of vitality. A boring job; a long, tedious commute; or being stuck in an unhappy routine leads to stress and fatigue. That makes it even more important to find meaningful, stimulating activities and interests, whether it’s knitting or mountain biking, gardening or volunteer work. For some women, home life can sometimes feel oppressive, in which case something outside the home can help create that feeling of aliveness. For other women, home and family is the activity that gives the deepest meaning to life.
Love yourself: You live with yourself all the time. If you find you’re constantly fighting against a self-critical, self-berating internal voice, it’s important to acknowledge just how exhausting that can be. But letting go of negative thinking and cultivating a more positive self-image isn’t easy. Many women find good, old-fashioned psychological counseling invaluable for coming to grips with the sources of negative self-talk, and for learning new behavior patterns. Pastoral counseling can provide the same benefit for those who prefer that approach. If there’s a strong family history of depression, or if negativity is overwhelming your life, conventional medication for depression can feel like a lifesaver. We know, you probably didn’t expect to read about the value of prescription drugs on a site that is all about natural health, but we’ve met plenty of women who are very happy with their decision to take anti-depressants.
Are you anxious, full of tension, or stressed? When your nervous system is all wound up, not only is it exhausting: it actually creates PMS. Our stress and anxiety articles include a variety of do-it-yourself steps that will help you relax and re-energize.