As the days have grown shorter and chillier this December, you’ve likely changed from wearing airy dresses to cosy knits – and if you’re like many women, you may have noticed a change (or rather, an increase) in your PMS symptoms, too. PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is no fun at the best of times – and when you combine it with the lack of sunshine and disrupted circadian rhythm that autumn brings, you’re in for one big hormonal roller coaster. But at &SISTERS HQ, we believe periods should be as comfortable (and dare we say enjoyable?) as possible, no matter the time of year. To help you feel like your best self, we’ve pored over the resources available to us to help you manage your cold weather PMS symptoms until the season’s first snowdrop pops up in spring.
Although many of us are already well-acquainted with all things PMS, for those of us who aren’t, the NHS defines the syndrome as “the name for the symptoms that women can experience the week before their period,” including mood swings, breast tenderness, feeling irritable, tiredness, bloating, spotty skin and changes in appetite or libido.
As we explain in our blog post on Maisie Hill’s 4 seasons of menstruation, these symptoms are the result of hormone levels taking a sharp nosedive, save for progesterone, which dominates during day 20-28 of your menstrual cycle. Some women might not notice much of a change, while others may feel physically and emotionally ‘off’.
PMS, in autumn/winter
Even when the sun shines in spring and summer, PMS can be tough to manage – but when autumn and winter’s shorter days disrupt our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle), our already delicate hormonal balance can get knocked further out of kilter. Our circadian rhythm depends on the balance between vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) and melatonin (the sleep hormone), and in summer, sunlight in the early morning triggers vitamin D production and jolts us awake, while darkness in the late evening triggers melatonin production and readies us for sleep. In autumn and winter, when the sun only shines for eight or so hours a day, vitamin D may be released too late and melatonin may be released too early – this causes changes in energy levels and mood that can impact your ability to cope with the emotional symptoms of PMS.
It’s not just daylight hours that change in autumn and winter – our day-to-day habits change, too. In winter months, when many of us swap our swimsuit for our dressing gown, it’s not uncommon to adopt a more sedentary, comfort-driven lifestyle. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of self care (for one &SISTERS HQ team member, nothing makes her feel better than a cup of hot chocolate on the sofa), a less active lifestyle can do a number on your PMS symptoms, increasing everything from bloat to fatigue.
How to deal
If it seems like cold weather PMS is a monster that can’t be tamed, think again! With a few simple lifestyle hacks inspired by the advice of medical experts, you’ll be back to feeling like your best self in no time.
- Stick to a healthy routine. Studies have shown that women who live a more active lifestyle report fewer PMS symptoms, so it may be worth incorporating gentle exercise and wholesome foods into your cold weather routine. Try lighting a candle and doing some slow flow yoga, or cooking yourself a hearty bowl of carrot and fennel soup (fennel can help with period cramps, too!).
- Get your daily dose of sunshine. As our sleep/wake cycle depends so heavily on the vitamin D we get from sunlight, try opening your blinds early in the morning and sipping your morning cup of tea while perched on your window ledge. If you live in a particularly dark region of the world (like many of us here in the UK), you might consider taking a vitamin D supplement or purchasing in a light box, which can help kick your circadian rhythm back into shape and even help with symptoms of seasonal depression.
- Invest in some quality knits. A 2011 study showed that on average, a woman’s menstrual cycle is shorter and her hormone levels are higher in warm weather. Keeping warm can balance hormones and even help with ovulation (if pregnancy is something you have in mind), so wrap yourself in a warm jumper or cuddle up with a wheat bag (we love the natural linen bags by Blästa Henriët).
- Keep a symptom diary. Much like period tracker app Clue can help you understand your menstrual cycle, keeping a PMS symptom diary can help you understand what’s ‘normal’ for you. If any of your symptoms cause you major distress or worsen with time, you’ll be the first to know and you can check in with your GP.
At &SISTERS HQ, we’re here to help you at every stage of your menstrual cycle. If you have any PMS-related questions, stories to share or if you simply wish to say hello, head over to our Instagram or drop us a line at [email protected].