Just posting once this week because of holidays. It is a longer post though, so take some time out, put your PMT to one side and enjoy…
PMT – mindfulness and the monthly storm
Do you lose your mind on the run up to your period? Losing your cool and feel like you want to rip someone’s head off for daring to be in the same room as you? Sometimes? Every time without fail? Don’t worry, you’re in good company my fellow mindful mummy, please read on…
In our house there are certain flashpoints every day – breakfast time and getting home after playgroup / school. Me and Mr N find these times a real test of our patience.
For me too, there are particular points in my monthly cycle (usually half way through) that cause me to overreact, be over-emotional and quick to become angry. PMT (or PMS) is supposed to be hormonal – something we can’t control. I once asked a doctor if PMT might have contributed to my then-depression. She answered that there’d been no research into the link between periods and depression, which kind of depressed me as I was sure there was something going on there.
This post from Cosmopolitan ‘22 ways your hormones affect your mind and body all month long‘ is a cheeky yet brilliant look at the effects of the monthly cycle on your body and mind. Who says PMT is a myth? It even has a nod to depression in point 17. OK, so Cosmo isn’t high-brow academic research, but it notes what I’ve long suspected, that period-related hormones can create emotional-havoc and brain melt-downs.
The PMT Train: Using mindfulness during ‘that time of the month’
After hours of reading up on celebrity gossip and the latest fashions mindfulness and the underlying psychology, I’ve come to my own conclusion. I think there is a definite mind-body link that aggravates things.
We think with the body and with the brain
In Dr Danny Penman’s book Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, create and thrive in a frantic worldhe notes we think as much with the body as with the brain. A stress reaction may be triggered by a subtle unconscious thought. The body reacts as if the thought is real and becomes tense. The mind senses this change in physical state and braces itself – which the body then feels – cue more sensations in response. And so the cycle begins with the mind generating more anxious thoughts, further exacerbating the physical feelings.
What if midway through the monthly cycle, the body acts in a certain way to prepare for a period? The mind picks up on this and because of long-standing habit, braces itself subconsciously for emotional turmoil?
The mindful practice I’ve been learning shows that long-standing habits cause us to behave or react in certain ways. It’s the body’s autopilot – ‘ah, the monthly cycle, time to become irritated and emotionally fragile again!’ It may be a combination of this, plus the body busy ramping itself up physically, making us feel more exhausted and less resilient when those emotions come hurtling through.
Having practised mindfulness for the 8 months I didn’t think I’d be able to control my anger as much as I have done, especially at that time of the month. Recently I’ve noticed that I still become more irritated with the boys at this point in the month. But now I’ve got some practical tools to help get me though, leaving me feeling calmer instead of a fire-breathing scary mummy-dragon.
Two weeks ago, my eldest was whining. He whinged his way through getting up, through breakfast, right until he had to leave for school. I felt on edge with the irritation bubbling up and knew that before too long the dreaded ‘red mist’ would descend and I’d start shouting, ranting empty threats (‘no visit to the park for you this weekend if this continues.’) and maybe throwing things. Oh yes, my own tantrums rival those of my kids.
When I get what I call my ‘red-mist’, I get physically tense and so many thoughts swirl around. (‘why does he always behave like this?’, ‘this behaviour is unacceptable, we can’t go on being like this, it’s ruining our family’…). This sends me into an anger spiral difficult to come out of. At times like these it only takes one of my boys doing something naughty again before I’ve calmed down and it’s like Vesuvius erupting!
Taking a mummy time-out
I lost my temper, but I saw it coming and sent myself to another room and let the emotion wash over me. Kind of like a mummy time-out. Danny’s book states that you shouldn’t try to fight the emotions. Instead, notice them and accept them; acceptance after all is a key tenent of mindfulness. Then focus on the physical feelings before concentrating on breathing.
Here’s what I did when I sent myself to time-out:
I said ‘inhale-exhale’ for several breaths (in my head so no one could hear, I didn’t want to look like a lunatic). I accepted I was feeling angry and that there were angry thoughts in my mind but then I focused on my body. I could feel my heart beating faster than normal, my breathing was shallow and my hands, shoulders and forehead were all tense.
But here’s the amazing thing. While focusing on these physical sensations, then re-focusing on breathing (still saying ‘inhale-exhale’, slowly letting the outbreath become longer) the emotion started to drain away. My breathing returned to normal within a minute, I didn’t feel so tense and mentally, the angry thoughts had all but gone! I had got myself out of the anger spiral!
Mindfulness won’t make the stresses and emotions disappear completely. What mindful practice can do is help you notice the emotion and to accept it. In doing so, you can break free from the control the emotion has over you before it gains an unstoppable momentum.
Bonus activity to try next time you’re in the grip of PMT:
Next time you feel a powerful emotion such as anger bubbling up, become aware of it, say ‘anger, anger’ (or whatever fits the moment) to yourself, then focus on your body. How does it feel? Focus on your breath – inhaling, exhaling. Try 7/11 breathing for two minutes if you feel you need to calm down. Does the strong emotion dissipate?
Do you find you’re more emotionally fragile during your period? What things do you do to help keep calm and quash your PMT? Let me know below!
P.S. You’re awesome! Don’t beat yourself up if you do struggle to keep your cool, it’s tricky being a mummy and dealing with horrible hormones at the same time! Just let people know you’re in your monthly dragon-phase and to avoid you as much as possible…
P.P.S. This post contains an Amazon link to Dr Danny Penman’s brilliant book if you’d like to buy your own copy. I may receive a commission from any sales via this link which go towards the up keep of Mindfully Mummy. Thanks!