What Is Premenstrual Depression?

Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC

Published 07/14/2022

Premenstrual depression, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), is a relatively common illness that affects many women every year. It is a group of symptoms that women typically experience for one to two weeks before their period. They may be mild issues like tiredness and bloating, or they can be extreme with bouts of anxiety and depression. Mild premenstrual depression is more commonly referred to as premenstrual syndrome (or PMD). 

Premenstrual Depression Can Cause Many Symptoms

This condition is caused by various hormonal fluctuations in your body when there is a major decrease in hormones such as progesterone and estrogen. Although 90% of women have reported PMS signs, only about 5% have premenstrual depression. How do you know if you have premenstrual depression? You can take a test online. Some of the most common signs of premenstrual depression are:

  • Feelings of extreme anxiety
  • Experiencing mood swings
  • Being unable to concentrate or focus
  • Having diarrhea or constipation
  • Being bloated or retaining water
  • Bouts of acne or oily skin
  • Gaining weight due to fluid retention
  • Feeling tired, no matter how much you sleep.
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Feeling sad or angry for no obvious reason
  • Swollen and tender breasts
  • Eating more than usual

What Causes Premenstrual Depression?

During your menstrual cycle, your hormones are unstable. For some, it can be extreme, while others hardly notice at all (PMS). In fact, some women with premenstrual depression are so badly affected that they often cannot work, go to school, or enjoy any activities for one to two weeks every month. That is literally half their lives that they are feeling miserable. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to combat premenstrual depression.

Tracking Your Symptoms With Journaling

Keeping a daily journal is one of the most popular ways of managing many illnesses from depression to cancer. You can use a journal to vent, keep track of your life events, or just write about what goes on in your life. What seems like nothing at the time could be something important that may have triggered a bad week or two.

If you are not one of those people who can talk about their feelings, a journal is an excellent way to deal with those feelings you have that may be troubling you. Even if nobody reads it but you, at least you have gotten it out of your head. Sometimes, writing down our feelings is all it takes to break out of a mood. There are even apps you can download that will help you track your symptoms and moods.

Get Physical

Even though your body is telling you that it would rather lay in bed and do nothing, it can be beneficial to get up and move your body. Doing anything physical can help get rid of some of the symptoms of premenstrual depression. Exercise works by increasing those hormones that make you feel good, like endorphins such as dopamine and serotonin. 

The endorphins actually trigger a feeling of positivity similar to what morphine does to your brain. These natural chemicals in your brain are stimulated when you do any kind of physical activity, so even getting out of bed and taking a shower can dramatically lift your mood. Take your dog for a walk, play with your cat, or turn on some music and dance.

Even walking around the house doing nothing can help. Just get moving. Exercise can also help in other ways. Your physical health will benefit from any type of exercise you do, and this can be important in getting rid of some of the symptoms of premenstrual depression. Physical activity can:

  • Strengthen your heart
  • Reduce body fat
  • Build bones and muscles up
  • Improve your self-esteem
  • Reduce your stress and anxiety
  • Decrease your feelings of depression
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Increase your energy levels
  • Help you sleep
  • Reduce fluid retention

Take A Bath

Taking a hot bath will not only help you relax, but it will also soothe sore muscles and ease headaches. Try adding some essential oils like lavender or mint to your bath and lay back in the tub for a while. Enjoy doing absolutely nothing or read a good book, etc. You can even turn on the music and light some scented candles. If you have a hot tub, that is even better. Enjoy the heat on your muscles as it melts away the stress and anxiety.

Eat Healthy Food

Even though premenstrual depression often makes you crave sweets and carbohydrates, try something healthy instead. That chocolate may make you feel better for about five minutes, but it will eventually make you more bloated and depressed. Try some nuts, fruit, yogurt, or some kind of fish like tuna or trout. These foods are good for you and have a lot of protein. And they taste great. If none of that sounds good, try a protein shake or smoothie. Those are always good and have plenty of vitamins and protein.

Talk To Someone

Pick up your phone and call a friend. Make sure it is not someone who thinks premenstrual depression is “all in your head.” If you do not have anyone you can talk to about this subject, consider joining a support group. There are even online options, so you do not even have to get out of bed to talk to other women with similar issues. You may be surprised at how many women are just like you. And they may be full of great ideas to help you. 

Get Some Sleep

Even though it may seem like you have been in bed for days, you may not be getting the right kind of restful sleep your body needs. You may be waking up often to use the bathroom or get a snack. Try to cut down on drinking after seven and do not eat at night. Make sure you are physically tired at bedtime by doing something physical about two hours before bed. If you are still having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor or therapist.

Herbal Remedies

There are many over the counter herbal remedies that you can try as well. Some research has found that many of these actually reduce the symptoms of premenstrual depression-like cramps, bloating, irritability, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Some of them are obvious, while others are more uncommon.

  • Vitamin Supplements:Some of these include vitamin E, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12
  • Vitex Agnus Castus:Also known as chaste berry, this is a tree from Central Asia that bores fruit called chaste berries or monk’s pepper. The fruit is also used to treat menopause, infertility, acne, and nursing difficulty.
  • Evening Primrose Oil:This plant is native to north and south America and Asia, and Europe. The oil has omega-6 fatty acids like gamma-linolenic acid. The oil is commonly used to relieve bloating, dermatitis, menopause, and arthritis.
  • John’s Wort:This plant has been used to treat everything from depression to heart disease. It is prescribed often in Europe for depressive disorders. It has been known to help with anxiety, depression, fatigue, aches, pains, and heal wounds. It is also used for nerve pain, nausea, diarrhea, migraines, and memory problems.
  • Ginkgo Biloba:Also very well-known, this tree is found in China and has been used for thousands of years to treat many things. It fights inflammation, which is good for bloating and fluid retention. The seeds have also been used for circulatory and heart issues, memory, anxiety, eye care, migraines, fatigue, and much more.
  • Dandelion Leaf:Something you can find in your own yard; the dandelion leaf has been found to relieve bloating in women with premenstrual depression and PMS.
  • Ibuprofen, Aspirin, And Naproxen:These anti-inflammatories can help with breast tenderness, backaches, headaches, joint pain, and cramps.

If you are having severe symptoms of depression, please speak with your general practitioner or therapist to get help.

What Not To Do When You Have Premenstrual Depression

Yes, there are certain things that you should not do when you are dealing with a bout of premenstrual depression. For example, do not drink alcohol. Even though it may help your cramps and aches for a short time, it will soon make you feel worse because alcohol is a depressant. Other things to avoid include:

  • Drugs
  • Nicotine
  • Caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and soft drinks
  • Sugary foods like candy, cookies, and cake
  • Anything salty
  • Carbohydrates like bread, cereal, donuts, and potato chips
  • Fast food like burgers, pizza, and French fries

When You Need To Talk

Even though you may not want to talk to one of your friends or family members about your premenstrual depression, you really should talk to someone. There are support groups you can join to get out of the house and meet others who are going through it like you. Or you can talk to others online from home. 

If you are not ready to talk to a group of people, maybe you would feel better just talking to one experienced and licensed person in treating premenstrual depression. Sometimes it is a lot easier to talk to a stranger than to talk to a loved one.

For more information about your specific depression symptoms, take this test online.