COVID Is Making This One Thing 90 Percent of Women Experience Worse
Pandemic stress is exacerbating PMS symptoms for many people. Experts told us why.
The coronavirus pandemic has made everything a more challenging. Social distancing, working from home, financial and health worries, and other changes to daily life can increase stress for many. And that stress can affect your physical health in a variety of ways. For example, if you have had a more intense experience with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) during the pandemic, you're not alone. Doctors say exacerbated PMS could be linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
PMS is a group of symptoms that can affect the "emotions, physical health, and behavior" of a person "during certain days of the menstrual cycle, generally just before […] menses," per Healthline. It affects about 90 percent of women. And some people have reported that their symptoms have become more painful and/or uncomfortable since coronavirus started to spread.
In an op-ed for NBC News THINK, Allison Hope wrote about recognizing that her own PMS seemed more severe than usual lately and about speaking with experts as well as other people who also noticed a difference. One woman said that her own symptoms were so debilitating that she thought she had contracted COVID-19.
So why is the pandemic making PMS even worse on those who go through it monthly?
"Stress can definitely impact the hormones produced by ovaries, the thyroid glands, the adrenals, and more—all of which can exacerbate PMS," Felice Gersh, MD, founder, and director of the Integrative Medical Group, told Best Life. "Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased levels of stress, and consequently, PMS would be expected to worsen."
As a result of increased stress levels, the body goes into overdrive trying to make more cortisol to balance out the adrenaline surge, explains Alisa Vitti, author of In the FLO and the founder of FLO Living.
"The problem is that your adrenal glands only have enough building blocks to make so much during a day," she says. "Once you burn through that adrenal reserve, and you still need more cortisol to be produced something happens called a 'pregnenolone steal.' At first, this disrupts progesterone production in favor of making more cortisol from that pregnenolone. This will definitely make your PMS symptoms in the first month more acute—because PMS occurs when the hormonal ratio of estrogen is greater than progesterone."
The results of this imbalance can include irritability, mood swings, depression, anxiety, migraines, insomnia, fatigue, and brain fog, according to Vitti.
Gersh adds that "PMS has been shown to involve alterations in the functioning of the autonomic nervous system and an increase in the sympathetic component and reduction in the parasympathetic." This manifests in a heightened state of anxiety and sleep disturbances, thereby impacting your circadian rhythm, which can further throw you off by altering mood and appetite control.
In addition to giving you heightened PMS symptoms "stress can also disrupt the menstrual cycle, making hormones erratic and possibly messing up bleeding intervals," points out Kimberly Langdon, OBGYN, and medical advisor at Medzino Health. The the circle continues. "Messed up cycles lead to more stress," she says.
Speaking to NBC News, psychotherapist and author Amy Morin said that, while "practicing healthy stress management strategies could be key to lowering symptoms," it can be difficult to enact those strategies because of the pandemic.
Gersh recommends incorporated "yoga, meditation, or guided imagery" into your life to help manage PMS. [People with PMS] need excellent sleep routines, sunlight exposure, exercise, magnesium supplementation, and a plant-based diet loaded with antioxidants, polyphenols, and fiber," she says. "They also need to eat a large breakfast and not snack or eat at night."
While these may seem like simple steps, changing your eating routine, downloading a meditation app, and getting a good night's sleep regularly may make PMS symptoms more endurable the next time they come around.
For more on pandemic worries, check out Your COVID Stress Could Cause This Deadly Heart Condition, Study Finds.