Girls, we all know, and have probably repeated to our husband and kids a time or two, the old adage, “If
Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” We all know it’s true, too. Our emotions and attitudes set the tone for the attitude in our home. Our family members or roommates seem to reflect back whatever we’re feeling, and it stinks. If I’m stressed, my kids will know it, and they will do everything they can to push me to give them what they want, knowing that what I really want is them out of my hair. And when it’s PMS time, any of those emotions we're feeling that are not so pretty and sweet are magnified ump-teen times.
We use “when Mama ain’t happy” as a way to say, “If she isn’t happy, what can you do to help her be? Because if she’s happy, you all know life will be much more pleasant for you. Help yourself by helping Mama.” But girls, sometimes, don’t you think maybe we need to help ourselves? Am I the only one who hates losing self-control at “that time of the month,” and beats myself up about it later, wondering why, if I am a mature adult, can I not get a better handle on myself even in the midst of raging hormones? Am I the only one who has ever used it as an excuse for my behavior and then beat myself up about that, wondering if the hormones really are that bad, or if I’m just a lousy Christian? So, how much is PMS really a factor, and how much is me needing to repent and make some adjustments to my attitude?
Here is how womenshealth.gov defines PMS: Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a group of symptoms linked to the menstrual cycle. PMS symptoms occur 1 to 2 weeks before your period (menstruation or monthly bleeding) starts. The symptoms usually go away after you start bleeding. PMS can affect menstruating women of any age and the effect is different for each woman. For some people, PMS is just a monthly bother. For others, it may be so severe that it makes it hard to even get through the day.
The Mayo Clinic has an extensive list of symptoms:
Emotional and behavioral symptoms
Tension or anxiety
Mood swings and irritability or anger
Appetite changes and food cravings
Trouble falling asleep (insomnia)
Physical signs and symptoms
Joint or muscle pain
Weight gain related to fluid retention
Constipation or diarrhea
Ed Welch, in “The Counselor’s Guide to the Brain and its Disorders” notes, “With so many symptoms, the alleged causes for PMS is long: explanations range from traditional hormone theories to cultural expectations. All these theories can find support, but none of them is applicable to every affected woman. One approach and theory might help one woman but not another. Presently, no endocrine or physiological markers have been found to consistently distinguish women with the syndrome from unaffected women. Instead, PMS is a cluster of symptoms with different causes.”
So breaking all this down, we are all familiar with what PMS is, and most of us experience some level of symptoms. Sometimes, symptoms are better or worse from month to month, too, so it can be hard to pinpoint what seems to make it better or worse for you. So, there is no “hard and fast,” all the time rule for what you specifically need to do. It will be, like it probably already has been, a trial and error process.
Most doctors recommend keeping a diary of your cycle and symptoms, so you can tell which ones are consistent, and focus on those. (Later I’ll touch on this again when addressing spiritual implications, so hold this thought.)
It’s suggested that you avoid salt, caffeine, sugar, and alcohol during PMS. Seriously, I don’t know if I could ever do this. That is the time of the month I do let myself indulge in whatever chocolate dessert sounds really amazing to me, and I don’t feel much guilt over it because I eat well the rest of the month. But, if you are self-controlled and find that this restraint helps you, go for it!
We all know we’re supposed to exercise, always, of course, for overall health, but especially during PMS. Most recommend making sure you take time for whatever your personal healthy stress relief thing is- maybe that’s exercise, or reading a novel, planning something with a friend, or journaling. Some have found symptoms lightened by certain vitamin supplements- folic acid, calcium with Vitamin D, magnesium, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin E are on this list. I’m sure you have your painkiller of choice and your heating pad. All of these are things you could have Googled on your own, so now on to the real question- what about the spiritual stuff?
PMS, to me, like many chronic ailments, falls into the “thorn in the flesh” category. If you aren’t familiar with this passage of Scripture, it’s a concept addressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:5-10: ”That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said,’My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (NLT)
We don’t know what Paul’s thorn was, but we know it was something God allowed in order to keep him
humble and dependent on His power rather than Paul’s own. If you are a woman who struggles with PMS, then turn to God- ask for His power to work in you when you are feeling weak, irritable, sad, or angry (or all of the above at once). I believe He allows our weaknesses because He desires so much for us to talk to Him and to lean on Him, and would we really do that if we could handle everything in our own strength? He wants to be with you so much He’s built in a time every month for you to need Him more than usual!
Remember the idea of keeping a symptom diary? If you keep track and you know about when “that time of the month” is likely to hit, you can be even more alert spiritually. Just like you can plan to be extra sure you get your exercise or other stress relief, you can make sure that during those times especially you make time for worship, prayer, and being in the Word of God. If you are letting your emotions out to God, then they aren’t as likely to be spewed all over your unsuspecting husband, child, or co-worker.
We women are busy, but don’t let yourself be too busy to slow down and talk to God. Use your “empty” moments wisely. Listen to worship music in the car instead of the morning talk show, or turn the radio off altogether and just pray. I often pray or worship in the shower, or listen to worship music or a preaching podcast at the beginning of the day when I’m doing my hair and makeup. If you get some exercise, listen to music that makes you feel joyful. Instead of scrolling Facebook on your lunch break, read your Bible.
Know what stress triggers make you most likely to lose it and head the meltdown off. For me it’s the evening time when kids are finishing homework and asking a million questions, and the ones who are finished are coming in and out or finishing chores, and I’m trying to make dinner. When I feel myself getting emotional, I turn on worship or classical music. And remember, this isn’t a “you need to be spiritual all the time” guilt trip. I’m not saying don’t sit down and enjoy a novel or tv show that you like at the end of the day, I’m just saying make sure you’ve put God first and taken care of your spiritual health, so that tv time doesn’t turn into weepy pity party time.
Meditate on Scripture that’s related to how you are feeling. Romans 12:1-2 says “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” The NIV translation says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
So we don’t have to be like the world when we have PMS, letting it be our excuse to lodge verbal grenades at our loved ones- the “time of the month” when it’s forgivable and understandable. We can choose to let God change the way we think by renewing our minds in His Word. If you tend to feel angry, meditate on Scripture about mercy and peace. If sad, meditate on joy verses. Write them down on an index card and slip them in your purse or pocket and pull them out instead of your phone when you have a bored moment during the day. Stick them to your bathroom mirror or the inside of a kitchen cabinet.
On the flip side, God understands that the emotions and the hormones are part of the way He has made us, and when we do mess up, He is merciful to us. Psalm 103 tells us: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
If you are married or in a relationship, consider discussing your struggles openly with your husband or boyfriend. Let him know when that time is coming up for you, and how he can pray for you, encourage you, or help you practically. Most men dread this time of the month and the wrath their partners tend to pour out upon them, and will realize that helping you will help them.
If you’re unmarried and live with female roommates, God bless you all. At least you understand what the other is going through, but I have been there and I know all that estrogen running around can be tough and lead to a lot of drama! Still, if you know I’m talking to you about improving how you handle “Aunt Flo’s monthly visits,” you and your girls can hold each other accountable and sharpen each other. Even if you have no one but your cat around to yell at and you plow through your pint of Ben and Jerry’s or your roll of Nestle Toll House dough alone, don’t look at PMS as just something to make it through- look at it as one more chance to rely on God and let Him grow you.
So pull out your calendar, and make your plan of action. Set yourself a little phone reminder. Don’t let it take you by surprise and realize “well darn it, it must be PMS,” after your first episode of losing your cool. If you do lose it, give yourself a little grace. And by all means, enjoy a little chocolate. :)