I got my first period when I was 13 and I’m currently 27; so by now, you’d think I’d be an old pro at dealing with the monthly panty massacre. However, my period — or more precisely my PMS — inexplicably upgraded in my mid-20s, turning symptoms that were once mildly inconvenient into powerful weapons of self-destruction. For someone who always had a fairly easy time with PMS, the monthly recurrence of intense mood swings, angry zits, voracious appetite and about 5 pounds of visible bloat made it nearly impossible to do more than the bare minimum across the board — at work, with my self-care, and in my daily attempts to generally coexist with other human beings. 

Up until fairly recently, I simply accepted all of this as my monthly fate, like a werewolf you will transform into a moody, pimply monster-woman and, because life is unfair, no one will allow you to sequester yourself for those days when you are PMS and PMS is you. But after awhile, I grew tired of spending an entire seven to ten days of each month in an uninspired haze of hunger and strife. I decided to make persisting through PMS one of my self-care goals and came up with strategies to help me function during the monthly struggle. 

My first step was using an app to track my uterus’ bloody moves and pinpointing when PMS was likely to hit. After that, I took stock of all of the symptoms I could likely expect and considered what I could do each month in advance of my PMS to lessen its evil. So far, I’ve seen positive results, and I look forward to seeing even more as some of these newer behaviors become solid habits. I share my current methods for alleviating PMS stress here to commiserate with anyone else who also struggles with a monthly upheaval of mood and body struggles due to pesky hormones.

  • 1. Stockpile zen feelings and make way for mood swinging

During PMS week, my baseline mood is disengaged irritability and I experience rage blackouts over minimal provocation like the company vending machine running out of plantain chips. My productivity decreases as it becomes increasingly difficult to self-motivate — I spend a lot of time over-analyzing everything and trying to fight through a thick, almost paralyzing brain fog in order to get anything done. 

The inability to concentrate or work efficiently consequently triggers feelings of anxiety (everything I touch sucks), leading to more overanalysis. It’s a vicious, vicious cycle. My current fix is two-fold: 1. Meditate regularly during the week prior to the start of my PMS (I use an app called Calm for this and usually pick one of several pre-recorded 7-day meditation challenges), and 2. Take care of as many difficult tasks as possible in advance of my PMS so that I don’t have to worry about them during my week of limited motivation, i.e. annoying chores like laundry. It can be a bit difficult to plan for my week of mental slowdown at work — after all, jobs have to get done — but if there's some flexibility around a deadline, I try my best to negotiate the due date with my week of fog in mind. 

  1. 2. Work that ass out

    1. When PMS hits, I feel unsexy. There’s no way around it, I’m bloated, my skin looks like who shot John, I’m struggling not to overeat junk and my mood is cray. The last thing I want to do is trap myself in a room with already fit people doing fit-people things while I struggle through five seconds of planking. But, endorphins are real, and I find that when I work out consistently for just a week, it’s easier to maintain momentum. My fitness drug of choice is spin class, so I make sure to reserve a session with my favorite instructors on at least two days during my pre-PMS week. The hope is that those workout-inspired good vibes will carry over into the following 7-10 days and help me stay health conscious. 

  2. 3. Hydrate and put your skin on notice

    1. PMS breakouts have been the most difficult symptom for me to deal with so far. I’ve always had very sensitive skin and I dealt with acne up until I successfully completed a round of Accutane after college. Since the PMS upgrade, my skin becomes oilier than usual and I get quite pimply the week before my period. My goal is to figure out how to completely prevent the breakouts by prepping for the oil onslaught in advance. So far, switching up my regular skincare regimen, which includes washing once in the morning with a salicylic acid cleanser and using a gentle Cetaphil cleanser at night, has helped somewhat. Close to PMS time, I switch out the Cetaphil for a second wash with the salicylic acid cleanser and use a tiny bit of organic apple cider vinegar diluted with water as a toner. If I notice any baby zits forming, I trade in the ACV toner for a spot treatment of prescribed face cream (clindamycin). I also chug down water like I’m trying to cure a hangover. I haven’t quite figured out how to avoid breakouts completely, but I have managed to keep zits from growing into big painful cysts and limit the number of them that come to head. 

  3. 4. Be kind…to yourself

    1. This might be specific to my experience, but during my PMS, I feel a certain amount of guilt for any negative feelings I’m having, my lack of motivation and even submitting to cravings. I blame myself for not feeling my best or doing enough to overcome the negative emotions that keep me down and diminish my productivity. I’m no therapist, but I believe that on some level the guilt is borne of pressure, both internal and external, to be resilient and always figure out how to push through even when mind, body and spirit are all exhausted. It’s difficult to prepare for this, but in an effort to combat these feelings during PMS, I cling to the following mantra: Everyone is doing the best they can. You are doing the best you can. While it might not chase all of the blues away, it’s certainly effective in helping me put everything into perspective. 

By my estimate, I will probably be dealing with my period for the next 30+ years, which means 30+ years of buying overpriced feminine hygiene products, shrugging at dudes who mistakenly thought the time was right for getting it in, and dealing with my PMS symptoms (unless they decide to chill out or I get pregnant; though I imagine that pregnancy might be like nine straight months of PMS itself). For that reason alone, I’m committed to beating PMS and not letting it beat me. Cheers to the next 30 years of resistance.