PMDD: What is it and how can counselling help?
Do you know what PMDD is? Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is often unknown or misunderstood. Maybe you've heard of it, maybe you've been diagnosed with it, maybe you're supporting someone through it – or maybe you've never heard of it at all. In this article, I'll explore what it is, how it can impact our emotional well-being, and how counselling can help.
What is PMDD?
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a very severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It leads to a range of symptoms that can last for around two weeks during each menstrual cycle. Mental health charity MIND offers some useful details on the physical diagnosis of PMDD and the symptoms that you might experience. If you think that you are experiencing PMDD, your first step should be to seek medical advice from your GP.
What is the emotional toll of PMDD?
So, if it’s a medical issue, how can counselling help with PMDD? It’s important to remember that our physical and mental health are inextricably linked. Counselling can help us to cope with all kinds of physical and hormonal challenges. But in the case of PMDD, this is even more relevant. PMDD itself brings up a range of emotional ‘symptoms’ – or feelings.
This can include the following:
- depressed, low mood, experiencing suicidal feelings
- anxious, overwhelmed, helpless or out of control
- numb or disinterested in everyday life
In some cases, this is directly due to hormonal shifts. In other cases, it’s a response to how we feel about ourselves and the impact that PMDD has on our lives. Everyone experiences PMDD differently, so there isn’t just one set response. But it can lead to isolation, withdrawal, and unpredictable outbursts.
4 ways counselling can help with PMDD
1. Unravelling and identifying our feelings
I’ve suggested PMDD can lead to all sorts of different feelings. But what if you don’t know what they are? Sometimes we feel anxious or low or overwhelmed or numb. In counselling, we can look at your emotional and physical responses, and start to unpick what they might be:
Anger and frustration
A sense of injustice or anger at our own bodies, at having to cope with PMDD, when others around us aren’t experiencing the same symptoms. Or anger if PMDD is misunderstood or minimised. This might seem like a sweeping generalisation and, of course, we will encounter friends, family and professionals who have a wealth of understanding about PMDD. But I have learnt that it’s a condition that is often overlooked.
Embarrassment or shame
This can be a response to the stigma around periods and the menstrual cycle, a topic that is often spoken about in whispers. It’s true that times are changing, and we speak more openly than we used to about the menstrual cycle. But it’s useful to notice whether a sense of embarrassment or shame still plays a role in how we feel about the menstrual cycle, and therefore how we feel about ourselves.
Think about the euphemisms that we use when we talk about periods and the associated hormonal and emotional changes. Think about the way that menstrual products are marketed and advertised. It’s only been about five years since advertisers started using realistic-looking red liquid in adverts for pads and tampons. Before then, we were offered the sight of a blue liquid, which was deemed more palatable by advertisers.
Grief and loss
PMDD can have a marked impact on our physical and emotional well-being. In turn, this might change our vision of what our life is like and what it might be like in the future. This can lead to a sense of grief, as we mourn the idea of what life was like before the onset of PMDD.
2. Voicing these feelings
Counselling can help with PMDD, as it offers us an opportunity to explore and unravel these feelings. It can also give us the space to voice them out loud, without fear of judgement or embarrassment. As well as exploring what we feel, we can also reflect on how these feelings impact our everyday life. Our relationships with others, our work, our sense of identity.
3. Exploring who we are and what we've been through
We might seek counselling as a way to help us to manage and cope with PMDD. But in counselling, you are a whole person, not 'just' someone with a diagnosis or set of symptoms. It's likely that counselling will offer a space for you to think more deeply about yourself, your relationship patterns and how you deserve to be treated. I’m not a researcher, but I have learnt that there is a potential association between trauma and PMDD. Counselling offers a confidential, safe environment for trauma recovery in a number of different ways.
4. Everyday coping strategies
Counselling can also offer a space for you to learn and develop coping strategies to help you to manage your emotional well-being. This might include breathwork, grounding techniques, visualisations and ways to challenge negative thoughts before they spiral.
So what's the next step? If you'd like to seek support on this issue, then the first step is to find a counsellor who you feel that you can really connect with. If you'd like to talk further, you can contact me to book a free no-obligation introductory call.