According to Mental Health America, approximately 12 million women in the United States experience clinical depression each year; depression occurs most frequently in women aged 25 to 44; one in every eight women can expect to develop clinical depression during their lifetime; and women experience depression at roughly twice the rate of men. On top of these staggering statistics, 20 - 40% of women may experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) - an array of disruptive symptoms that can affect body, mood and behaviors during the days leading up to a menstrual period.
So what’s up with the gender gap in this mood disorder? What’s going on with PMS? And what’s a girl to do?
There are many factors that may contribute to the prevalence of depression among the female population. From a physiological perspective, genes and hormones can play an important role. For example, compared to men, women may have a stronger genetic predisposition to developing depression and women are much more subjected to fluctuating hormone levels - especially around the time of childbirth and at menopause.
However social factors are also at play. In a recent study published by the United Nations, women are reportedly doing 2.6 times the amount of unpaid work that men do, including vital jobs like taking care of children, aging parents and managing households. Plus one can never underestimate the impact of increasing rates of sexual abuse and povery that women experience.
With respect to PMS, many women unconsciously accept mood swings, irritability, anger, anxiety, fatigue and frustration as “the norm” and simply cope with it.
Indeed, all of this can be overwhelming. But surprisingly (and luckily!) there are a number of small, daily habits that can help reduce all of the above without adding too much more to a woman’s too-full plate.
- Exercise. Exercising increases the neuro-plasticity of your brain and releases neurochemicals called endorphins, which help to elevate your mood. Getting your heart rate up 20 minutes a day, five days a week, has also been scientifically proven to elevate emotions. So move your body and get those good feels on the regular!
- Priorities and boundaries. Never underestimate the immense impact of becoming clear and holding true. This applies to work load, emotional load, and everything in-between. And btw, “No” can be a complete sentence.
- St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). Used for centuries for mental health conditions and widely prescribed for depression in Europe, this wild-growing plant is associated with increasing levels of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline that lift and regulate mood. In fact, an in-depth review of 35 PubMed studies found that St. John’s wort reduced depression symptoms to a similar extent as prescription antidepressants -- with fewer side effects.
- Chaste tree berry. On the herbal tip, Chasteberry can help improve a range of PMS symptoms from moodiness to bloating. There’s also evidence that it can aid in the relief of menstrual-related headaches, anxiety, fatigue, sleep issues and breast pain. Also used for centuries to treat several menstrual problems, it’s jam-packed flavonoids help balance hormone levels.
- Diet. It always goes back to food as medicine, ladies. Eating a variety of healthy foods, getting enough fiber and cutting back on caffeine, alcohol and salt is key.
- Self-Love. Last but not least, recognize and conquer critical self attacks. Destructive thoughts are as powerful as a virus that brings on the flu, so speak to yourself as you would your best friend and treat yourself with the same tender care you endow upon a loved one. Make that the new #mood.
- Depression causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. Depression can be a serious illness and lead to an increased risk of suicide. If you or someone you know may have depression, talk to a healthcare provider.
- Combining St. John’s wort with certain antidepressants can lead to a potentially life-threatening increase of serotonin, a brain chemical targeted by antidepressants. Again, talk to your healthcare provider.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of PMS that causes physical and mood-related symptoms that seriously disrupt a woman's life and relationships. You guessed it, if this sounds familiar speak with your healthcare provider.