How do I know what’s normal and what’s classed as fatigue?
Everyone knows what it’s like to feel tired—perhaps it’s during a lecture or meeting, or it’s an afternoon slump that often takes hold while you’re at your desk at work. That feeling of heavy eyelids or finding that you can’t concentrate as well as you’d like can be frustrating, especially when you’ve got a pile of work to get through! Perhaps you’d stayed up a bit later than normal the night before or had a larger lunch than usual, both of which can impact your energy levels. This is all quite normal and to be expected once in a while.
However, if you start to notice a pattern in your symptoms, then something else could be going on. Perhaps you find that it’s at around the same time each month that you really struggle to keep your eyes open. Maybe you feel extreme fatigue, like an overwhelming need to take a nap, or perhaps your energy levels are so low that it’s impacting your day-to-day life and preventing you from doing things you enjoy, such as exercising or seeing friends. If this is the case, then it could be related to PMS, and hormones could be at the root of the problem.
How can PMS contribute to fatigue?
Together with wondering what’s normal and deciding when to take action, women often wonder why they experience certain symptoms every month, while family or close friends don’t seem to have the same issues at all! Let’s explore some of the reasons menstrual fatigue can take hold:
- Hormones – Firstly, it’s quite normal to feel a little more tired than usual in the days leading up to your period. However, if the feeling is overwhelming you, then a hormone imbalance could be the cause. As we know, estrogen levels drop off to give us our period each month. However, estrogen is thought to help keep us feeling alert and functioning optimally. We have estrogen receptors all over our bodies and as the stimulation of these receptors declines, so can our energy levels, leaving us feeling a little groggier as a result. However, for women who suffer from low estrogen on a longer-term basis, these issues can become more pronounced. This is common in the lead-up to menopause, when fatigue is a common complaint, but a similar imbalance can affect younger women too. So try to watch out for those persistent feelings of fatigue coupled with lighter, less frequent periods.
- Nutrient deficiencies – Around the time of your period, the effects of nutrient deficiencies can become much more pronounced. The obvious one is anemia. If you suffer from more traditional symptoms of PMS, which often include heavy, painful periods, then you may be at greater risk of an iron deficiency that can leave you feeling exhausted. However, anemia isn’t the only issue to be aware of; other common nutrient deficiencies include magnesium, zinc and B-vitamin deficiencies, any of which can contribute to making us feel much more tired and less capable.
- Doing too much – Many of us are guilty of this in the 21st century, but doing too much, especially around the time of your period, can be detrimental and make you feel completely drained. Life must go on of course, but just like during menopause or pregnancy, this is a more taxing time on your body. You’re dealing with fluctuating hormones, pain and often a whole host of other physical and mental symptoms that can be draining and of course, can worsen if your nutrient status is compromised. In the week or two leading up to your period you, actually expend more energy and your temperature is slightly raised, which also contributes to the problem, so doing too much during this time could be making you feel lethargic.
- Poorer eating habits – It can be a bit of a vicious cycle when it comes to PMS and eating habits. Feeling tired, perhaps with the addition of the cravings many women experience during this time, will often tempt us into making poor food choices. Although it often seems like a good idea at the time to overindulge to get a quick fix of energy, more often than not, doing so will leave you feeling worse and will do nothing to support your energy levels longer-term. Refined carbohydrates, caffeine and alcohol will only cause your blood sugar to spike and ransack your nervous system, meaning that you’ll ultimately risk feeling more down, more anxious and sleepier.
- Sleep or stress – Sleep issues are often more common in the week or two leading up to a woman’s period. The downturn in hormone levels can have an effect, but also feeling warmer and having cramps can make you more restless as well. Also, a lack of sleep is often accompanied by heightened levels of stress and anxiety. And we all know that these plummeting hormones, nutrient deficiencies and poorer eating habits can also impact our cognitive functions—brain fog and poorer spatial awareness—leading to more stress as a result! Another vicious cycle to be aware of.
What can be done to help?
Don’t worry, it isn’t all doom and gloom. As much as I want women to understand more about their bodies, their menstrual cycles and the effects of fatigue, I also want to offer some simple solutions!
- Sort any underlying hormonal issues – While we don’t have much choice but to deal with the natural flow of our hormones throughout the month on the whole, if there’s a more pronounced hormone imbalance going on, then this is something we can target and attempt to put right. If light, infrequent periods are getting you down, for example, then low estrogen could be apparent; and if heavy periods and erratic moods are your issue, then estrogen dominance might be responsible.
- Revamp your diet and lifestyle – As much as you may want to overindulge or drown your sorrows, this isn’t the time to do it, so limit refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol and instead focus on making some positive changes to your diet, which could make all the difference to how you feel. Aim to eat fresh ingredients packed with essential nutrients, and watch your portion sizes—eating too little or too much can leave you feeling sluggish. Aim for good sources of healthy fats and protein which are important for supporting the manufacture of the different enzymes and hormones involved in vital energy production processes.
- Sort the supplements – Despite eating well and as using herbs to help support your hormones, you might still need a little helping hand. This is where Bio-Strath comes in: it contains nutrients ideal for giving your energy levels a boost.
- Relieve the tension – Though often hard to do, positive thinking is something I really believe in. If you’re feeling uncomfortable or feel your mood has dipped a little, why not make an extra effort to perk yourself up? Listen to some good music, light a scented candle, take a relaxing bath or do some mindful stretching to help relax you both physically and mentally.
- Move more – As discussed, although it’s important not to do too much during this time, making the effort to move a little more can also be beneficial. Whether it’s pushing yourself to go out with friends even if you don’t initially feel up to it, or doing some exercise, I can guarantee you’ll feel better for it. Laughter is often the best medicine, and endorphins, which are released as a result of even gentle exercise, should do you some good!
- See your doctor if symptoms persist – If the fatigue you experience persists, then it’s time to head to the doctor, who can check for anemia and any other nutrient deficiencies or underlying issues that could be contributing to your symptoms. Whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence.