Pop culture’s influence on how people understand menstruation is pretty sad. Not only does misinformation about basic biology overflow (ahem), but turn on any sitcom and you will see the most tired “it must be that time of the month” jokes about periods and PMS still in full effect. Not only does this misinform, but it also dismisses the emotions of women and girls, who make up most of period-havers, as hysterical. All this can lead folks to think “are my symptoms normal?”
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can occur in the few days (or even a week or so) before a menstrual period begins. Like most things in life, premenstrual symptoms exist on a spectrum. It is common to see some symptoms, like chest tenderness, bloating and fatigue, appear in this timeframe without necessarily falling under the “syndrome” category. PMS symptoms can also become so severe that the condition is then called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Here is some information on what is considered typical for this premenstrual period before your period begins.
A dip in energy can be found across the premenstrual spectrum. Changes in hormones can create all sorts of difficult effects in the body and fatigue is one of them, so a slight dip is considered normal during the days before your period. Experiencing stress, lack of sleep, not getting enough vitamins and the use of caffeine can make fatigue worse. Extreme fatigue could be a sign of a deficiency or something else going on, so discuss this symptom with your doctor.
IRRITABILITY AND MOOD INSTABILITY
Hormonal changes are going to result in emotional changes… period. Experiencing ups and downs, sadness, irritability and crying spells are a part of the package with PMS. As long as they are manageable and don’t negatively affect other areas of someone’s life, they are considered expected and nothing to worry too much about. Make sure the supports in your life understand that this time is often accompanied with difficult emotions so they can be there for you without judgment.
PAIN AND HEADACHES
Tenderness in the chest area is very common in the days leading up to menstruation. The beginning of cramps and even low back pain are typical, as well. Many people are also prone to headaches during this time. If any of the pain starts to become severe, this could indicate PMDD or another issue, so check it out with your doctor.
NAUSEA AND BLOATING
Nausea is not uncommon at this point in one’s cycle. If it becomes severe or is coupled with other symptoms, like diarrhea, fever or severe abdominal pain, definitely get yourself to a doctor. Bloating is also a very common, yet uncomfortable PMS experience. There are some natural remedies to reduce gas and bloating during this time.
Sadly, one of the most difficult parts of experiencing PMS is the lack of understanding and validation from those around you. Remember that each of these symptoms is (usually) completely normal and about half the world’s population will experience them. Do what you can to take care of yourself and ask that those in your corner understand what you are feeling as real and that you are strong enough to handle what Mother Nature throws your way.
This post originally appeared on Care2.com.