I remember once watching my friend slowly slump to the ground, just like they do in the movies, and audibly wail because the 'good' pizza place was closed on Mondays. I didn't question her reaction — she had warned me that she was ‘PMS-ing’. And as someone who isn’t immune to a monthly meltdown, I could only empathise. That’s just the reality of periods for us and many others.
As many as 3 in 4 people who menstruate report experiencing premenstrual syndrome (PMS). With hundreds of documented symptoms, ranging from fatigue and bloating to depression and intense cramping, it’s a fairly debilitating time in one’s calendar, and (shockingly) there isn’t a whole lot of information about the causes and what we can do about it. In fact, five times more studies are conducted about erectile dysfunction (ED) than PMS, despite only 19% of penis-possessers suffering from ED, and 90% of women and AFAB people experiencing PMS.
Systemic sexism aside, there are some tried-and-tested ways to combat the more severe symptoms, with some people even requiring medication to negate the physical and emotional effects. And as for the rest? Well, researchers have found that the key may actually lie in our surroundings.
A new study published in Environmental National suggests a link between getting out in nature and reduced PMS symptoms.
Surveying over 1,000 women aged 18-49 living in cities in Norway and Sweden, researchers found that women who, across their lifetime, live in areas with more green spaces are less likely to experience PMS symptoms than those living in less green neighbourhoods.
Scientists from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health and the University of Bergen aimed to establish whether living near an urban green space could improve PMS symptoms and whether it was affected by body mass index, air pollution or physical activity. They deducted that women living in these greener areas were particularly less likely to experience symptoms like anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, breast tenderness and even abdominal bloating.
Lead author Kai Triebner noted that the psychological impacts were of note. “Three of the four symptoms that improved with exposure to green space were psychological, which is consistent with what we already knew: contact with nature helps to reduce stress and improve mental health,” he said.
Triebner explained that green spaces lowered levels of cortisol — also known as the 'stress hormone'. “Stress can worsen PMS symptoms and increase levels of the hormone cortisol, which, in turn, could be associated with an increased release of progesterone, which has been linked to the occurrence of PMS symptoms.”
He noted that the research is “another building block” in understanding what the best conditions are to live healthily. (It's important to note that not all of us have the opportunity to luxuriate in these green spaces.)
But as far as providing treatment for PMS, the research found that women needed to be exposed to green space for a long time to reap the most benefits. “When we looked at exposure to green space at a specific point in time, the analysis did not yield any significant results,” said Payam Dadvand, a researcher at ISGlobal, the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, and a coordinator of the study. “Our research therefore underscores the importance of long-term exposure to green space, which is where benefits against PMS symptoms were found.”
For the most part, women and people who menstruate are forced to learn to deal with their symptoms, for which we find our own unique ways of coping. And while being in nature has proven benefits to our mental wellbeing, there's no exact science to what works, anyway. Sometimes what we really need is the good pizza.