The warning signs are unmistakable. You’re bloated and crampy. Your head aches and your breasts are sore. You’re so moody, you snap at anyone who dares to ask what is wrong.
More than 90 percent of women say they experience some of these symptoms — known collectively as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) — within a week or so before their period. PMS is no picnic, but it is manageable.
Try these 14 life hacks to beat the bloat and relieve other PMS symptoms too.
1. Pick up the pace
Walk, ride a bike, or just dance around your bedroom for 30 minutes a day. Exercise that gets your heart pumping can improve PMS symptoms like fatigue, poor concentration, and depression, research shows. The trick to a more comfortable pre-period period is to do aerobic exercises on most days of the week throughout the month.
2. Sleep tight
PMS can throw your sleep cycle out of whack. Whether you toss and turn at night or sleep all day, any disruption to your sleep pattern can make you feel even moodier than usual.
To sleep more soundly, get into a routine. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning — even on weekends. And make sure you hit the hay early enough to get at least eight solid hours of sleep each night.
Stress can add to PMS symptoms and make you feel even worse. Try relaxation therapies to take the edge off.
Yoga is one stress-busting method that combines gentle movements with deep breathing. Research finds that practicing it a few times a week can help relieve PMS bloating, cramps, and sore breasts.
Not into striking a pose? Try sitting quietly for a few minutes while breathing deeply and repeating a word like “ohm.” Studies have shown that meditation is also effective for PMS symptoms.
4. Get more calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B-6
Certain nutrients can help you feel better the week leading up to your period.
Besides being good for your bones, calcium can ease PMS symptoms like depression and fatigue. You can get it from foods like milk and other dairy products, fortified orange juice, and cereal.
Magnesium and B-6 help with symptoms like depression, anxiety, bloating, and food cravings — and they work even better when you take them together. You can find vitamin B-6 in fish, chicken, fruit, and fortified cereals. Magnesium is in green, leafy vegetables like spinach, as well as in nuts and whole grains.
If you can’t get enough of these nutrients in your diet, ask your doctor about taking a supplement.
Junk food cravings are synonymous with PMS. One way to beat them is by eating six small meals throughout the day, rather than three big ones.
Eating more often will keep your blood sugar stable, preventing those sudden drops that make you hunger for a candy bar, a slice of pizza, or bag of chips. Have veggies and dip ready for eating.
6. Try acupuncture
Stick it to your PMS symptoms with this ancient Chinese technique, which uses hair-thin needles to stimulate various points around your body. In one review of studies, acupuncture reduced symptoms like headaches, cramps, backaches, and sore breasts by as much as 50 percent.
7. Limit salt
Do you crave chips or pretzels in the days leading up to your period? Try to resist these salty temptations. Sodium makes your body hold onto more water, increasing that uncomfortable belly bloat.
Also, watch out for canned soups and vegetables, soy sauce, and lunch meats, which are all notoriously high in salt.
8. Eat more complex carbs
Ditch the white bread, white rice, and cookies. Replace them with whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and wheat crackers. Whole grains keep you full longer, which can cut down food cravings and make you less irritable.
9. See the light
Light therapy is an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and there’s limited evidence it might help with a severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Women with PMDD get especially sad, anxious, or moody before their period. It’s not certain whether sitting under a bright light for a few minutes each day improves moodiness in PMS, but it can’t hurt to try.
10. Get your rub on
If you feel anxious, stressed, and depressed around the time of your period, a massage could be just the thing to calm your mind. A 60-minute massage lowers levels of cortisol — a hormone involved in your body’s stress response. It also increases serotonin — a chemical that makes you feel good.
11. Cut caffeine
Skip the morning java jolt in the days before your period. The same goes for caffeinated sodas and tea. Caffeine enhances PMS symptoms like irritability and jitteriness. Caffeine can increase the ache in your breasts and the number of cramps because it increases prostaglandin production in the body. It also disrupts sleep, which can leave you feeling groggy and cranky. Sleeping better will improve how you feel. Some studies say some caffeine is acceptable, however.
12. Kick the habit
In addition to increasing your risk for conditions like cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), smoking can lead to more severe PMS symptoms. This is especially true if you start the habit during your teen years. Smoking may worsen PMS symptoms by altering hormone levels, experts say.
13. Don’t drink alcohol
A glass or two of wine might relax you under normal circumstances, but it won’t have the same soothing effects when you’re in the throes of PMS. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can actually accentuate your negative mood. Try to abstain — or at least cut back on your alcohol use until your PMS symptoms subside.
14. Take a pill (or two)
If all else fails, take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). These pills can offer temporary relief from PMS symptoms like cramps, headaches, backaches, and breast soreness.