red-tent.jpgI know I’m heading into some sticky terrain with this, but lately I’ve been wondering if indeed women wouldn’t be better off if they had something equivalent to a “Red Tent” during those premenstrual days.

Many professional women I talk to say it’s definitely harder for them to be productive right before their periods, and so many men tend to blame a woman’s bad mood and other negative behaviors on her period.

I was joking around with a friend of mine recently that women should be given a day off each month to deal with PMS.

I was only kidding folks. For the most part, women are very productive even if they have PMS. Yes, women can run companies and even this nation during this time. I just want to make that clear. Many women believe we shouldn’t even be discussing this as a problem publicly because it’s one of many reasons women still don’t get respect in the workplace. What are your thoughts on this? Just suggesting that I wanted to write this blog post made many of my female colleagues uncomfortable.

But there is something to PMS impacting our work lives. The questions are — Is it real or perceived? How bad can it get?

I asked PMS expert Diana Taylor for her take.

Taylor is professor emerita at the School of Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, and she’s also the author of “Taking Back the Month: A Personalized Solution for Managing PMS and Enhancing Your Health.”

“Not everything can be attributed to PMS…stress plays a major role in work-related problems. However, our stress response can be accelerated during the “premenstrual days,” she says.

It’s hard to know which came first, the chicken or the egg when it comes to PMS.

“In one study, about 15 percent of the women reported that relationship problems at work—such as increased conflicts, criticism, complaints, and rejection—increased the severity of their PMS. These findings were confirmed in my own research. It’s not just the communication problems with individual coworkers that are stressful to women with PMS. Often, the overall work environment can place an added strain on women during the premenstrual phase. Women with PMS often report being more sensitive to noise, temperature changes, odors, and non-verbal tension among coworkers or work groups. Conflicting demands from various managers or supervisors or a lack of control over how the work is performed can also be especially tough to take premenstrually. Not surprisingly, women often report increased stress due to excessive workloads or insufficient time to complete their work during this already difficult time in their menstrual cycles.”

So is it all in our heads, I asked her.

“There does seem to be some evidence for what we call the expectation-experience link which can create a perpetuating cycle: While women may come to expect premenstrual symptoms for a variety of reasons, their actual experience of symptoms can also come to influence their expectations. In other words, women who have premenstrual symptoms may come to anticipate their arrival each month and, hence, may perceive events around the time of menstruation as more stressful. And this heightened perception of stress may wind up exacerbating their symptoms and so on.”

She believes we need start thinking of women’s cycles in a much more positive light, and in turn that may diminish some of the negative feelings we associate with PMS. But good luck with that one. I think many of us women have gotten used to bitching about that time of the month. No?

If there is something to the claims that PMS does indeed impact our lives/work, what can be done about it on the part of women, employers?

“Women can read my book and incorporate the remedies which include easy to integrate strategies into busy lives. As for employers, both men and women workers would benefit from stress management strategies. At least the menstrual cycle is predictable…men don’t have the same predictable period of stress vulnerability. For women, tracking their stressful days whether it be premenstrual or on the weekend when they have additional domestic burdens. Rather than focusing only on the women, employers would be better off using some to the cognitive-behavioral stress reduction strategies for all their workers (and themselves).”

And what about a day off?

“Some women may want to disappear into the modern version of the ‘menstrual hut’ each month,” she explains. But, if you can’t build that hut, she adds, women can help themselves by managing their time better and anticipating the worst of PMS. And that means avoiding or postponing stressful events.

Oh, if it were only that easy.

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