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Having a meltdown? Get in control of your life

Many women feel overwhelmed and anxious the week before their period. “Today” relationships editor Dr. Gail Saltz has advice for handling stress.
/ Source: TODAY

Frustration, anxiety, stress, upset, and depression: Together they can lead to an emotional eruption, or what some people call a “meltdown.” Sometimes you feel so emotionally overwhelmed by unpleasant feelings that you can no longer control them or hide them from others. That's when you act out or have an emotional meltdown. This may take the form of being irritable, snapping at others, crying, screaming, engaging in all kinds of unhealthy — even self-destructive — behavior, or simply withdrawing from the world.

While certain problems may seem overwhelming at any particular time, you’re far more likely to have a meltdown the week before your period. The steep decrease in estrogen and progesterone during that time leave most women feeling edgier, more irritable and more stressed out. So, it’s not surprising many women find it more difficult to deal with issues about 25 percent of time. Just realizing that you’re more vulnerable to having an emotional meltdown during this time is a big help. If you’re aware of this problem, you can take a moment and stop yourself from getting too upset by thinking, “Oh yeah, my hormones are making me edgy, but I am really OK.” That’s much easier to manage than “I am going crazy.”

Many factors in your life can make you more likely to feel emotionally overwhelmed. If you’re having marital problems or have lost your job, gotten a new boss or had a baby, these stressful situations increase the likelihood of a small annoyance turning into a meltdown. My meltdown formula is: daily stress level plus hormonal status plus coping skills equal the likelihood of meltdown.

Since it’s unlikely you will be able to change the amount of stress in your life or your hormone levels, the one factor you have control over is your ability to handle stress. Here are some ways you can calm down and reduce stress in your life:

  1. Breathe. If everything seems to be piling on at once, instead of exploding and venting your anger and frustration, take a moment to consider what is physically happening. You may be breathing fast, your stomach may feel tense, you may even clench your fists. This probably means you’re on the verge of a meltdown. So take a moment to realize that you’re extremely upset and say to yourself, “Well, here it comes.” Then take three long, slow, deep breaths to diffuse the tension. This gives you time to think about how you should cope with the situation.
  2. Exercise. Working up a sweat really does reduce stress. Unfortunately, when you are really stressed, you will be more likely to blow off going to the gym or doing your workout. Don’t sit at home. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work or at home, make sure to set aside time to run, take a yoga class, or go dancing. This will really make you feeling better, even if you exercise for only a short time each day.
  3. Confide. Talking to a spouse, a friend, or even a professional therapist about what is really bothering you will make a huge difference. Feeling that someone else understands why you are so stressed out will make you feel better. Think of it as a safety valve.
  4. Relax. Whether you like to listen to music or soak in a bubble bath, give yourself permission to spend time relaxing. Unfortunately, women tend to deny themselves such indulgences when they’re upset, and that ends up making them feel even worse.

Of course, if you find that you often feel anxious or depressed, or if you have trouble sleeping or concentrating, you may need to be evaluated by a professional therapist to determine if your problem warrants treatment.