Your period can be a real pain — literally. Some women hardly notice when they have it, while others are in bed for days waiting for it to pass. Why is that?
Menstrual cycles vary in both length and intensity, with a flow that can last anywhere from two to seven days in length (cue the applause for those with two-day periods). Most women experience at least a few symptoms. During your period, the muscles in the uterus contract, which causes cramps. Other common symptoms include nausea, headaches, back pain, tender breasts, fatigue, and bloating. Thankfully, there are ways to help alleviate discomfort and even head it off completely by preparing for your period’s arrival.
Don't forget to exercise
The week before your period begins, it’s common to feel less energized. Typically, during this time (if you are not pregnant), your estrogen and progesterone levels are decreasing. Physical activity alleviates premenstrual symptoms (like PMS) despite low energy levels. Of course, if you’re feeling fatigued, skip the kickboxing class and choose a workout that is more manageable, like a walk outside or a yoga session. Working in the yard is also a great way to increase serotonin levels. Who doesn’t love a mood booster?
Prioritize your sleep
Period-related symptoms like cramps, headaches, and even bloating can affect sleep, so try to catch some extra zzz’s in the days leading up to your period. A good sleep regimen not only gives your immune system a lift, but it can increase your productivity throughout the day and enhance your mood. Good sleep habits, also called “sleep hygiene,” can ensure you wake up feeling refreshed the next morning. Try implementing the following:
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time (even on weekends).
- Remove all electronics (including cell phones) from the bedroom, if you can help it, to avoid distractions or interrupted sleep (no late night Instagram scrolling).
- Avoid hefty meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
- Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature, the lighting (or lack thereof) fits your preference, and the noise is minimal.
Locate the heating pad
It’s time to bring the heat (to your abdomen). A heating pad does wonders to help uterine muscles relax, which alleviates cramping. When the cramping begins, take a nice warm bath or a steamy shower, with a side of chamomile tea for added relaxation and relief.
As a side note, when you’re bringing out the heating pad, take an inventory of your feminine products to ensure you’re not without your preferred feminine hygiene support when your period makes an appearance.
Avoid salty foods and alcohol
Tell your friends that Margarita Monday is on hold. Drinking alcohol is dehydrating and can increase the severity of your period symptoms. Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day is important, but even more so on the days leading up to and during your period. As mentioned, cramps are a result of contracting uterine muscles, and without proper hydration, they are more likely to happen. Salty foods can also increase the intensity of cramps and cause bloating. Although we all deserve that side of fries occasionally, consider rewarding yourself post-period for making it through another one instead of a pre-period celebration. The same goes for caffeine and sugar — moderation is key.
Keep that period tracker handy
2020 has given us enough surprises — don’t let your period be one of them. Download a period tracking app on your phone to help you plan for its arrival. It’s important to note: a period tracker should not be used in place of contraception if you’re sexually active.
Add fiber to your diet
It’s possible to experience constipation during (or before) your period due to a woman’s varying hormone levels. In some cases, the fluid that normally flows to the colon to soften and move stool is held in other parts of the body. If you can’t remember the last time you went number two, try increasing the fiber in your diet, hydrate, and exercise.
Every woman is different, so period symptoms (and methods for relief) will vary. Don’t hesitate to ask your friends what works best for them. Over time, you’ll get into a groove. Life is short, and we should live every day to the fullest — period and all.
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