Having a period will always be an extremely subjective experience, which no two people will share exactly. Because of this, self-care on your period has to be individual and not all tips will work for everyone. In general, most strategies for self-care during your period are implemented after they are recommended by friends or family, rather than upon medical advice. A 2017 study showed that loved ones can have a great impact as well: cognitive-based behavioural therapy was more successful with couples than in 1-1 sessions. For most people, cramping lessens depending on age and how long you have been menstruating for. But some conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts and fibroid tumours can cause further problems and deserve medical attention.
When and where self-care during your period is most important
The cycle of your period is split into four phases: the follicular, ovulatory, luteal and menstrual phases. The last two are the relevant ones here. The luteal phase is where the egg remains in the uterus and you feel premenstrual symptoms like irritability and cravings. Meanwhile the menstrual phase is the phase most often discussed, where the uterus lining is released, and you begin bleeding. This is where self-care during your period cycle is most important, and I’ve put together a list of eight methods below which can help.
However, it is vital to note that individuals’ experiences of their period can be tied up in their social situation. There is only so much within your control. Until the taboo around it fades, there will still be inherent difficulties, such as not being taken seriously by healthcare providers. These methods for self-care during your period cannot change the world, but they can — hopefully — change your personal experience for the better.
Self-Care During Your Period Through Regular Exercise
Surprisingly, seeing as the menstrual phase is the one where you have the lowest energy levels, exercise can help a lot! Walking, gentle running, or other activities have been known to make cramps more bearable. And even if those are out of the question, some people recommend light yoga — anything you can manage may help. This won’t be ideal for everyone — in my own experience, exercise only exacerbates my cramps— but it may well help you.
Self-Care Through Nutrition
You can adjust your diet to improve how your body reacts while you’re on your period. Foods which are rich in magnesium and iron (like chocolate, as long as it has a high percentage of cocoa!) are extremely helpful. Furthermore, avoiding foods which contribute to inflammation, like dairy, caffeine, red meat or alcohol, can also diminish some of the negative effects of menstruating. For more detail about foods for all stages of the cycle, as well as why they help, see the articles linked above.
Self-Care Through Heat
Heat, especially applied to the abdomen, works wonders. Many people swear by a hot bath or a hot chocolate when they’re on their period to help them relax. Even if you don’t have a bath, there are other options: hot water bottles, heating pads or warmies. Holding one against your abdomen is surprisingly effective, and possibly my favourite form of self-care during a period. If you don’t have a heating pad, they’re not difficult to make yourself. You can fill an old sock with rice and microwave it for a few minutes to get something that works just as well.
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Self-Care During Your Period Through Medicines
If needed, there are also plenty of things from a pharmacy which can help. Different forms of painkillers will have different efficacy for different people but finding the right one for you can work wonders. Speaking to a doctor about your options is also useful. When I did so, I was able to get medication for my pain levels and flow problems, which helped enormously. There are plenty of things that could help, even if it may take a while to find what is right for you, so don’t be afraid to try.
Self-Care Through Vigilance
The subtitle of this one might sound scary, but it is a very simple thing to do. As I’ve emphasised so far, knowing yourself and how certain things work for your period is key to improving your experience. So, if you’re trying to indulge in self-care during your period, paying attention to your own body is the most useful thing you can do. Keeping a journal of which tactics work is a lot of effort, but it provides a lot of advantages as well. If you notice a certain food exacerbates your cramps, take a note of it so you don’t make the same mistake twice!
Even if you don’t want to partake in anything as structured as a journal, being attentive to your own needs will always be useful. Have chocolate for when you feel down. Have a spare pair of clean underwear for when there are inevitable leaks. No matter how well you know yourself, preparation never hurts.
Self-Care Through Hydration
Hydration is of course important all month round, not just in the week of menstruation, so it’s important to hydrate in general. But on your period it can be especially useful, and I have consistently noticed the positive effects of it myself. It serves a number of functions, like fighting bloating and cramping as well as replenishing fluids. So while calls to hydrate more are often ignored in day-to-day life, they should especially be heeded when you’re menstruating.
Self-Care Through Sleep
Let’s face it. Sometimes, when you feel tired all the time, one of the best things you can do is sleep. Much like hydration, sleep is another thing that’s important all the time, but especially so during your period. And not in the least because that’s when you will be more tired! Naps during the day may feel unnecessary, but they can genuinely help. And while a full night’s sleep is hard to come by for many reasons, its importance should not be underestimated either.
Self-Care During Your Period Through Self-Love
Finally, I come to what must be the most important tip for self-care during your period: be nice to yourself.
Your period is not something to be ashamed of. Nor should you be ashamed for things you may not be able to do while menstruating. At the end of the day, it is a week out of your month spent bleeding, with sometimes unpleasant side effects. Being hard on yourself is the very last thing you need. You do not need to love yourself or your period, but it is important to be gentle with both. If you are unintentionally irritable with someone, apologise and make it up to them, but don’t stew in guilt about it. If you don’t reach your fitness goal for the day, try not to worry too much. You are only a person, you are a person going through a very difficult week, so be nice to yourself. You’re doing your best. And you don’t need to do any better.