There’s a lot of misinformation about periods out there. Many of us are conditioned to feel like we are held hostage to our monthly cycle and that our periods, themselves, are an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t have to be this way. The following eight things will, hopefully, empower you and improve your experience of your menstrual cycle.
Anxiety as a symptom.
Anxiety is actually a common symptom of PMS (a little bit of anxiety is normal, while crippling anxiety might be a symptom of PMDD).
For some general background: anxiety is a natural way that the body protects itself from danger, it’s part of the body’s ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. Elevated and sustained anxiety, however, isn’t normal. One particularly difficult thing about anxiety is that it can make it hard to distinguish between the things that you should be fearful of and your anxiety-rooted fears, the consequence being that it is easy to find yourself running on adrenaline and fearful of everything.
Feeling increasingly anxious a week or so before your period is due would suggest that you have premenstrual anxiety. Being able to acknowledge premenstrual anxiety as a temporary symptom can help you to minimise its impact and ride it out. To put it a different way, it won’t eliminate the anxiety but it might make your experience better. Try telling yourself: “This is just anxiety and it probably means that you’re going to get your period soon. You have anxiety and it won’t serve you to worry about this.“
*PMS symptoms vary from woman to woman and can change month to month (more on this later).
Stress can have an impact on your monthly cycle, including delaying or stopping it. Amenorrhea is the name for missed periods, and one of the causes is stress. Stress can alter the way your hypothalmus functions, and this can mean that your mentrual cycle regulating hormones decome disregulated. Your menstrual cycle can also make you more susceptible to stress. Stress can then, potentially, result in anxiety.
Stress is closely tied to anxiety, so much so that there are often mistaken for each other. It can be helpful to explain it in this way: anxiety is a response to something internal, while stress is a response to something external. Stress is influenced by lifestyle factors, such as individual circumstances and choices.
Stress can sometimes be recognised as feelings of overhwhelm as well as irritability. We can also become disproportionately triggered (stressed-out) during certain times within our cycle by everyday things which otherwise wouldn’t phase us, or which there are easy solutions to.
Do you track your spending? If so, it might be interesting to compare this with your menstrual cycle. For Founder, Iris Brannan, the luteal phase often coincides with emotional spending.
In case you don’t already know, the luteal phase is the latter part of the cycle, after ovulation and leading up until your period. The luteal phase is where hormones change and cause common premenstrual symptoms (mood changes, headaches, acne, bloating). If you’ve ever beat yourself up about a (unnecessary) big purchase, take some time to think about how this choice might be impacted by the intense emotions that accompany certain parts of your cycle. Of course, this doesn’t absolve you of any responsibility but knowing that it’s caused by biological changes can help you to understand your behaviour, manage it better (because shopping/spending money doesn’t actually make these intense emotions any less intense), and also feel less guilty about it when you do emotionally spend.
Bloating and monthly fluctuations.
Bloating isn’t a comfortable feeling, nor is it fun for all of your clothes to feel restrictive and too tight. There isn’t much that can be done about the presence of premenstrual bloating but you can improve your experience of it by having clothes that make you feel good and comfortable during this phase. It’s also totally normal to gain a couple of pounds when you’re getting your period, a lot of it is water weight and will go away in a few days.
Try to reframe your perspective of this particular aspect of your cycle and see it as a result of your femininity. Food for thought: do you think the women with beautiful, full bellies depicted in renaissance paintings felt the same distress as modern women do about bloating? Body image and the impact of media is a whole separate conversation but, in short, it (unsurpisingly) takes work to not find it difficult for your body to regularly change in a way that is often portrayed as undesireable. Admittedly, it is also reasonable to have a hard time with the uncomfortable experience of not fitting into your clothes, but this is something that you likely have the power to fix.
Changes after baby.
It is a very under discussed phenomenon, but pregnancy often shifts your menstrual cycle – for better or worse. The changes following pregnancy can impact bleeding – like a heavier, longer or more painful flow – as well as the presence or intensity of premenstrual symptoms. You may also find that your periods become more or less regular. If you find that your period becomes heavier or more painful after having a baby, this will often improve with time.
It’s possible to develop Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) after childbirth which, along with the potential for other PMS symptom changes, is useful to know as understanding your issues is the first step to being able to manage them. If your prementstrual symtpoms are severe do some research on PMDD and check in with your doctor, as there are ways that they can help you.
We’re probably a bit late to the party on this one, but we’ve recently found that tracking your cycle can be eye-opening. Clue is one option but there are lots of others out there when it comes to period apps.
It can be really helpful to be able to predict things that might be difficult. It means that you can prepare for them and it helps to keep emotional responses in check. We’ve noticed that feeling like your marriage or relationship is imploding at a certain point within every monthly cycle is a pretty common experience, as is feeling like an utter failure at life. These two things have the potential to be pretty painful but knowing where they’re coming from helps you to not dwell on them. It also shows you when you might need a little bit of extra self-care and compassion. This also leads to…
Talking about it.
Talk to your partner about your menstrual cycle. They may or may not be a big fan of the conversation, but with time they’ll likely recognise that it benefits them as well as you to know that there are temporary, biological reasons for the way you’re feeling or behaving. Clearly, this doesn’t give you license to act however you want, but it’s a helpful reminder for your partner that they shouldn’t read too much into some things or take them personally. It also clues them in that you’re entering the time where an extra cuddle will go a long way.
Cups vs. tampons.
Menstrual cups are trending now, and for good reason. The difference that it makes to your comfort level is huge (tampons are drying and so uncomfortable), to say nothing of the long-term financial benefits and enormous environmental impact. One particular company, Bettercup, even goes one step further and donates a cup to a girl in need with every purchase! The idea of switching to a cup might seem overwhelming at first but we think you’ll get the hang of it pretty easily – and when there is so much to be gained (like your comfort) it seems a tad silly not to try.
If you enjoyed reading this post, you’ll like How your menstrual cycle impacts your mental health. You might also like this post on 5 wellbeing-related lessons from more than thirty trips around the sun.