Womyn are bad-ass. Really, we are. We are consistently underestimated; we can grow humans in our own bodies; we have infinitely varying souls. Unfortunately, biology and anatomy dictate that those of us born with uteruses will have to repeatedly endure monthly cyclic hormonal changes. Fortunately, there are things we can do to ease our discomfort. Premenstrual symptoms are caused solely by hormone fluctuations brought on by the body preparing to shed the lining of the uterus. I’m sure you remember this from fifth grade sex-ed, right? What they don’t teach you in sex ed is that mainstream manufactured pads and tampons are made with several chemicals that are known carcinogens, or that primrose evening oil can regulate hormones. It just makes you want to call every fifth grade girl you know, and firmly declare: “What you’re being taught about your own body is WRONG!” It’s probably a good thing that I don’t know any fifth graders.
I remember getting my first period. I remember being afraid to tell my mom, and deciding to tell my older sister, instead. She said something cliché, like “welcome to womanhood” and handed me some tampons. I knew nothing about inserting them, let alone what they were made of. And for the last fifteen years, I feel like I’ve been slowly learning about my own body and cycle. I’d like to share some of the things I have learned, both in my nursing career and my personal life.
"Welcome to Womanhood"
Tampons: you either love them or hate them.
For starters, there are a few things that I would just like to get out of the way, so that I don’t sound like a broken menstrual record. Drink enough water, exercise, get enough sleep, take your vitamin, and try to eat healthy during and before your period. I know how tempting it is to lay on the couch, smash some Hot Cheetos, and binge-watch Netflix. Exercising will boost your endorphins, even if it’s just a walk around the block or some light stretching and yoga. Keeping hydrated will help clear up your skin and lessen your cramps.
Speaking of cramps: the worst, right? For years, mine were almost debilitating. If you’re the type to use essential oils, I have a few recommendations. Cypress and clary sage oil can improve circulation and act as antispasmodic agents. If you aren’t into oils, magnesium is a great option. Magnesium is essential for so many things in the body, but is particularly wonderful for muscle contractions. You can take a supplement, or add Epsom salts to your bath. A heating pad is an absolute necessity when this part of my cycle rolls around.
As for the acne caused by a hormonal surge, the best advice I can offer is to lower your stress levels. Of course, we would all be less stressed out all the time, if we could. In light of that, the next best thing you can do is to avoid inflammatory foods, like white flour or sugar. You can also try green, spearmint, or nettle tea. Good fats are extremely helpful, as well. Like I need an excuse to eat an avocado!
"Cypress and clary sage oil can improve circulation and act as antispasmodic agents"
Mood swings are probably the bane of my existence. Though every body is different, with different needs and different reactions, I have found that the intervention that has helped the most has been changing my diet to include more essential fatty acids and a vitamin E supplement. Of note, vitamin E is fat-soluble, which means you can get too much of it. Take it as directed.
The last thing I want to talk about is dysmenorrhea. If you have severe symptoms and can’t seem to find relief, check with your gynecologist. Many womyn assume their symptoms are normal, or are afraid they won’t be taken seriously, a la the 1950's diagnosis of hysteria. I could go on for ages about this, whether we’re talking about heart attacks or post-partum depression. The bottom line is: please see someone if you think anything is even slightly abnormal. There are treatments and a plethora of information available.
I hope this helps make the worst part of your cycle a little more bearable. Happy menstruating!