Believe it or not, there were two times in my life when I thought having my period was fun. These once-in-a-lifetime gleeful menstruation moments occurred when I got my monthly “friend” for the first time and when my monthly friend didn’t visit when I found out I was pregnant. Both of these events were memorable and wonderful, and where I stand now — with two sons and a husband with a vasectomy living in my house — they are never going to happen again.
These days, my period is just what you would expect it to be — cumbersome, exhausting and rife with irritability. I know there are plenty of things I am doing wrong to feed this vicious cycle (eating too much junk, snapping at loved ones, crying about puppies, etc.), but according to the experts, there are a few things I could do right to make Shark Week more pleasant.
Forget what you learned in health class. If you want to enjoy all 28 days of your cycle, do things differently this month.
1. Cut the junk
I knew we had to go there, but did it have to be so soon? Dr. Gino Tutera, an OB-GYN with 40 years of experience, tells SheKnows that while diet has a “huge impact” on your body each and every day, what you eat matters even more on your period. During this time, your body becomes even more sensitive to food and food additives because of the shift in hormone levels — namely excess salt and sugar. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. It’s doctor’s orders: “Avoid salt and additional sugars and drink more water even if you’re feeling puffy or bloated. Potassium is helpful during this time — so grab a banana. Drinking small amounts of caffeine may alleviate some discomfort.”
In addition to making dietary changes during the Great Flood, holistic health care practitioner Amanda Campbell swears by drinking tea to alleviate discomfort. “Raspberry leaf is known for eliminating cramps and yarrow is known for regulating blood flow, so I make sure those are my main ingredients in my tea. I notice a definite improvement when it comes to my energy levels and just general feeling of ‘ick,”’ Campbell tell us.
This tip has got me all excited, and I’m sure you can guess why. As if we women needed another good reason to masturbate — other than it feels good and “why not?” — sexologist Dr. Megan Stubbs has some life-changing news for ladies with a drawer full of vibrating toys in the nightstand. Stubbs asserts that masturbation can help to relieve even the toughest period pain.
She tells SheKnows, “When we orgasm, our pain tolerance increases and our uterus contracts, which can lessen some of the tension centered there. Many women report having an increase of sexual desire around the time of their period as well, so it seems like a win-win. Of course, everybody is different, so be sure to listen to what yours is telling you.”
3. Manage stress
I have all but given up attempting to keep my cool at home and at work when I am about to start my period. But according to Kathleen Funk of Acufunkture, there may be hope for me yet: I can act like a rational human being all month long by learning techniques to preemptively manage my emotions. I’m all ears…
“Emotional strain plays a huge part in the free flow of qi (vital) and blood in the body. Stress and anxiety can disrupt the cascade of hormones that occur in a woman’s menstrual cycle,” she tells us. “Emotions like frustration, anger, anxiety and worry can lead to stagnation of qi, which may lead to painful periods. Also, moods have a big effect on how you perceive comfort and discomfort. A person who is stressed or anxious typically has a lower pain threshold and is more reactive to pain and discomfort.”
Funk advises, “Quiescent activities like meditation and tai chi can help manage your emotions and maintain the free flow of qi in the body.”
4. Take magnesium
Here’s the “fun” part of menstruation no one wants to talk about: With your period comes any number of unpleasant symptoms, including digestive issues like bloating and constipation. What does this have to do with magnesium, you ask? Dr. Carolyn Dean, medical advisory board member of the nonprofit Nutritional Magnesium Association, explains to us, “PMS is considered to worsen with constipation and toxicity. Magnesium is a natural detoxifier and muscle relaxer and helps with constipation and painful cramps. If the bowel doesn’t empty once a day, toxins can be reabsorbed back into the body from the colon. The longer debris sits in the colon, the more fluid is reabsorbed, making stools more solid and difficult to pass.”
Yikes. Looks like I know exactly what I’ll be ordering on Amazon Prime tonight to get things moving. Dr. Dean recommends, “The most bio-available form of magnesium is magnesium citrate powder mixed with water and sipped throughout the day. It helps support our energy and supports the liver’s natural detoxification pathways, relaxes muscles and relieves cramping.”
5. Try “alternatives”
If you’re one of the happy residents of Colorado or Washington or California or any one of the states where weed is legal for recreation use, this may be the perfectly legal period pain relief tip for you. Rachael Carlevale, founder of Ganjasana, considers the topic of positive menstruation near and dear to her heart.
Carlevale’s open-minded approach to holistic menstrual wellness includes yoga and — yes — cannabis. Citing Queen Victoria as a cannabis user for menstrual pain relief in the 19th century, Carlevale explains to SheKnows, “Cannabis is a wonderful companion plant to aid menstrual cramps, headaches, pain and uplifts spirits. I prefer heavy indica cannabis cultivars during my cycle, as they are known pain relievers. When approaching the use of edibles, start with slow and small solutions. And be sure to know your cannabis source before consuming. I prefer organic soil-grown cannabis.”
6. Work up a sweat
Trust me — I know. During that time of the month, I feel like my blood has been replaced with glue, and every movement requires the strength of 10,000 men. Literally the last thing I want to do is hop around on a treadmill or stick my ass in the air in yoga class. Donovan Green, celebrity fitness trainer and author of No Excuses Fitness, begs to differ. He says sticking to your regular workout routine can provide specific benefits whilst surfing the Crimson Tide.
“You can substantially reduce cramps and bloating during your workout,” he tells SheKnows. “Your body produces less estrogen and puts you in overdrive. This shift in hormone can have a great effect on your body metabolically. You will feel almost as strong as an ox once you get over the cramps and hit the gym.”
Green adds, “The only thing to be mindful of is lifting too much heavy weights, which can cause unnecessary bleeding to occur for some but not for all. You should also avoid anything that requires hanging upside down, such as a headstand in yoga. This will cause your uterus to fill with more blood, which can, in fact, cause more bleeding. Ninety-five percent of my clients are female, and they always feel great after their exercise session during their period.”
A version of this article was originally published in June 2015.