5 Strategies to Keep Your Mental Health in Check on Your Period

About six weeks before my 12th birthday, my family and I were on a road trip when we pulled over at a rest stop. There in a concrete bathroom stall somewhere along California’s Highway 280, I looked down and saw the first signs of adulthood: My period. I knew what it was thanks to a video in sex education where a young girl sat at her family’s dining room table, when suddenly her eyes widened at what I then assumed was a literal flood. I was too embarrassed to say anything, so I waited until we got to my grandmother’s house to pull my stepmother aside and whisper to her that I had blood down there. She showed me how to attach a pad to my underwear and proudly proclaimed that I was a woman.

Unfortunately, my first period ushered in another prominent piece of my adulthood: Depression and anxiety, which I was diagnosed with at age 12. The seismic shift in hormones triggered a spiral into sleepless nights worrying about the future, perpetual self-doubt and a lack of self-worth that constantly plagued me — despite the time of the month. At such a young age, I had no idea how to manage these new emotions; they seemed to bop me on the head at a moment’s notice, pulling me under for weeks at a time.

As I got older, I learned how to manage my depression and anxiety with a steady regimen of weekly therapy, exercise and a healthy dosage of antidepressants. But my symptoms always worsen around my period, particularly when I am PMSing. What’s more, they always catch me off-guard, even though I’ve had my menstrual cycle approximately 200 times. Now that I’m in my late 20s, I’ve finally learned how to stay ahead of my period. Here’s how I avoid ending up curled into a ball on my bed while weeping to Leonard Cohen.

Track your cycle

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If I’m not tracking my period, my PMS symptoms will sneak up on me, and I’ll find myself tearing up at my desk for no apparent reason. Fortunately, if I’m aware of when I’m about to PMS, I’m more proactive in taking care of my mental health, and less likely to spiral at a moment’s notice.

I use the app Clue, which not only tracks my cycle, but helps me keep tabs on my moods. This free app calculates predictions for your menstrual cycle up to three months into the future. As someone who always carries around a planner and loves to plan ahead, I view this as an absolute life-saver. Plus, you can enter in your emotions, and Clue will keep tabs on your trends. This data can be your PMS-busting best friend.

Roll out your yoga mat

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When I’m on my period, the last thing I want to do is work out. Still, physical activity is a proven method of relieving cramps and reducing stress, and I often turn to yoga when I’m feeling particularly off. I just make sure I’m avoiding anything too strenuous, opting for gentler yoga styles such as a slow-flow hatha class.

Looking for a particularly soothing pose? Try baddha konasana, a hip-opener that eases cramps and worries that may be rattling around in your mind. Plus, there are tons of YouTube videos designed for hitting the mat on your period, such as Yoga With Adriene’s Yoga For Cramps and PMS.

Nourish yourself

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I’m always craving chocolate on my period, and it turns out my body is pretty smart! According to studies, dark chocolate may increase serotonin, which helps regulate mood. When I’m on my period, I try to really listen to my body to figure out what to eat. Kale, salmon, bananas and oranges are a couple other foods that optimize physical and mental health.

I also make sure to stay hydrated, and I drink at least 64 ounces of water per day, plus multiple mugs of tea. I highly recommend Traditional Medicinals Female Toner herbal tea, which uses raspberry leaf, nettle and other herbs to help balance hormones. Sometimes, though, I’m just craving a really greasy pizza, and I’ll let myself savor a slice… or three.

Indulge in a little pampering

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When indulging in my favorite foods isn’t enough, I’ll turn to the art of pampering. Female-owned businesses are booming these days, and fortunately, these savvy ladies are recognizing a need for products that ease your menstrual cycle.

I’ve been a fan of Aquarian Soul for a long time, and the company just released Moontime Healing Balm, which naturally alleviates pain during your cycle. At $40, it’s a bit of a splurge, but I find that spending a little extra on my personal health during my period can help me me avoid my lack-of-self-worth spiral. Plus, this balm boasts amazing ingredients, including cramp bark, raspberry leaf and wild yam root, which are all traditionally used to alleviate cramps. Whenever I’m feeling even the slightest hint of pain, I’ll slather this balm all over my abdomen for instant relief.

Embrace your period — emotional swings and all

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When I was younger, I tried to run away from any emotion that I deemed as “negative,” such as  anger, sadness or fear. While it’s a constant battle, I’m learning that these emotions are not only normal, but perhaps crucial to doing this thing called life. 

Sometimes my period makes me a bit melancholy, but I no longer try to suppress it; in fact, I’ll take the time to visit with that feeling by journaling (I can’t recommend the the Moleskine classic notebook highly enough). For instance, if I’m feeling lonely, I’ll write about it, and oftentimes discover that what I really need to do is nourish my relationships, such as call my mom or see a friend. I no longer let sadness scare me; instead, I view it as a wise tour guide helping me navigate my emotions. In that sense, maybe our periods can teach us all a little something about ourselves.

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