Practicing Self-Care to Feel Your Best During Your Period
It’s no secret that our body changes during menstruation, and while it varies from person to person, it’s often associated with negative symptoms. Food cravings, disrupted sleep, cramps, headaches and muscle soreness are typical signs that “Aunt Flo” has arrived, but there’s more that you can do than grabbing a box of tampons, heating pad, and pain medicine to get through the week. Self-care may be trendy, but managing your physical and mental stress has many positive benefits, especially during “that time of the month.”
It is important to talk with your physician when making any significant changes to your diet and exercise routine. You can always talk to your Women’s Health Connecticut provider about your menstrual symptoms and any questions you have.
Here are a few self-care strategies to keep your hormones in check during your menstrual cycle.
A good night’s rest goes a long way during your period. Some women report disrupted sleep during their period and studies have found that sleep deprivation will increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands that can raise blood sugar which disturbs your ovulation and period.
Switching up your bedtime routine can help create consistent rest and supports a healthy hormonal cycle.
- Set your thermostat between 60-67°F – dropping the temperature will help regulate your body temperature, which often rises due to hormones during your period.
- Stick to a schedule – waking up and going to bed at the same time ensures you are getting the full amount of rest your body needs. For most adults, that’s 6-8 hours.
- Create a peaceful environment – eliminate distractions by unplugging, turn off the television and other media (cell phones too!) an hour prior to bed. Meditate, turn on relaxing music, or use a diffuser with essential oils, like lavender that promote sleep and relaxation.
- Find a comfortable sleep position – being on your side or the fetal position are suggested as optimal positions to reduce cramps which takes pressure off the abdominal muscles.
To many women, the heating pad is synonymous with periods, but it’s because heat therapy is a traditional and effective method to reduce pain. Warming the body lessens pain by relaxing the muscles, increases blood flow and concentrating that warmth on the abdomen will do so directly to the uterus and ease cramps.
When using any form of heat, be mindful about regulating the temperature to prevent burns. Some ways to integrate heat therapy into your routine are to:
- Try a heating pad/heat wrap – using an heating pad or heat wrap provides the opportunity to apply direct heat to the abdomen or lower back.
- Add layers – simply putting on warmer clothes, or additional layers will help keep the body warm and promote muscle relaxation and comfort.
- Take a hot shower or bath – include aromatherapy with a shower tablet or bath bomb to create a relaxing and restful environment.
- Drink a warm beverage – a big cup of tea or hot water are a quick way to warm up and some herbal teas might support menstruation symptom relief.
Exercise might be the last word you want to hear while you have your period, but the activity releases endorphins that may help with your cycle and PMS symptoms. The good news is that strenuous activity is not necessary, but it’s not off limits if you are up to it. Getting the body moving will boost your mood, improve blood circulation and reduce stress, combating cramps, headaches, and anxiety.
- Try light cardio – cardiovascular or aerobic exercise at a low intensity like walking and swimming.
- Strike a pose – yoga and pilates offer positions that can integrate stretching, breathing and meditation exercises to relax the body and mind, relieving pain and stress.
- Go running – if you feel up to it, going for a run, is a moderate to high-intensity activity to promote circulation.
- Be consistent – sticking to a schedule will reduce stress and improve mood. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 30 minutes of activity at least 3-4 times per week.
Carbs and sweets are common cravings during your period, but too much can lead to bloating, water retention, poor concentration, and irritability. Women with heavy periods may also experience iron deficiency anemia, which can cause brain fog, tiredness, and mood swings. Eating healthfully, along with staying hydrated can help reduce these menstrual symptoms.
- Fill up on fiber – fiber will reduce bloating and promote healthy digestion. Some options include almonds, apples, artichokes, beans, blackberries, sweet potatoes, and whole grains.
- Supplement properly – foods and supplements with calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamins E, B6, B12, and omega-3s provide relief from most period and PMS symptoms.
- Include protein rich foods – lean protein helps keep blood sugar stable and will also reduce cravings. Lean fish, meats, almond butter, and chickpeas are some options to try.
- Hydrate properly – drinking enough water fights fatigue and dehydration, boosting brain activity, digestive regularity, and hormone regulation. The standard goal is eight 8 oz. glasses per day, when you are on your period, you may need more, so it is important to listen to your body.