8 Ways You're Sabotaging Your Period
There are no ifs, ands, or bloods about it: your period is the worst no matter what you're doing while you're on it. It might sound kind of useless to try to prevent all the ways you can make your period worse, because objectively, there's not much of a difference between "rock bottom" and "several inches above rock bottom, where you can see one fracture of hopeful menstrual light flickering in the distance". That being said, if your periods are especially brutal and you have the good fortune of being able to predict when they'll strike next, it might be worth trying to ease the pain in small, manageable ways.
The truth is, there are a lot of seemingly invisible factors that play into how we experience our periods. Some of it is just genetic (thanks for nothing, cramp-prone ancestors!), and some of it is biological, but there is some degree of period pain that is environmental — i.e., dependent on your behavior and the factors around you. And to some degree, it doesn't matter. You should always follow your own period YOLO because nobody knows what makes you feel better than you do. But if you aren't already set in your ways or are looking for a way to ease the ache of the monthly blood rains, it might be worth considering some ways that you may be unconsciously making your period worse.
You Sleep Erratically, Or Maintain An Unnatural Sleep Schedule
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the way you sleep can have a huge impact on your cycle. According to a report in Sleep Medicine, people who work in jobs that upset their circadian rhythms, like nurses or truck drivers or any other type of "shiftworker," experience more erratic, unpredictable, and longer periods than their non-shiftworker counterparts. Traveling across time zones similarly affects melatonin production and the hormones that regulate sleep and also impact your period. Unhelpfully, you have the lowest quality sleep every month when you're menstruating, so GO TEAM.
You Are Particularly Generous With Salt
If you have particularly bad cramps, then I have some particularly bad news: salt might be making them worse. High-sodium foods exacerbate the bloating and water retention that make cramps worse, and you might be able to alleviate some of the symptoms of you lay off of it for a bit.
You Skip Out On Your Usual Exercise — Or Exercise Too Much
No way to win, amirite? Half of us grew up in the camp of "exercise, it'll ease your cramps!" while the other half of us grew up in the camp of "I am going to huddle under the sheets and curse the light of day". Here's the truth: exercise can relieve some of your symptoms, like cramps and headaches and overall stress. But if you exercise too much in general — as in most of the month, not just on your period — it can have major effects on your cycle, and may disrupt it to the point where you stop getting your period for a time. Any kind of exercise is safe to do on your period, but make sure that you are pushing yourself within your limits and listening to what your body's saying when you do, no matter what time of the month.
You're Living That Coffee Life
Sorry to burst your caffeinated bubble, but coffee might actually do you more harm than good. A lot of people mistakenly believe that caffeine is good for period pain, because there is a bit of it in Midol, when in fact too much caffeine can worsen cramping the same way that salt can. Caffeine is a "vasoconstrictor," which means it makes blood vessels tighten — the very ones that affect the severity of your cramps (womp).
You're On The Wrong Pill (Or Misusing The Pill You're On)
While it isn't damaging or unhealthy to skip your inactive pills on a pack, it does leave you vulnerable to inconvenient breakthrough bleeding, or potential issues getting your next pack in time. If you pick up your prescription on a month-to-month basis and you're skipping four days on the pack, you might not be able to get another pack in time and set yourself up for the very period you were trying to avoid. Instead of playing games regularly with your pill pack, consider other types of birth control pills that have less frequent periods, or switching to another form of birth control altogether.
On the other end, you might notice after starting on a new birth control that your symptoms worsen or you feel uncomfortable on it. It might seem inconvenient to test out another pill pack, but every body reacts to different types of birth control differently, and you owe it to yourself to make sure you're using the form that makes you feel the best.
You Drink More Than Usual, Or Smoke
PLOT TWIST: things that are generally bad for your health are also bad for your period! In fact, menstrual pain increases with each cigarette smoked while on your period. Smokers are also significantly more likely to have severe period pain than their non-smoking counterparts — and it was more likely to be chronic. The earlier the woman started smoking in her life, the more likely she was to have chronic pain. (As if the looming and very real threat of lung cancer weren't enough, sheesh!)
As for drinking, alcohol leaves you super dehydrated by decreasing the body's production of anti-diuretic hormones, which of course will exacerbate any kind of pain. Any resulting hangover will also increase your risk of anxiety, headaches, and tenderness that you're already dealing with during your ~time of the month~.
You Don't Monitor Your Cycle With An App
You might think that your period is an unpredictable as they come, but once you really take the time to monitor it, most of us will start to see a pattern — and if we don't, that's also incredibly useful information to have health-wise. Whether your cycle is right as rain or pops in like an uninvited guest every now and then, it's important to have it logged somewhere in case you ever have medical concerns regarding your period. A lot of issues can be resolved much faster if your gynecologist has a clearer idea of your history, and what your "norm" looks like. That, and you can rest slightly easier knowing when the menstrual plague might strike.
You Stay Silent If You Have Issues With Your Period
Your period is extremely sensitive to what is happening to the rest of your body. Even if there is a problem that isn't inherently wrong with your menstrual cycle, often issues with your cycle are a secondary symptom of something else. There are a whole slew of things that can affect your period — insomnia, thyroid issues, iron deficiencies, some types of cancer, female athlete triad — the list goes on and on. Too frequently women are embarrassed or dismissive of menstrual symptoms, when really they can be indicative of much larger, pressing health concerns. Listen to what your period is trying to tell you — and speak up!