Personally, I couldn’t be more thrilled that period shame is ever-so-slightly diminishing in the West. There's so much more information out there about PMS, PMDD, and period sex than ever before. I’m also super-happy that people have more options for managing their periods than there have ever been. Despite all the information we have at our disposal, however, periods still suck sometimes. Periods can cause fatigue, headaches, cramps, irritability, nausea, and even insomnia. Not to mention the stress of trying not to leak on your new white jeans (or any other pants, for that matter.)
Even though periods can be a pain, there are plenty of common sense strategies to make them less horrible. Dr. Colleen Krajewski, a gynecologist and birth control expert, talked to Bustle about all the habits that could be making your period worse. According to Dr. Krajewski, if you can pinpoint how your lifestyle might be messing with your period, and you can commit to really listening to your body, then your next cycle should be a bit smoother than your last. Read on to learn what not to do if you want to make your period suck less.
Not Prioritizing Sleep
Ironically, there are a number of ways in which our periods can put us in sleep debt. Cramps come out of nowhere to wake us up in the middle of the night, and then they keep us awake for hours. Anything from headaches to nausea to period-induced insomnia can make it difficult for menstruating people to fall asleep in the first place. Still, it's important to do everything in your power to ensure that you're getting enough sleep while you're on your period. Dr. Krajewski says, "Anytime you're sleep deprived, you're going to tolerate what might be normal on another day less well." Getting adequate sleep might not make your flow less heavy, and it probably won't keep you from cramping, but it will make it easier for you to deal with all the pain, fatigue, and hormone changes that might accompany your cycle.
So if you want your period to be more bearable, sleep when you can. If that means taking a little nap right after work, do that. If it means putting yourself to bed a earlier than normal, do that. However you make it happen, ensure you're getting enough sleep, because the last thing you need to be on your period is sleep-deprived.
Laying In Bed All Day When You're Cramping
Although getting enough sleep is crucial when you're on your period (and when you're not), Dr. Krajewski says, "Laying in bed all day while you're bleeding and cramping is also maybe not the best idea." Believe it or not, one of the best ways to combat menstrual cramps is to get outside and move around. "Mild exercise, even something simple like walking, can improve your cramps," says Dr. Krajewski.
So the next time you feel period cramps coming on, don't automatically jump in bed. Take the appropriate amount of whatever pain reliever works best for you, and then take yourself for a short walk. If that doesn't do the trick, then you can bury yourself under your covers.
Not Listening To Your Body When You Eat
When I asked Dr. Krajewski how diet affects our periods, she didn't start listing "bad" foods or "good" foods. Instead, she told me to listen to my body. "Try to figure out if one food makes you feel better, or one food makes you feel worse," Dr. Krajewski tells Bustle. Although she doesn't think there's enough evidence-based research out there to determine which diet is the ideal one for women with periods, Dr. Krajewski did say this: "I do really believe in listening to your body. If your body is telling you you want some ice cream, go have some ice cream ... But, you know, maybe don't have the entire pint." So, there you have it — a doctor's excuse to treat yourself when you're on your period.
Taking Birth Control Inconsistently
Birth control can work wonders for menstrual cramps. "Most birth control that contains hormones — your birth control pill, your patch, your ring, your IUDs that contain progesterone — [those hormones] typically improve our bleeding," says Dr. Krajewski.
No matter what kind of birth control you use, however, consistency is key. "If you're not consistent with a pill, your cycle is likely to be a little bit wacky," she says. That means taking it at the same time every day, not skipping pills, and not doubling up on pills if you accidentally miss one. If you think you might need some help with that, here's a few tips to get you started.
Overdoing It At Work
Work-life balance is undeniably important for our overall health and wellness, but it appears that millennial women haven't quite figured it out yet. Back in 2011, Forbes reported that millennial women are pushing themselves so hard at work that they're burning out before 30. To make matters even worse, Dr. Krajewski says overdoing it at work can make periods even more difficult to handle. "I don't know if working too much is going to make you bleed more," Dr. Krajewski says, "but if you're running yourself ragged ... you're going to have less reserve to deal with the same period." So even if you genuinely enjoy working hard at your job (go, you!), your period just isn't the best time to be logging 12 hour days. No matter how unnatural it might feel to you, try to cut back at work when you're on your period. You might discover that you're actually more productive when you work fewer hours. Either way, you're body will appreciate all the rest and self-care you can give it.