17 years after having my first period, I’ve experienced every phase of the menstrual moon. Painful, debilitating cramps that kept me out of school five days every month, mood swings that bordered on the edge of insanity, and breakouts that made my skin less glowy, and more pepperoni pizza — we’ve all been there.
It’s taken a couple hundred rounds of lady shark week to determine what remedies actually work for me. Sure, over-the-counter options came in handy in the beginning, but in the last few years I’ve adopted more natural healing and coping modalities. Fair warning: every woman is different, but through research, using myself as a guinea pig, and hearing from others, I’ve gathered a few ways to make “Aunt Flow” a little bit less of a bitch.
Add some heat —
The best (and first) piece of period-related advice my mom gave to me about my cycle was to apply heat. Never underestimate the power of a steamy bath, an electronic heating pad, or a hot water bottle applied to your lower abdomen (and back, if needed). The soothing warmth helps to relax the muscles of and around your uterus which is all fired up, busily giving itself a clean slate (not unlike Britney Spears after she shaved her head). It also stimulates blood flow so pain is ultimately curbed. Pro tip: add epsom salts and calming essential oils to soak up serious relief (see “Aromatherapy” below for which ones to use). And, if the electronic heating pad is more your vibe, make sure you purchase one with an “auto-off” setting in case you doze off from utter relaxation.
The benefits of aromatherapy are well documented, so why not utilize them for that time of the month when all hell breaks loose down south? The calming tendencies of lavender oil are legendary, so if you find yourself extra anxious or on edge, add some to the aforementioned bath or tip a few drops into a diffuser to stop you from yelling at someone in the line of fire. If acne is your bane, add a drop or two of rose oil to your moisturizer to brighten your skin tone and reduce inflammation. When the blues get extra heavy, reach for geranium essential oil to balance your hormones when pretty much everything and everyone makes you want to burst into tears… episodes of Friends included.
Think about the anatomical functions of your nether regions while you are on your period: swollen muscles and pumping blood. Add in a big meaty steak, sugary processed foods, carbs on carbs, and/or alcohol and things get a lot messier and strained. You want to take as much pressure off your already pissed off pelvic muscles, so pick warm, vegetarian, gentle-yet-nutritious foods that can pass easily. Sip on teas like chamomile to calm insomnia, green when fatigue hits, and fennel when gas and bloating weigh you down. The key here is comfort from the inside. Plus, don’t forget the power of hydration to move “things” through as cleanly and swiftly as possible with minimal discomfort.
Exercise and rest —
Listen to your body. If you’re a fitness freak, have at it and continue doing what feels right. However, giving into the pain, fatigue, and mental exhaustion is sometimes the best medicine and just what you need to let your body do its thing. But light exercise (be it yoga, walking, jogging or swimming) can once again aid the circulation of blood and bring about some much needed relief. Working out regularly can also make periods easier, but that all depends on consistency.
When in a pinch, keep your mind focused on something other than the pain and internal conflict happening in your innards. Watch a scary movie. Listen to a podcast. Get into a heated political debate. Binge on episodes of Game of Thrones. Whatever takes your mind off it all, by all means, dive in.
Acceptance and empowerment —
Having a period is not something we as women asked for, nor is it a walk in the park. Identify what symptoms bother you the most and prepare, prepare, prepare, while incorporating these practices, tips, and tricks as routinely as you would your self-care regimen. And finally, before you shout to the heavens and sink under the pull of the crimson tide, start to think of your monthly period as your superpower. “I can do anything you can… but while bleeding” should be your new mantra.
Charlotte Farrell is a freelance writer and editor who loves nothing more than a piping hot matcha latte — with almond milk, of course — and subjects like wellness, fashion, self-care, food, climate change, feminism, beauty, fitness, and travel. She graduated with honors in Communications and English Literature from the University of California, San Diego, and is now based in NYC where she enjoys reading, writing, exploring, and dreaming about gluten-free croissants.
Illustration by: Juliet Romano.