As of now, about half of the population in this country menstruates. So why aren’t we talking more about what it’s like to have a period? Often, women and other menstruating people may have pain or even diseases such as endometriosis, PCOS, or PMDD that make it difficult to function at a normal level both before and during menstruation. So why do we pretend that it isn’t happening? And what would happen if our country was more supportive of menstruation?
Periods aren’t gross
As children, many of us were taught to fear our periods or that menstruation is “gross.” Even our tampon and pad commercials wish away this time of bleeding because it interferes with daily life. So, why are we then made to continue with everyday activities, especially while enduring painful menstrual cramps and more? What would happen if we didn’t think their periods were gross, but instead felt supported to take time to rest during our monthly cycle?
Women and girls across the world are starting to find out, with movements such as Red Tent and books such as Wild Power by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, aimed at helping people menstruate consciously. Even Spain is jumping ahead of the movement, hoping to pass legislation that would enable women with painful periods 3-5 days of leave per month. Employers who are on the cutting edge of equity are beginning to offer menstrual leave as well as a plethora of other benefits.
If menstruating individuals felt supported, they would be much more likely to pay attention to their cycles. Periods aren’t supposed to be a painful experience, aside from a normal amount of cramping. But period shame has women who experience terrible symptoms hiding them and moving on with everyday life, sometimes to the detriment of their own physical and mental health. Endometriosis alone affects roughly 10% of our female population globally. Left untreated, it can result in complications and even the need for a hysterectomy.
PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, can cause severe PMS symptoms including extreme cramping, breast tenderness, irritability, GI upset, anxiety, and depression. If people were supported to get the mental and physical help they needed, there would be less shame in seeking these resources and much less suffering on the part of women everywhere.
Would women take advantage of a system of support?
One question that seems to keep legislation from helping women to feel supported throughout their cycles is whether they would take advantage of sick leave if offered. This seems like a silly reason to not create resources for women in the workplace. It is like asking if emergency family leave, sick leave or vacation time could be taken advantage of as well. We have all seen the effects of employees feeling supported, and there is never a decrease in motivation. On the contrary, when people feel supported at their place of work, they are more likely to give it their all and, in general, their production and happiness levels increase.
Where do you start?
Since we most likely will have years and even decades before our country sees a real shift in the way we treat menstruation, it is up to each person individually to take care of themselves and get in tune with their monthly cycle. Cyclical living and period awareness can be profoundly empowering for both women and their partners. Not only that, by understanding your cycle, you can see where there may be imbalances that you need to speak to your doctor about. Remember, you don’t need to push through pain, but instead seek help and nurture your body. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Keep track of your cycle. Write down the date your period begins and from there keep track. If you have a smart watch or smartphone, this is made easier with apps (However, do your research to ensure these are encrypted and secured, to be used only by the account owner). Otherwise, good old pen and paper will do the trick. To take it a step further, you can even keep track of emotions, feelings, or physical symptoms throughout the month.
- Learn the seasons of your cycle. There is plenty of literature out there to understand the hormone fluctuations that happen over the course of an entire monthly cycle. If you get to know these on an intimate level, it will help you to understand how you feel different during ovulation versus PMS and menstruation. You may wonder how this plays a role in the health of your period but knowing where you are in your cycle and what you may need physically or mentally at that time can help you to get into a rhythm of cyclical living that our bodies were meant to have.
- Pay attention. If something feels off to you, like you are spotting, having pain at an abnormal time, or other symptoms arise, pay close attention, and keep track of these. You may be surprised to find out that our periods can tell us a lot about our overall health. Seek your doctor’s help or advice if you feel the need.
- Rest. During your period, your body is meant to rest more. Think about all the energy that goes into bleeding! This is a great time to put your feet up, relax and take an extra nap. Some women find restorative yoga or meditation to be wonderful during this time. Others like to take a gentle walk, enjoying nature.
If half the people in this country have menstruated, it is time to allocate resources to helping support those bodies both physically and mentally. Like working to make sure parents have enough time with their newborn, businesses and government officials can work diligently to make sure every person feels supported during menstruation. In the meantime, it will be women taking matters into their own hands that will make change happen on a grassroots level.