We’re in lockdown. We can’t see our loved ones. All our plans have been cancelled. Existential dread is off the charts. But the one thing most women will be able to rely on during this period of uncertainty, is getting their damn period.
Turns out that even a global pandemic and unprecedented levels of worldwide crisis isn’t enough for our monthly cycle to give us a break.
Read the room, ovaries.
But getting your period during a pandemic isn’t simply an annoyance. There’s actually a lot more you need to think about. Particularly when there have even been reports of people stockpiling sanitary products. Not helpful.
In a time when self-care is more important than ever, we need to do everything we can to make sure we have the happiest period possible.
PMS is incredibly common for many people who have regular periods. But the symptoms are different from everyone. And can even be different month-by-month.
What we do know is that stress and disruption to your normal routines can have a significant impact on your periods, so you might find that your body is behaving differently this month.
Maybe your PMS will be worse, maybe your periods will be heavier, lighter, or disappear altogether (stress can do that).
Gynaecologist Dr Shree Datta works with women’s intimate health care provider, Intimina, and she has provided some expert advice for coping with your period while in quarantine.
While we’re all in lockdown, it’s not quite as easy to just pop to the shops to stock up on painkillers, heat patches, and anything else you normally use to help with cramps, back pain and breast pain.
And, if you do make it to the shop, don’t be surprised if all the painkillers are sold out. Thanks, panic buyers.
‘You don’t always need medication for PMS, as long as you are aware of your symptoms and respond accordingly,’ says Dr Shree.
‘So, whilst at home, chart your cycle and symptoms on an app so that you can anticipate symptoms and review their severity.
‘Look at whether there is anything which makes them better or worse.’
Tracking your symptoms is a great way to spot patterns in pain, and to figure out what makes you feel better.
If you can’t get hold of your usual pain relief, try alternative methods – like a warm bath, a hot water bottle or trying certain yoga positions.
Managing the mental symptoms
Most of us will associate PMS with mood swings, but it can be much deeper than getting a bit grumpy or tearful.
‘Symptoms to watch for include anxiety or depression, mood swings, and irritability,’ says Dr Shree.’
She adds that social distancing may exacerbate mental symptoms, as you are not with your usual support systems, and there aren’t many distractions.
‘Practice meditation and mindfulness to manage any stress you are going through,’ she says. ‘Be mindful of how this affects your PMS; you may actually see an improvement in your PMS symptoms during this time.’
There are plenty of mindfulness techniques that can help you manage anxiety and fluctuating moods. Get into the habit of setting aside five minutes every day to focus on your mental wellbeing.
For many of us, fitness and activity is the best way to relieve our PMS symptoms.
There are certain stages in your cycle where you may feel bloated and sore and not want to leave the sofa, but at other times you can actually feel energised and studies have shown that light exercise can help relieve PMS.
But, with the gyms closed and your favourite gym classes cancelled, you might be finding it harder than normal to stay active – particularly during your period.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends exercise for treating PMS, before resorting to painkillers. So why not try an online yoga class, or a HIIT session on Instagram live – most of the big studios are now offering live virtual classes that anyone can join.
Or get out for a run. We’re allowed to go outside for exercise once per day as long as we are following social distancing. And running will likely improve your mental state too.
Try to improve your sleep
Lots of people are talking about how badly they are sleeping during this lockdown period.
It is probably due to a spike in anxiety and a sever disruption of normal routines, but good sleep is really important for a happy period.
‘Think about sleep hygiene as this can also affect the severity of your symptoms and your mood,’ says Dr Shree.
‘Use the opportunity of working at home to monitor your sleep habits – for example, avoiding heavy exercise before bedtime.
‘You may find a regular bedtime with a period of reading before sleep relaxes you more in the second half of your cycle, with a real impact on how severe your PMS symptoms are.’
If you’re really struggling with a sleep schedule, it might be worth implementing a tech curfew and make sure you’re sticking to clear working hours.
Take a look at your diet
During your period it’s normal to crave weird things. Maybe you need chocolate, or chips, or huge amounts of bread.
Normally, this is totally fine, but if your diet is already up in the air because of lockdown, your PMS cravings on top might make you feel bloated, nauseous and generally a bit rough.
‘Consider the impact of diet on your symptoms – for example, a salty diet may make you feel more bloated or swollen and caffeine may affect your mood,’ says Dr Shree. ‘Watch your diet whilst at home and see whether alterations affect your symptoms over a cycle.’
Cravings are fine, and if you need a bucket of icecream to get you through – go for it. Just try to keep things balanced and make sure you’re still getting enough nutrients – even if you can’t get everything you normally would in your weekly food shop.
And, don’t stockpile tampons or pads. There’s just no need.
Buy as many as you normally would. Stockpiling will only hurt the many women who struggle to afford sanitary products every month.