I’m sure you’re familiar with the many jokes and insults that abound about your period week–how it’s a time when you’re moody, angry and breathing fire and throwing hot coals everywhere you go. How can you not know about this stereotype, right? After all, you can’t watch a movie or TV show, read a book or attend a social function without someone blaming a woman’s perceived negative attitude on menstruation.
Well, I’m here to tell you that’s bull$#!+. And, my negative attitude about this period stereotype isn’t because I’m menstruating. It’s because this stereotype is a mix of myth and unnecessary prolonging of this myth by men and women alike. Let me quickly explain before I share my 6 ways to love your period week.
First, let’s look at the science: A few hours after you get your period, your estrogen level starts to rise after having spent a full six days in a free-fall. A mountain of studies that I’ve reported on in this blog prove that when estrogen rises, it has a whole host of positive effects on your mood: You’re happier, more optimistic, more confident and have higher self-esteem.
Sure, you’re probably not going to be experiencing the kind of euphoria you get when estrogen reaches its peak in Week 2 of your cycle (the week leading up to and including ovulation). However, compared to the irritation and blues you may have endured in your premenstrual week, your period week should be lighter and brighter.
Personally, I’m sensitive to my rising estrogen so I feel its mood-elevating effects very quickly after I start to bleed. No exaggeration, every single month in my head I have a version of that scene in the movie A Christmas Carol where Ebenezer Scrooge flings opens the window and shouts down to the newspaper boy, “What day is it?” And the kid yells back, “Why, it’s Christmas, sir!” Only in my head, the kid yells back, “Why, it’s your Day 1, Gab!” And I do my little happy dance because I can already feel my mood getting better–and also because it means I’m about to experience two whole weeks of rising estrogen mood-lifting goodness.
But, not every woman is like me. While I do get plenty of email from women who say they now appreciate their period week in a whole new way after learning about it through Hormonology, I also get email from women who are disappointed that their period weeks aren’t as enjoyable. Some say the worst part is at the start of their period, some say the worst is in the middle and others say it’s worst right at the end. But, almost universally, they say they’re angry, irritable, moody, foggy-headed, fatigued and/or depressed.
Here’s the thing though: In most cases, they don’t have to be having these lousy period weeks.
That’s because many of the problems causing these exact mood complaints during their period week can be fixed. (As you will see below. I promise, I’m getting there!) But, if you don’t know they can be fixed or you don’t make the effort to fix them, then two unfortunate things happen:
1. You are cheating yourself out of rising estrogen days: Let’s face it–for most of us, the best days of our monthly cycle are the rising estrogen ones. (The exceptions are women who experience excess anxiety from rising estrogen or who prefer life at a more leisurely progesterone-slowed Week 3 pace.) But, estrogen only rises during the first half of our cycle. (And, yes, also for a few days in Week 3, but rising progesterone also on those days puts a damper on estrogen’s best mood- and energy-lifting effects.) This means if you don’t embrace your period week and fix whatever is making it unenjoyable, you have just ONE WEEK of glorious high estrogen days every cycle. That’s it–one short week.
2. You are inadvertently helping to perpetuate the myth all women are in a bad mood when menstruating: When you try to tough out whatever’s making your period week lousy–such as pain or fatigue–rather than fix it, you’re increasing the likelihood of being in a bad mood. Unfortunately, this reinforces the message to both women and men that the stereotype about all women being irritable and sad during menstruation is true. And that means we’ll be hearing more lame menstruation-targeted insults and jokes whenever we turn on the TV, go to a movie or attend a social gathering.
For these two important reasons, today I’m sharing 6 techniques you can try to turn your period week into a week you love. Naturally, there will be some women who have problems that go beyond what can be fixed by these tactics–either because they have a serious cycle-related disorder, depression or another major health issue. But, the majority of women can use these tips to make every period week better.
Are you ready to love your period week? Here are the 6 ways to get the period week of your dreams:
1. Treat menstrual cramp pain: Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But, how many times have you or a woman you know simply put up with cramp pain, waiting it out and hoping it simply went away on its own? Or maybe you use a cramp pain remedy, but it doesn’t work well for you–yet, you don’t try another remedy that might work better. Here’s why putting up with all that cramp pain is not a good idea: Research proves that pain triggers certain changes in the brain and body that drag down your mood, energy and cognitive skills, making you irritable, blue, fatigued and foggy-headed.
Unless you have severe menstrual cramps, most women respond to cramp pain remedies, such as an adhesive heat patch, massage with essential oils and, of course, over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers.
Haven’t found the cramp pain treatment that works for you? Check out my posts on cramp pain remedies. I’ve written about dozens, so you may find a new one to try or one that makes your usual treatment work even better. For instance, in case you didn’t know, pairing caffeine with ibuprofen (such as Advil and Motrin) nixes cramp pain faster because the caffeine ushers the ibuprofen into your system more quickly. Plus, the caffeine and ibuprofen combo lessens pain even more than ibuprofen alone because caffeine has its own mild analgesic effect, so you’re getting two painkillers at once.
By the way, there’s an easy way to prevent cramp pain before it even begins: Simply take ibuprofen, omega-3 supplements or vitamin E on the days leading up to your period. Sounds too easy to work, but all three treatments block the production of prostaglandins–hormone-like chemicals behind period pain. No prostaglandins=no pain. Click here to find out the doses and days to take them for maximum effect.
2. Treat other kinds of pain: If you get headaches, backaches, migraines or flare-ups of chronic conditions (such as IBS) during your period week, do what you can to treat the discomfort. Just like with cramp pain, trying to put up with it has the potential to make you irritable, blue, tired and/or foggy-headed. I often get a migraine in the middle of my period–so I know how crabby, tired and brain-dead I can get when pain hits. However, by using a variety of migraine remedies, I’ve cut their frequency, duration and intensity by about half, which has made a huge difference in how much I enjoy the rising estrogen days in my period week.
3. Boost your iron intake: You’ve probably heard me recommend this tip before, but it’s worth repeating: It’s important to take an iron supplement (15 mg. for ages 14 to 18; 18 mg. for ages 19 to 50) or increase your intake of iron-rich foods (such as beans, beef and tofu) all cycle long. That’s because as you bleed during menstruation, your body’s store of iron gets low–and the symptoms of low iron include the blues, irritability, fatigue and mental fogginess. These symptoms often kick in during the latter half of your period week when your iron level has really hit bottom and can even strike after your period is over. But, they can come on at any time during your period, too. By keeping your iron intake at an optimal level all cycle long with iron supplements or iron-rich food, you can avoid having this mineral dip too low once menstruation arrives.
Are you taking an iron supplement and still not seeing a difference? You may be taking your iron at the “wrong” time. Iron is a finicky mineral and some foods and supplements can block its absorption while others can actually help you absorb more. Check out this fact sheet for how to take iron to get the most benefits.
4. Lighten a heavy flow: Women who have heavy menstrual bleeding typically have even lower iron during their period because they’re losing more iron as they bleed. This leads to even worse mood and fatigue symptoms. The fix? Try to lighten your flow. One way to do this: Take ibuprofen or vitamin E on the days leading up to your period. Both treatments have been shown to result in less bleeding during menstruation. To get the optimal doses and days to reduce bleeding–which are the same to prevent menstrual cramps–click here.
If these treatments don’t work, talk to your gynecologist since there are other remedies available to lighten a heavy flow.
5. Raise serotonin: Typically, when estrogen falls–for instance, in your premenstrual week–the level of the mood-regulating brain chemical serotonin falls, too. This can lead to the blues, irritability, impatience, anger and moodiness in some women. Typically, when estrogen rises–for instance, throughout the first half of your cycle–the level of serotonin rises, too, which makes you happier, optimistic and confident.
However–and this is a big “however”–some women don’t get this mood boost from serotonin during their period week despite estrogen rising on these days. Why? Research suggests it’s because you may be experiencing a lag–meaning that your brain needs more time to catch up and create enough serotonin to make a difference in your mood, which may explain why you don’t feel positivity kicking in until your Week 2.
So, what can you do? Try boosting your serotonin all cycle long so it doesn’t dip as low during your premenstrual week and it rebounds faster during your period week.
One way you can raise serotonin is through the foods you eat daily. I recommend you check out the Serotonin Power Diet. I’ve interviewed experts about boosting serotonin through diet (including one of the authors of the Serotonin Power Diet) many times for women’s magazine articles I’ve written and I’ve read the research–and I’m convinced it can work for many women. I even use some of these diet-tweaking tactics myself.
Another way to boost serotonin is to take a daily probiotic (such as the one I take, which is American Health Acidophilus And Bifidum, available at Amazon.com). Emerging research has linked healthy microbes in the gut to higher levels of mood-regulating brain chemicals, including serotonin.
Also, consider taking 40 mg. of vitamin B6 and 500 mg. of calcium twice daily. These two nutrients work together to improve serotonin levels in the brain, according to a new study in the Journal of Caring Sciences. In fact, they’re so effective at boosting this brain chemical that they can reduce physical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) by more than 50% and psychological symptoms of PMS by about 36% within eight weeks.
While you’re tinkering with brain chemicals, consider exercising and doing activities you love–such as your favorite hobbies–during your period week, too. By doing so, you’ll prompt a temporary rise in other mood-lifting brain chemicals–such as endorphins and dopamine–which could be enough to tamp down irritability or chase away sadness.
6. Reset your expectations: If you’ve heard all your life that your period week is going to suck, it could end up making your period week actually suck–not even for any good reason other than it’s just what you expect. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: When you get your period, you might fall into a funk because you’re expecting the worst. Or, if you encounter a challenge or have a bad day while you also happen to be menstruating, you might chalk up all or part of the anger or sadness you feel from the situation to your period–even when it played no role.
The truth is that for most women, when cramps and other pain are at a minimum, iron is being replenished regularly, you’re not sapped by heavy bleeding and your serotonin level bounces back quickly, you can expect your period week to be one where your mood is getting steadier and more upbeat as each day goes on. And, to me, that’s nothing to joke about.