How do you hack your period?
December 7, 2012 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Women of metafilter, how do you look after yourself before and during your period? What are your hints and tips for coping with menstruation and it's attendant effects? How do you organise your life to handle cramps, mood swings, fatigue etc.?

While my periods have always been pretty tough they are getting more painful and emotional as I get older. I am currently dealing with a semi-diagnosed stomach disorder that is exacerbated if it strikes during my period (think episodes of cramps, dizziness, vomiting and headaches over a period of a few days with persistent fatigue for the entire duration). I'm seeing a doctor for this illness and slowly getting things under control but meantimes I would like to establish a routine of self care for during my period to minimise the time that I'm ill or out of commission and make sure I can turn up for work and carry on with my life as much as possible.

I avoid taking painkillers as much as possible as they upset my stomach but will occasionally take a paracetamol/codeine tablet for the cramps when they are very bad. I'm interested in non-medicinal ways to tackle cramps.

I'd like to know how you organise healthy eating, working, exercising, rest and your social life around painful and debilitating periods. I've looked at previous questions that cover certain aspects of painful periods, and I'm happy with the medical treatment I'm getting. At some point in the future I will probably get a mirena and hopefully not have to worry about menstruating anymore. For now what I'm looking for is inspiration for a routine that will help me cope with the painful periods that I'm going to face for the next few months at least.

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posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (56 answers total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite non-medicinal cramp reliever: chamomile tea. Stock up on it and start drinking it before the cramps get too bad. World of difference!
posted by Autumn at 9:08 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I give myself a lot of leeway around my period, because my body is busy doing other things and I don't want to push it too much. Gentle exercise-- walks and stretching help my cramps. I get horrible migraine-like headaches where light and sound are horrendously painful, so I make sure I have my favorite ice pack and I give myself permission just to lie in the dark and enjoy the quiet. If I feel like I need to be "doing" something at this time, I will practice my deep breathing, which also helps calm my mood swings, or listen quietly to my favorite podcasts.

I have a cheap, washable wet/dry heating pad that works on a timer that I picked up from Target and it becomes my best friend. It was an excellent $15 investment, since it turns itself off after an hour so I can fall asleep under it. I drink a lot of raspberry leaf tea, which tastes a lot like regular black tea but is supposed to help regulate menstruation; it also doesn't contain caffeine, since caffeine makes my cramps and headaches worse. I eat a lot of ice cream, read, watch favorite movies. When I'm at work I'll put on PBS Nature in the background so I can watch cute animals, and I try not to schedule serious appointments for around those times if I can avoid it. If you can stomach vitamin D and a multivitamin containing iron, do it. Currently I'm on a "don't eat too much meat" kick, but around my period I chow down on a really big, expensive burger around Day 2, because it's what I want and I figure my body probably needs it. I bust out the expensive soap and nail polish, so I can still feel cared for even if I'm bloaty and crampy. The smell-good candles come out (if I don't have a migraine. If I do, bring on the peppermint oil!) If I have the energy, I make sure I go out with my girlfriends, both so I get some company and so I can bitch about gory details if I need to. If you are having episodes of dizziness and fatigue, maybe you want to make and freeze some meals in advance so you don't have to worry about feedining yourself?

I try to be aware of my mood swings and express them without being damaging. Acknowledging them and interacting with them rather than repressing REALLY helps me deal. So if I get one of those moments where I want to set everything in the world on fire, instead of yelling at my partner for something small and inconsequential, I will begin announcing over-the-top things. "I WANT TO PUSH A KITTEN OFF A CLIFF." Sometimes I throw watter bottles half-full of water at the couch. Nothing breaks and it's really satisfying. Sometimes I just yell "GRUMP" and stomp my feet like a five year-old. Last night I told my partner I was feeling extremely angry and critical and he said I could be critical of him if I needed to, so I started telling him funny things that he already knew or that were clearly untrue. "YOU HAVE A WEIRDLY SQUARE BIG TOE. YOUR YELLOW SNEAKERS CAN BE SEEN FROM SPACE. ALL OF YOUR RELATIVES ARE STUPID, ESPECIALLY THE ONES I HAVEN'T MET YET," etc. By the time I was done we were both laughing really hard and I felt a lot better.

Also, when I'm motivated to freakin' do it, weight training and regular swimming/sauna-ing the rest of the month really help regulate my moods and symptoms. Lastly, I don't know how you feel about sex on your period, but a good orgasm or two does wonders for me, particularly if it's not, um, self-inflicted. :D
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:19 AM on December 7, 2012 [32 favorites]

1. avoiding carbs/sugar for the couple of days before my period tends to help my (also very bad) cramps.
2. my workouts are always a battle to get to when my cramps are bad, but IF I can get myself there I find working out will help make the cramps a little better.
3. Heating pad tucked in to my pyjamas/undies while I sit on the couch sometimes helps
4. Hot baths
5. tea I make from freshly ground gingerroot, cinnamon, honey, and lemon. (helps with my stomach problems)
6. When my cramps are really terrible, I have found muscle relaxants (ie. Robax) helpful. They make me a bit loopy so they are only a last resort, and only at night.

7. (you didn't ask but...) Diva Cups are amazing. I love mine. On top of being very painful, I also have really heavy periods that are pretty irregular. Getting a Divacup has changed my life.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:20 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Orgasms. Preferably several. I never feel very sexy, but I figure that's what vibrators are for.
posted by ootandaboot at 9:22 AM on December 7, 2012 [14 favorites]

Hot water bottle, heating pads, a sock stuffed with rice and put in the microwave for 30 seconds... those things help with the pain a bit. Hot baths are great, too.

I eat chocolate, but avoid other types of dairy (except some milk in my tea).

Light exercise, if possible. Swimming is great; running, not so much. Walking is great too.

Tracking my cycle so that I know it's coming makes a big difference. I eat well beforehand and give myself permission to be not myself for a few days. Just being kind to myself is a big help.
posted by k8lin at 9:23 AM on December 7, 2012

I use a heating pad but it helps me more if I sit on it rather than setting it on my belly.

I find I cramp less when I can use a pad instead of a tampon or menstrual cup, so I do that when it's practical.

And definitely, for me, knowing where I am in my cycle helps me deal with the emotional highs and lows. "Oh, oh, I'm premenstrual, THAT'S why I'm so teary and sentimental." that kind of thing.
posted by lemniskate at 9:26 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]






posted by Juliet Banana at 9:27 AM on December 7, 2012 [26 favorites]

You said non-medical, but I'm not sure how you feel about targeted vitamin supplements - my previous gyn suggested that I take a calcium-magnesium-zinc supplement and an omega-3 / fish oil supplement to help with cramps. I did that for a while, and it did seem to help. I'm not doing it currently (though I really should go back to it). I think she suggested I take the cal-mag-zinc & fish oil every day, plus an extra calcium for the second two weeks of my cycle; I don't remember exactly.

One non-painkiller strategy for really bad cramps is lying down in the shower - there's something about the warm water falling on the stomach / uterus area that is helpful and soothing.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:39 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

A lot of what others have posted work for me as well. I used to have really painful, achy periods - it was very hard for me to find relief some months from the awful ache in my legs, feet and back. And yes, it did interfere with my life. I'd call in sick. I am a runner, but many times, there was no way in hell I could imagine running with the aches in my legs and back (and the general overall miserable-ness).

Somehow, over time, when I find that since I have been working out regularly (even walking when I wasn't up for a run) as well as drinking lots of water and mindful eating habits, I have found over time that I barely even can tell when I'm about to start. The aches and pains are not near as bad as they once were, in my case anyway. I still get small amount of cramping, and the emotions are still there (feeling weepy over commercials is the usual sign for me).

But to handle the discomfort and pain, I would have to rely on heating pads, a hot bath, naproxin (Aleve) - seemed to be the only thing that could touch the aches.

Good luck, I know this type of discomfort really sucks.
posted by foxhat10 at 9:45 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like the disposable stick-on heating pads.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:49 AM on December 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Nthing heating pads, hot bath or shower, naproxin (Aleve US / Feminax UK), orgasms and ice cream.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:52 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I use an electric heating pad between my back and some kind of lumbar support. The lumbar support (it could be a cushion/pillow, or medical grade) takes the edge off. Massages help immensely. And laying down on my back with my knees bent (I don't use a cushion under my knees, but you could) while having some kind of weight (e.g., dog, partner, kid, heavy bric-à-brac) on my stomach does wonders. Wonders!

I twist myself into marichyasana D to help with the backache, and try to get fresh air and walk outdoors (usually to buy myself a slice of cake 'cause I am in pain and dammit, I deserve cake!)

If it the pain becomes unbearable despite the above, then I give in and take naproxen.
posted by mayurasana at 9:54 AM on December 7, 2012

I mark my period on my calendar and make a concerted effort to I focus on projects. Projects: not people, not problems.

I find when I am in physical pain it is much more difficult for me to skillfully manage the personalities, or make decisions based on something other than expediency. My responses almost always tend towards, 'yeah, well get over it', and that is not conducive to problem solving or leading my team. So I minimize the meetings, see if I can punt responses by about 24 hours, and dig into some focused task oriented time that doesn't require another person's input.

Because I don't pretend I am in anything other than mental and physical distress, I've got nothing scheduled on my calendar socially during those 1-2 days except comedies on netflix. I don't get on myself about what I eat, if I work out, if my home is clean. I don't ask my partner anything about why they didn't take out the trash. No unnecessary drama. Nothing but mindfully riding it out.

And then I'm fine again after the first day or so, and I jump right back in.
posted by anitanita at 10:00 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I try to work from home, if I don't have too much on my plate. I work on a computer, and love using this lap desk:

I drink lots of warm tea and make sure I eat every 3 hours. Nothing raw. Nothing cold. I get myself lots of high quality chocolate, but otherwise no junk food. Think things like chicken soup, which you would eat if you were sick.

As others said, hot showers when I get too cold.

I also use an app on my phone called "P tracker". I'm lucky, I guess, to have them very regularly. The tracker has a widget that just displays a number, that is the number of days until your next period. It's usually only 1 day off for me, if that. So if I'm traveling, I check it to see how active I plan to be.
posted by ethidda at 10:00 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I know when mine's on the way because I get so hungry I could eat my own face off. When my cycle is regular enough, I try and get some healthy snacks in so I don't just end up eating lumps of cheese and Nutella on a finger from the jar. Strong flavours are good.

I also had very heavy ones when I had a copper coil, too heavy for me to consider doing any kind of serious exercise (walking for fifteen minutes to get the bus was OK, running was not) due to the pain and the flow. Knowing I couldn't do the exercise for one week in the month made it hard to get motivated on the other three, because I knew a 'break' would need to happen. I feel your pain.
posted by mippy at 10:02 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

week before:
- mostly i try to avoid genocide
- lots of imitrex because migraines
- as little alcohol as possible
- yoga yoga yoga all the time
- a little cake because fuck everything
- otherwise avoid bloaty carbs
- under no circumstances should you weigh yourself or try on an old dress you suspect you may have outgrew
- it is okay to cry at dog food commercials
- i wear sports bras all week because i'm a 36D and pms boobs are a bitch and a half
- while punching people is satisfying it is never really a good idea

- vegan dark chocolate covered cacao nibs, oh my fucking god yes
- heating pad on my back, ice pack on my head
- slightly less yoga, no inversions
- sleep on the couch because it's easier to replace a $100 futon than a $2,000 mattress

week-10 days after:
- i am an ENERGY MONSTER so all the deadlifting and tons of core stuff which really seems to make the subsequent cramps much less terrible, may be weird placebo effect though

general tips:
- do not get anything waxed starting 3 days before or during your period, it will hurt like a thousand bees instead of the usual 100 bees
posted by elizardbits at 10:19 AM on December 7, 2012 [37 favorites]

Cinnamon tea - boil the sticks, makes the house smell great too. Tip: real cinnamon sticks look like cigars, all filled it. Cassia, often sold as cinnamon but not, is a thick swirl

Fresh Ginger: in food, soup, teas, or just plain much on it quickly. Great for inflammation.

Rue in a cheesy omellettes. Some people make tea out of it, too gross for me.

Epson salt baths or supplement with good quality magnesium (do NOT use epson salt as an oral supplement, it'll just have a laxative effect)

Go low carb/low sugar

and of course: dark chocolate. nom nom nom
posted by Neekee at 10:30 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll second all of DarlingBri's suggestions, except that I do advil instead. Ginger tea helps with cramps too.
posted by jeather at 10:38 AM on December 7, 2012

Valerian tea with added valerian tincture; Rescue Remedy liquid or lozenges; orgasms. (I'm prepared to believe that the first two are placebos and/or that I've trained myself into thinking the nasty taste makes them medicinal.) I have also felt some relief from cramps by massaging the area and certain yoga positions that seem to open the area up or increase blood flow to it.
posted by BibiRose at 10:44 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Vitamin B complex supplements for the angsty part of PMS.
I take it all the time now, but I think if you start taking it mid-cycle it helps.
posted by luckynerd at 10:46 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I drink this 'Moon Cycle Tea' stuff, and it seems to help with my cramps. Is it placebo? Quite possibly! But who cares!

I swear to god the Diva Cup actually makes my cramps less severe. It also decreases irritation because, unlike tampons, it doesn't wick moisture away from the vaginal walls.

And, a bag of non-popping dried corn that I microwave and use as a heating pad.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:50 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I want to marry my heated mattress pad. I double layer it; heated mattress pad with a regular heating pad on top, it's like a warm cozy cocoon of self love.

and hot baths, sometimes I'll take 2 in one day

Also nthing raspberry tea.

candied ginger helps with period nausea, you mentioned a stomach issue so that advice may not be appropriate.
posted by hotelechozulu at 10:59 AM on December 7, 2012

Response by poster: The more sugars and grains I avoid, the lighter, less crampy, and happier my normally very long, very heavy periods. Weight loss also reduced heaviness of flow and length long term (weight gain resulted in it coming back). The two together resulted in the least sad periods ever. Exercise and carb removal helps immensely with the moodiness.

Codiene is a pretty hardcore way to address pain. I know you don't like pain medication, but have you thought of using less-hardcore medications before to relieve during? Taking ibuprofen, Pamprin, or Midol for up to a week before you start reduces cramping and flow during. And for addressing symptoms during the period, Pamprin really does work better for me than aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, opiods, or teas for relieving symptoms.
posted by Anonymous at 11:00 AM on December 7, 2012

Teas and supps have not helped me. If I don't take meds, I basically have to commit to two days of shivering in a fetal position. If I remember to take them a couple of days in advance and consistently throughout (every 4 hours on the nose), I feel almost completely human for the duration.

+1 hot water bottle.

The most I can manage, exercise-wise, is walking or yoga. Apparently there's evidence to suggest that sports injuries (esp ACL problems, though, it's possible it's just those that have been studied) are more common during menstruation, which jibes with my anecdotal experience of mostly sucking at anything vaguely intense during my lady-time.

(NB: I do not prefer this, and don't consider any of these adaptations a matter of politics. I just try to get through that week.)
posted by nelljie at 11:02 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Over-the-counter iron supplements have helped a lot with the headaches that I used to get during my period (I take them as long as I'm bleeding significantly - I tend to have one or two days with heavy bleeding followed by a couple of days of trickling).
posted by rjs at 11:05 AM on December 7, 2012

My gynecologist gave me permission to just keep taking my long cycle (seasonique or seasonale or whatever) BC consecutively while skipping over the last week of pills for as long as my body consents to not bleeding. She also said that once things do go south and the uterine mutiny takes effect that I can just take four days of the last week pills instead of seven.

I like this strategy - it aligns with my strict fuck periods policy.
posted by skrozidile at 11:14 AM on December 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Two (no more) light, fizzy American pilsner or lager beers.
Really. These make me pee/debloat/burp and I feel better.

Also heating pads, hot baths, and permission to be emotional. And OB ultra tampons.
posted by pointystick at 11:14 AM on December 7, 2012

Putting on my "Chinese mother" hat...

Dang Gui, or Angelica Sinesis, is a Chinese herb that helps with menstrual irregularities. When I still lived with my parents, getting my period meant being forced to down a bowl of Dang Gui soup by my mother, a blackened orc tonic barely made tolerable with the addition of dried sweet dates. But you can get them in pill form these days.

And if you drink mostly iced water, cold drinks, give those up and leave them to the young. YMMV, of course, but it makes a difference to me--I am less crampy and less achey if I consume mostly room-temp water or hot drinks. It didn't used to be the case when I was in my teens to my early twenties, but now that I"m in my thirties, the effects of consuming mostly cold drinks are noticeable.
posted by peripathetic at 11:32 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have any particularly noticeable emotional symptoms before or during my period, but it often hurts a lot, I tend to feel tired and apathetic, and generally "yucky". Here's what helps with that: gentle swimming (I have a reaaaally hard time convincing myself to go on my usual runs 3 days before it starts and the first 3 days of), hot tea and buttered popcorn, fresh air, not weighing myself the week before, not picking at or fussing with skin which tends to unfortunately suffer a few pimples the week before, hot showers, generally feeling CLEAN (teeth brushed and flossed fastidiously, face washed, hair tied back and not tangled, clean undies more than once a day if they don't feel clean, etc).

None of those things actually help with physical symptoms. For that, I use naproxen sodium and an electric heating pad. My stomach (despite its follies!) is impervious to NSAIDs so I never have to worry about them upsetting my stomach, and I know naproxen sodium (Aleve) might not be up your alley - but have you tried it? Ibuprofen is pretty unhelpful for me and tylenol/paracetamol and asprin are both 100% useless, with no effect whatsoever on my cramps. I'm not saying it's the same for you, but the point is that painkillers can differ widely in their efficacy from person to person.
posted by Cygnet at 11:35 AM on December 7, 2012

FYI Pamprin and Midol have a fuckton of caffeine in them, which you may not be down with.
posted by elizardbits at 11:48 AM on December 7, 2012

Sorry you have to deal with this, it can be debilitating.

I've been on OTC Lo for about four months now, and that seems to have helped with the pain, in addition to making my (usually very heavy) period lighter and overall less of an ordeal. I started taking HBC for a different (albeit related) reason: after several months of intense and unexplained daily discomfort in my abdomen, doctors found a 10cm endometrioma on my ovary and I had it removed with surgery... they told me that HBC would reduce the chance of it returning and might also help with my menstrual problems, and so far it has worked out well.

I know you said you don't want to take medication, so this is sort of a tangent, but... after I gave my cycle a few months to get used to it, the pill has helped with my period a lot. Sometimes I wonder if starting it earlier in my life (I am 24) might have saved me a great deal of pain and health care bills. Maybe I would have gotten the cyst anyway, I don't know.

Your symptoms sound different from mine and I am not suggesting you have what I had, but for months I thought my problem was gastrointestinal until I had an ultrasound that revealed the cyst. I had seen several doctors and had even asked them if I might have an ovarian cyst, and most of them gave me pamphlets about getting enough fiber and doing colon cleanses. The doctor I saw who ordered the ultrasound thought I had "grumbling appendicitis."

I don't mean to hijack your thread with something off-topic and subjective -- I guess I just wanted to share this because it made me realize that I had to be my own advocate when it came to diagnosing my vague symptoms, and if one doctor didn't treat me to my satisfaction, I had to keep trying until I found one who did.

Other ways I deal with period woes: Heating pad, combined with putting pressure on my pelvis, helps. Lots of herbal tea (mint, ginger, chamomile), less caffeine (this is hard, I drink a lot of coffee). Less salty or sugary foods. Mild exercise, if I can make myself do it. The disposable heating pads are really good for when you're out or at work. I almost always end up taking Advil, and it seems to work a lot better if I take it before the cramps even start.

I hope you feel better.
posted by perryfugue at 11:51 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also agree that the diva cup is pretty amazing. Luckily I don't usually get cramps or anything (but I sympathize with those who do) so since I've used the diva cup it is almost possible to forget that I am having my period at all.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 11:53 AM on December 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have terribly painful periods and stomach upset (I call it "the period poops") too. I often (but not every month) can't manage work for at least a day and a half during the worst of it. I get irritable, defensive, and kind of paranoid during the few days prior and the first few bloody days. My family and close friends claim that my periods are the worst they've known any woman to have on a regular basis. It's been this way since I was a kid. And it's not because I'm a wimp. My pain/distress tolerance is not particularly low in comparison to others.

I'm a fan of hot baths, heating pads, and naproxen (Alieve) also. Although I will take something stronger if it's handy and feasible. Orgasms are really magical in terms of preventing both the migraines and the most severe cramping (the kind that makes me crawl into a fetal position and rock myself). I don't think it matters if they are shared with a partner or the result of "private time." I try to come a couple of times in the few days right before my period and during the beginning also. It really helps, no joke.

I crave red meat and organ meat like liver most months during my period. It seems to help with my energy level to have a bloody steak or some fried chicken livers (I know, I know, you guys think that chicken liver is gross, so does everyone else I know but I love it!)

Eating warm foods, like soup, is key. It's like a heating pad for the inside of your gut. Also using pads instead of tampons when it's feasible and you're dealing with really bad cramps.

Employ distraction for the emotional symptoms. Television, movies, books, whatever gets you out of your own head.

In the last couple of years, I've committed to a personal policy of not making any important decisions during my period and to avoiding relationship drama at all costs.

I hope you find some tools that help you deal. I'll be watching this thread closely for new things to try too. Good luck.
posted by dchrssyr at 11:54 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Promethazine helps me a lot; you don't have to eat it, so it doesn't bother your stomach. It does make me sleep for about 10 hours, though.
posted by amtho at 11:55 AM on December 7, 2012

For me, a couple of good, heavy workouts in the days leading up to my period are absolutely magical in preventing cramps.
posted by psycheslamp at 12:10 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Taking extra vitamin D, iron, and calcium supplements seems to help for me, probably since I'm vegetarian and often low in those. I also take my painkiller of choice (ibuprofen) immediately when I start having the first twinges of cramps, instead of waiting until it gets bad enough to "deserve" one. And when possible, I nap through the worst parts.
posted by dreamyshade at 12:11 PM on December 7, 2012

Magnesium and Aleve. Start taking the Aleve at the first sign of trouble and don't let it get out of your bloodstream until it's over. I also read a study that said taking Aleve in the run up to your period helps with acne. I've tried it and it does, but I'm not willing to be on Aleve for 50% of my life.

Also, I own only black undies, except for a couple of light-colored pairs for wear under light-colored pants. If they're stained, I don't see it, nobody at the gym sees it, and since I don't feel compelled to bleach the hell out of them trying to eradicate stains, they last twice as long.
posted by HotToddy at 12:16 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I stopped using tampons as they seem to make my cramps worse.

I have a heavy flow, and the big downside to using pads for me is that it is a pain in the ass to keep everything clean and contained in my lady area during the heaviest days. For this reason I trim my pubes extremely short right before my period is due. Easier to keep the area clean that way.

I carry a generous supply of portable feminine wipes along with my extra pads. Useful for cleaning my lady parts but also for cleaning anything that might get on my fingers, wiping drips off toilet seats, etc. A gross hazard of a heavy flow, unfortunately, but at least I don't have to walk out of a public stall to the sink with ick on my hands.

These pads are awesome for a heavy overnight flow. It's a bit like wearing a diaper but comfortable enough worn with a snug-but-stretchy panty and I don't have to worry about waking up in the middle of the night in a pool of blood any more.

For cramps and tension:

Magnesium citrate seems to help with cramps and irritability. Also I just feel better in general mood-wise and aches-and-pains-wise if I take fish oil so I assume it probably helps with this too.

L-Theanine seems to take some of the edge off any anxiety or tension. I'll also have a glass of wine sometimes to help me relax.

For some reason my feet are always achy during my period, somehow related to the uterine cramping. Massaging my feet by rolling them on balls makes me more comfortable all around.

Occasionally I will break my no-tampon rule and wear a regular-flow size one for an hour or so so I can have a swim and then sit in the hot tub at the gym. The hot water is incredibly soothing.

Meds-wise the only thing that reliably helps my cramps is to take two aspirin and two acetaminophen at the same time. It's the same thing you get in Excedrin minus the caffeine, which I do not need. I always take it with food so it doesn't upset my stomach. YMMV but I thought I'd mention it in just in case you might find it worth a try.
posted by sock puppy at 12:18 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend who heard to me groan about my periods for years did some research and tried, also for years, to get me to use Clary Sage oil. I'm open to alternative approaches but a topical for deep muscular pain just sounded impossible to me so I was a long time coming to it. Finally one desperate night I did and, very surprisingly, it worked. I don't know the mechanism but trust me on this. Maybe it's even olfactory, the prostoglandins and all them. Anyway, rub a little on your tummy where it hurts then hold a very hot water bottle there. I still reach for Ibuprofen to stop the prostoglandins in their tracks and minimize bleeding. Another odd thing I've learned is that the higher my iron levels are the less I bleed. If I keep pushing the iron hard (have your level checked), it really helps. Cramping is your uterus trying to push the bits of lining through your cervix.
posted by Mertonian at 12:42 PM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Vitex agnus-castus (chaste tree berry extract)!

The difference is like night and day. Regular cycles, less PMS, fewer cramps. I take it after ovulation through my period. And diindolylmethane, which is found in cuciferous vegetables and is an estrogen metabolizer.

Both can be found in your friendly neighborhood health food store.
posted by Specklet at 12:56 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I didn't see this in the diet advice above: avoid super-salty foods the week or so before your period, and avoid high-fiber ones during. The salt seems to make cramps worse, and the fiber can add to the diarrhea many women experience during their periods. It might be worth keeping track of your cycle just so you can tweak your diet a bit, even if you don't keep track for any other reason such as avoiding or achieving pregnancy.
posted by homelystar at 2:15 PM on December 7, 2012

Rosehip tea, avoiding salt even though I crave it like a beast, remembering that the said craving usually means bloating which means spilling from my bra which means flailing about why my weight is fluctuating and blahblahblah, drinking a lot of water, eating bland, preventative panadol as opposed to ending up taking codine when it's awful, no tampons (but a lunacup is fine for some reason) and being mindful about the raging Hulk-like anger.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:36 PM on December 7, 2012

I used to have horrible periods. Then I went on the pill, and I couldn't believe I'd wasted 10 years of my life feeling like that every month! Going on Seasonale made things even better.
posted by radioamy at 2:43 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

It also helps to keep in mind that you are walking around, for roughly 13 weeks of the year, for about 75% of your life, with blood and chunks oozing out of you like it ain't no thang, and therefore you are a hardcore motherfucker and people best recognize and respect. If you can deal with this you can deal with anything. ANYTHING.
posted by elizardbits at 2:50 PM on December 7, 2012 [58 favorites]

As others have mentioned, I avoid salt -- it definitely makes the cramps and bloating worse.

Recently, I've also realized that soy is really terrible for me, and doubly so during my period (of course, that's when I crave it most). It apparently messes with estrogen (and thyroid function). I lapsed recently with the soy and had my period basically for 2 months straight (it would wane and wax, but STILL!). A few days after I stopped being the best customer of Morningstar Farms, Tofurkey & the local Vietnamese place, it finally stopped, and my cycle went back to normal.
posted by lesli212 at 3:47 PM on December 7, 2012

My mood swings and hormonal acne got so bad that I eventually just went on the pill. I was resistant, went on and off a few times in my early twenties, but I've accepted it for the last couple of years and it's improved my life drastically. I almost never have cramps (really, I can't think of the last time) and my flow is light enough that my period usually just seems like a mild, practical annoyance. I still get a little moody, experience breast tenderness and want to eat all the things sometimes though. The difference is now I'm just a little sad verses questioning my whole life's purpose and my value as a human being! ;)

In terms of managing symptoms, I'm surprised to see how many people caution against carbs. If you struggle with mood swings, I find ensuring I eat whole grains and starchy vegetables like potatoes really helps keep me from bottoming out and getting super sad, sensitive and crabby. Sometimes the only solution is a cupcake, amirite?
posted by amycup at 4:40 PM on December 7, 2012

Beer. Just a half pint diminishes the pain from cramps for me. It's also got some magnesium, potassium and B vitamins if you're drinking good ale or microbrews. Ginger anything for nausea and muscle aches. I try not to eat a lot of rich food the day before, because that always wrecked my stomach and made things worse. Vitamin B12 really seems to help the mood swings- I usually get it regularly by drinking kombucha, but you could take a supplement.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:52 PM on December 7, 2012

I've found that if I've been working out for the week or so before my period, the physical and emotional parts of it are a lot less pronounced. I've never been good about tracking it except when I used an app. I allow myself one treat - doughnut, cupcake, ice cream - but if I'm not hungry for it, I skip it.
posted by kat518 at 7:13 PM on December 7, 2012

A banana a day the week before and regular calcium supplements help with cramping. During I take prescription levels of naproxen. If you are going to take painkillers you MUST take them before the cramping starts or else they don't work as well. Heating pads, extra sleep and extra caffeine are musts for me.

Another thing that really helped my periods was switching from the Pill to the Patch. Going on the Patch has cut my bad, crampy days in half. Sometimes I leave the last patch on an extra week and skip my period that way but doing that more than twice in a row gives random bleeding and other issues.

Also the Diva Cup is wonderful! I never was comfortable with tampons but switching from disposable pads to the cup (and sometimes cloth pads) has made my period easier.
posted by amapolaroja at 12:48 AM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a guy, but I was reading a book on muscle pain ("trigger points") the other day and it mentioned abdominal massage as a way to decrease menstruation pains (The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, p. 143 in print edition). I thought this trigger point stuff was pseudoscience at first, but it's cured an extremely debilitating case of RSI and a couple smaller medical problems I've had, so I'm completely sold at this point.
posted by astrofinch at 4:52 AM on December 8, 2012

What I do when not on Depo Provera: Alieve. Tiger Balm rubbed on my lower body (not on sensitive areas!). Hot water bottles (back and front). I can't have pets so stroking a furry blanket or frickin' adorable and soft stuffed animal. Watching anime and crying at the dumbest stuff. No food, usually, during the first 8 hours or so. I have to work though and dont have the luxury of pulling a sick day once a month so I usually deal with it by rocking back and forth, deep breathing, and tapping my feet and hands to stop shaking everywhere.

But now I take Depo as much as possible since my period helps me to be a raging bitch and causes me to be overly emotional at work. Like, crying when a subordinate insults me and then getting told off by my boss for "sulking instead of dealing with the issue" when I can't stop crying kind of insanity. So until I find a better solution or become a stay-at-home mom or something, this is it.
posted by DisreputableDog at 5:03 AM on December 8, 2012

One cup of super strong (2 tea bags, brewed covered) Moon Cycle by Yogi Tea when I first get my period is the best thing ever for cramps/gi issues.
posted by zem at 6:19 AM on December 8, 2012

At some point in the future I will probably get a mirena

Do it do it do it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:36 AM on December 8, 2012

Invest in some black cotton panties. Don't just wear your oldest, rattiest panties; be nicer to yourself, but, still, black panties. Wear 2 if necessary. Buy several varieties/sizes of tampons & pads; keep them in a nice bag or box. I keep tampons in a nice basket on the back of the toilet, because - emergencies. I prefer OB tampons. If I'm out of super-dooper extra-strength, it's possible to wear 2 regular size. Did I mention heavy flow? Tampon & pad if you have something going on that will keep you from a bathroom. Get a container that you can carry wet wipes in, because sometimes it will make you feel so much better to be able to tidy up in a public bathroom. An old Girl Scout canteen makes a decent hot water container that will fit in your sweatpants while you are home on the couch.

Make sure your health care provider takes your misery seriously, and consider hormonal birth control, if it makes sense for you; after I had a child, my periods got so, so much easier.
posted by theora55 at 9:40 AM on December 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Someone mentioned tampons making their cramps worse. When I get sudden spikes of cramps, I change tampons, hoping the tip settles in the deeper moat around the cervix plateau rather than pressing on it like a button as I move.

Feeling prepared for femergency and prioritizing comfy sleep are my pro-tips:

If you work outside your home, consider a shoebox femergency kit for your desk. I keep spare undies, pads, tampons, and a couple of those air-activated heating pads that stick on. It reduced my worrying about the occasional early arrival and eliminated calculating how many pads and tampons to put in my purse to last through the day.

If you have that thing where you must sleep balanced on your side to keep from dribbling to the front or back, always overnight with wings are great. I would buy pad-panties if they existed. My hips used to ache from doing the side-sleeping balancing act and I didn't sleep as well. Putting a dark-colored towel under you helps, too.
posted by BigJen at 12:31 AM on December 9, 2012

It's a very short term fix, we're talking less than 5 seconds, but it's crazy how immediate the relief is: when you are in the midst of a-shark-is-tearing-its-way-out-of-my-insides cramp pain, the kind that makes you writhe on the floor with tears in your eyes, rubbing in small circular motions right behind the knobby bit of bone at both your outer ankles at the same time somehow shortcircuits it and the pain stops. Only for as long as you're rubbing your ankles though, alas.

Agreed about iron supplements (not during but right after, when the blood loss might render you cyclically temporarily anemic) and letting your body have what it wants food-wise, whether that's red meat or chocolate or more dairy (though I have noticed now that I take iron my PMS desire for dark chocolate, which has iron, has gone away). I had a gym teacher once who put it this way: your body is literally ripping part of itself away and flushing it out! Of course you're gonna be tired and famished, that's hard work! Changing my mindset to accomodate that and be kind to my body that time of month has helped a lot as opposed to getting frustrated with my body or mad it won't, say, do its regular badass thing in the gym or WRT staying up on little sleep for deadlines or whatever.
posted by ifjuly at 5:08 AM on December 14, 2012

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