Okay, one of the things I hear most often from women is… My anxiety is so much worse around the time of my period! And I know how hard this can be, but it doesn’t have to be! So today’s episode is all about me sharing some of the most impactful changes that I’ve made throughout the years that have helped to relieve the symptoms and anxiety around my period.
And just a quick disclaimer, I’m no hormone expert or a doctor, but I am an expert in my own experiences! And the changes that I’ve made have drastically helped me, and so I want to share them with you because I know they’ll be helpful to you! And these 5 things that I’m going to share with you aren’t the typical things you’ve probably already heard, like reducing stress, prioritizing sleep, and minimizing caffeine and alcohol intake, although those things are obviously helpful!
Alright, so I used to experience lots of symptoms and anxiety around the time of my period. And for me, the symptoms and anxiety typically kicked in 4-5 days before I actually started bleeding. And one of the symptoms that was the toughest for me, among anxiety, was the mood swings. I’m talking up, down, and all over the place. I would feel really really sad, and then I’d feel okay, and then I’d feel really sad again. I would cry seemingly out of the middle of nowhere. I would also feel such an overwhelming sense of irritability. Like the smallest things that normally would never bother me would totally set me off. And along with this, I’d also experience lots of anger, and I’d find myself lashing out over really silly things. And it all truly felt like it was beyond my control. I just felt like I was in a constant state of overwhelm, and that I was incredibly fragile, like I couldn’t handle one more thing, no matter how small it was.
And on top of the mood swings leading up to my period, I would also get really bad headaches and experience lots of fatigue. I remember being so tired and having no energy to do the things I needed to do, but then I wouldn’t actually be able to sleep well at night. And my boobs would hurt so bad, like to the point where I was constantly convinced that I was pregnant, and so I’d take pregnancy tests on almost a monthly basis just to make sure. And then when I actually started bleeding, which wasn’t always predictable and sometimes lasted seven or eight days, I’d experience some heavy bleeding, lots of cramping, bloating, general body pain, and a continuation of all of the other symptoms. I remember thinking often… I can’t go to work today. Or, I can’t do X today. Or, I’m not going to be able to exercise at all for the next week. Or, how am I going to get any of the stuff done that I need to get done?
And I’m sure you’ll be able to relate to this… When you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder and you experience symptoms, even if you know the symptoms are connected to your period, the symptoms still lead to anxiety! For most people, the symptoms lead to anxiety because you immediately go into the mode of… Oh, no. What is this? Why am I feeling this way? How can I stop feeling this way? This is going to lead to a panic attack or something bad happening. And then you find yourself on high alert and trying to prevent anything “bad” from happening. Yeah, fun stuff!
So after making lots of changes over a number of years, I went from all of that to…
Mild mood shifts and fatigue that only lasts a couple of days. Yup, no more mood swings that leave me in tears or fighting with my husband over absolutely nothing.
Sometimes getting a mild headache but not every time.
Having more energy and only feeling a little fatigued for 1-2 days, and actually being able to do the things I need and want to do.
Slight breast tenderness that lasts 3-4 days, but nothing like it used to be!
Minimal cramping on day one of my period and then no cramping after day one.
Minimal bloating for 2-3 days but no pain.
Bleeding that only lasts 4-5 days, and consistently bleeding at the same time every month.
So did you notice how I didn’t say that all of the symptoms magically went away and I experience none of them now? Yeah, because that wouldn’t be realistic or even possible. Because of all of the hormonal shifts, it makes sense that you’ll experience some symptoms, but the symptoms especially don’t need to be debilitating, severe, or interfere with your everyday life. So please, do yourself a favor and don’t convince yourself that you have to just deal with PMS, or be on hormonal birth control to fix it all, because I truly don’t think that either of these things are true or healthy.
Okay, let’s dive into the changes I made!
01. Cycle tracking! I’m sure you’ve heard of this one and there’s a reason for it! Cycle tracking is such a beautiful thing. I used to use an app to track my cycle but now I just use a Google doc. Each month, I simply jot down my symptoms and how I feel in the week leading up to my period. And then when I start bleeding, I jot down when I started, how I feel while I’m menstruating (including symptoms, energy levels, etc.), and then I also jot down when I finish bleeding.
Tracking all of this really helps me to know what to expect so that I’m not surprised each month by the symptoms and changes, it also helps me to prepare and make healthy shifts, it helps me to see and know how my body is working, and it helps me to identify patterns so that I can then dig into what helpful and healthy shifts I may be able to make. In short, it helps me to be much more in tune with my body and gives me the ability to be more in control of my hormones, my cycle, and my emotions.
And with cycle tracking, you can obviously get a lot more detailed than I do, but this is what I find to be helpful for where I’m currently at since my cycle has become very consistent and predictable. Some women also use cycle tracking to track ovulation for pregnancy purposes, or to prevent pregnancy. When you first start cycle tracking, it can be really helpful to use an app so that you can understand what to track, how to do it, why, and using an app just helps you to remember to actually track your cycle. If you haven’t tried cycle tracking, give it a shot! I swear by it in the sense that it’ll help to reduce lots of anxiety, because instead of being blindsided each month by the symptoms and shifts, you’ll have a better idea of what’s coming so that you don’t spiral with the anxious thoughts. And once you start to see patterns, you can make healthy changes so that the symptoms aren’t so bad and ruling your every move.
02. I started eating breakfast every single day, within an hour of waking up. Years ago, it would make me physically gag to even think about eating breakfast before 10 a.m. I used to be the girl who ate a granola bar for breakfast around 10 or 11 in the morning, and typically the only thing I had prior to the granola bar was a cup of coffee. I think we all know this, but only consuming coffee in the morning and not eating breakfast is incredibly bad for you. When you wake up in the morning, your body needs nutrients, and it hugely needs nutrients in order to stabilize your blood sugar and create energy.
I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to force myself to eat breakfast in the beginning. Well, I can, it was hard! I initially hated eating breakfast. And I just started small by eating a piece of protein in the morning. But I stuck with it, and I formed a habit, and I’m so glad that I did. Because now, within a half hour of waking up every day, I’m hungry. And I’m talking hungry! And I have absolutely no problem eating a well-rounded breakfast every morning, meaning a protein, a fat, a carb, and a fiber. Making this change has definitely helped me to have more energy in the morning, and sustained energy throughout the day. If you’re currently only drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, or only eating a granola bar, or waiting hours before eating anything, please just start small and start eating one thing within an hour of waking up, it’ll go such a long way and I promise you’ll see a relief in symptoms and just how you feel overall.
03. I avoid drinking or eating out of plastic. I know you might be thinking… What? But this one was huge for me! I swear this one change drastically helped to improve my hormones and relieve symptoms, especially the mood swings. And stick with me because I’m not a scientist or a doctor, but I’m going to try to explain a little bit of why I’m so mindful about not drinking or eating from plastic. Plastic can contain toxins, and the toxins found in plastic include endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs are chemicals that mess with the body’s hormone systems and can cause diseases. So when we drink or eat from plastics that contain toxins, we are allowing those toxins into our bodies and they ultimately disrupt multiple systems.
And the reality is that there are lots of hormone-disrupting chemicals found in many things, not just plastics. For example, they are also found in fragrances, cosmetics, cleaning products, and the list goes on. So not only am I mindful of not drinking out of plastic water bottles, and not eating out of plastic tupperware, and avoiding buying food products that are contained in plastic, I’m also mindful of scented items, and what I put on my skin, and what I clean my house with. So overall, I’m not saying to go and make every single change that I’ve listed here, but it’s worth it to educate yourself and start making small changes. For now, maybe it’s just avoiding drinking out of plastic water bottles, and that’s a great start!
Check out some of my favorite non-toxic products!
04. I switched from tampons to a menstrual cup and period panties. Okay, I’ll be honest, I made this switch more so because tampons are harmful to the environment, and I’m a huge fan of the environment. And when I learned about menstrual cups and period panties I was like… Yes! Why wouldn’t I give it a shot? And then once I made the switch from tampons and pads to a cup and period panties, I swear I experienced a relief in my symptoms. And maybe it’s just because I’m no longer worried about how long a tampon has been in, and whether or not I have to change it, but I’ll take it! And, too, I feel like I’ve reduced my risk for developing bacterial infections, because tampons can definitely increase your risk of infections.
So with a cup, I can leave it in for up to 12 hours, and I often do. In a 24 hour span, I only change my cup twice. And although it can be intimidating when you first start using one, it’s pretty easy to get the hang of. And once it’s in, you don’t even notice it’s there! But I’ll be honest, I don’t like having to change anything out, even twice a day, so I’ve been leaning more on period panties these days. I love them because it just allows me to flow freely without having to worry about a thing, which when you think about it, isn’t this the most natural, intended way? Okay, I know, I probably sound a little woo-woo right now but I'm okay with it. So if you’ve been thinking about giving a menstrual cup or period panties a shot, do it! I highly recommend both.
05. I adjusted my expectations around my cycle, and my exercise routine! Alright, this one needs some explaining. I used to run with the mentality of… I should be able to do whatever I want when I’m on my period! And I think I can thank the tampon commercials for this mentality. You know those commercials where it’s like, just pop in this tampon and go on your run, or swim a mile. And it’s like… What? Is there something wrong with me? Should I be acting business as usual over here while I’m bleeding for a week straight? And the answer is no, you shouldn’t be acting business as usual because things aren’t business as usual. Your body is experiencing a lot of change and fluctuation leading up to your period and during menstruation, so expecting that you’ll be able to operate as you normally do isn’t a healthy mentality to have.
And this is another huge reason why I track my cycle! Because now I know that when I’m about 4 days out from starting my period, I’m not going to have a whole lot of energy and I need to adjust what’s going on in my life to make sure that I’m not adding stress and overwhelm on top of hormonal changes. For me, this means that instead of filling my calendar with lots of things, I instead pull back. I very intentionally lighten my workload and what I have going on during this time. And instead of continuing to lift heavier weights, and do intense cardio, and go on big hikes, I instead opt to lift a lot lighter, and walk, or go on trail walks, or I do some stretching and yoga.
And trust me, I know how lame it can feel like you have to pull back and baby yourself a little, but it makes total sense why it’s necessary. And it’s not a you thing, or your fault, and you needing to be babied a little doesn’t mean that you’re weak or incapable, it simply means that your body is going through lots of shifts and it needs you to listen to it and support it through it. So the next time you’re approaching your period and on your period, try easing up a bit. Try pulling back and lightening your load. Try saying no more. Try resting more. Try doing low impact exercises. I promise, all of this will help to relieve anxiety and help you to feel better all around.
And there we have it! 5 changes that I made that helped to relieve the symptoms & anxiety around my period. And there are lots more, so maybe I’ll do a part two of this episode in the future. I hope you’ve found this helpful. And please, don’t try to make all of the changes that I’ve discussed in the episode today. Remember, it’s all about small steps, and the steps need to feel and be manageable for you so that they give you the biggest benefit, and so you stick with them. So just start with one of these things and give it a shot!
And before I wrap up this episode, I just want to remind you that I did a podcast episode with an actual menstrual cycle expert and naturopath, Cassandra Wilder. It’s episode 11 and it’s filled with lots of helpful information and tips. And Cassandra is wonderful and so so helpful! So definitely check that episode out if you found this episode to be helpful.
Alright, until next time! Keep taking healthy action.