How to Practice Self-Care On Your Period

Woman at work, holding their lower belly because they are experiencing cramps from their period.

Verywell / Nez Riaz

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Many folx dread getting their period for a variety of reasons. Given that menstruation directly impacts about half of the population, it may be worthwhile to consider the factors that may make the experience better for your needs.

While that time of the month may never live up to the commercials for sanitary pads and tampons, it is possible to reflect on what you may need to make your period less of an ordeal every few weeks.

How You Can Take Care of Yourself

According to a 2019 journal article, menstrual leave is a workplace policy that provides time off when folx are unable to work due to menstruation and is offered in Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Zambia and by companies such as Coexist, Gozoop, and Victorian Women’s Trust.

Unfortunately, the findings from 600 online responses regarding a potential menstrual leave policy do not bode well for implementation in the U.S. as there were concerns that it could be unfair to cis men and may be taken advantage of by those who menstruate.

Maybe you cannot take off a week per month, but hopefully, you can be more gentle with your body and mind.

In a 2019 systematic review of self-care strategies and sources of knowledge on menstruation, it was found that period pain or dysmenorrhea, impacts approximately three-quarters of folx under 25 years old who menstruate.

Given that folx who menstruate tend to navigate their period on a monthly basis, such pain can often disrupt plans to attend work and school.

According to that meta-analysis, the majority of self-care strategies to manage their period was based on recommendations from folx other than a healthcare provider, so psychoeducational interventions would be beneficial.

While folx who menstruate may hesitate to explore pharmacological strategies for self-care on their period, those that did were more likely to take less effective medication than NSAIDs, which provided minimal relief of pain.

Unfortunately, there may be cultural barriers to exploring a medical approach to menstruation challenges, so it was recommended that psychoeducation included effective non-pharmacological management strategies, including the use of exercise and heat for self-care.

Given that stigma may be associated with menstruation, psychoeducational approaches can be helpful to challenge those biases and make space for much-needed discussions.

How Loved Ones May Help

Sometimes it may be a matter of asking for help during that time if you need it. Since stress can often worsen period symptoms when you are bleeding, that can take a toll on your mental health. With that in mind, it may be useful to check-in with yourself about what is needed to cope.

According to a 2017 journal article that was based on a randomized control trial with 83 folx who menstruate, couple-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) proved to be effective in managing their challenges, in comparison to one-to-one CBT approaches and a wait-list control group.

While all folx who menstruate may not have a romantic partner, this study demonstrates the efficacy of turning to loved ones for support.

Especially given how menstruation can impact such experiences as energy levels, pain, and sleep, it is understandable that folx who received support from loved ones were better able to cope.

How Oppression Impacts Menstruation

According to a 2018 journal article based on surveys of 225 folx who menstruate, emerging themes included negative impacts on their daily lives, alongside perceptions from healthcare providers and society that these challenges did not constitute a legitimate enough concern for care.

Given that menstruation affects about half of the population on a regular basis, these oppressive perceptions pose a substantial barrier.

This reality only gets worse if also oppressed in other ways. In her book, New Blood, Chris Bobel shares, "Evelyn Higginbotham’s notion of 'sexual respectability'—a standard imposed on and internalized by Black women in their bid for respect in the context of racist society" and applies it to all racialized women.

In this way, BIPOC folx of marginalized genders may face increased barriers regarding support for menstruation challenges.

For trans and nonbinary folx, menstruation may mean even more concerns, especially if those experiences intersect with racialization as well.

In chapter 68 of a 2020 online book, Klara Rydström makes the case for why menstruation needs to be understood outside of the binary cis lens as cis women are not the only folx who experience a period.

Unfortunately, trans and nonbinary folx may find themselves dealing with dysphoria when menstruating given how often periods are framed as "a woman's issue."

It is no wonder that a 2018 journal article championed "a feminist queer crip approach to menstrual pain" as they delve into how often folx are not even believed when they seek medical help and how even the act of safely using a public washroom can be hazardous for trans and nonbinary folx.

If folx are able to understand how such factors as white supremacy, ableism, transphobia, etc. make their periods more of an ordeal, they are less likely to internalize it as a negative reflection of themselves.

A Word From Verywell

While it may sound helpful to tell folx to take it easy when struggling on their period, that can be much more difficult in a society that often does not allow that for marginalized genders. Especially with the reality of stigma regarding menstruation, which can be exacerbated if racialized, trans, etc, societal shifts are needed for menstruation to pose less of a barrier.

If folx were taken more seriously when they brought forward menstruation challenges to their healthcare provider, workplace, etc, they would likely feel more comfortable to do so. Social and political changes are needed for change, in addition to loved ones helping out more around the house or being increasingly emotionally attentive when you are on your period.

Until those societal shifts occur, coping may look like the use of heat and exercise to manage cramps and back pain. It may mean finding comfort in a loved one when relief still evades you. Whether you make use of both pharmacological approaches and holistic ones, or neither, it can be helpful to consider a variety of options to meet your unique needs effectively.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Barnack-Tavlaris J, Hansen K, Levitt R, Reno M. Taking leave to bleed: Perceptions and attitudes toward menstrual leave policyHealth Care Women Int. 2019;40(12):1355-1373. doi:10.1080/07399332.2019.1639709

  2. Armour M, Parry K, Al-Dabbas M et al. Self-care strategies and sources of knowledge on menstruation in 12,526 young women with dysmenorrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysisPLoS One. 2019;14(7):e0220103. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0220103

  3. Ussher J, Perz J. Evaluation of the relative efficacy of a couple cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) for Premenstrual Disorders (PMDs), in comparison to one-to-one CBT and a wait list control: A randomized controlled trialPLoS One. 2017;12(4):e0175068. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0175068

  4. Chen C, Draucker C, Carpenter J. What women say about their dysmenorrhea: a qualitative thematic analysisBMC Women's Health. 2018;18(1). doi:10.1186/s12905-018-0538-8

  5. Bobel C. New Blood. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press; 2010.

  6. Rydström K. Degendering Menstruation: Making Trans Menstruators MatterThe Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies. 2020:945-959. doi:10.1007/978-981-15-0614-7_68

  7. Przybylo E, Fahs B. Feels and Flows: On the Realness of Menstrual Pain and Cripping Menstrual ChronicityFeminist Formations. 2018;30(1):206-229. doi:10.1353/ff.2018.0010

By Krystal Jagoo
 Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice.