Learn how the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown are affecting your menstrual cycle and what you can do to get your cycle back into balance.
For many, menstruation and menstruation is an ordeal even at normal times, but during a pandemic, when stress, anxiety, and lockdown disrupt cycles, PMS symptoms and period cramps can worsen.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has upset the menstrual cycle of many, disrupted the normal hormonal balance, and resulted in delayed, irregular, and heavy periods," says gynecologist Sherry Ross. "If this hormonal wiring is severely impaired, the equilibrium is disturbed and our body gets out of step." The fact is: periods are a sign of overall health, which means monitoring and managing menstrual symptoms is an essential form of self-care. "Self-care can also mean focusing on your menstrual health and finding ways to make your cycles less stressful," says Jessica Shepherd, a Dallas-based gynecologist.
Here's a breakdown of exactly how the pandemic and lockdown are affecting your period cycle and what you can do to best manage the symptoms.
The menstrual cycle is the monthly series of changes the body goes through in the ovaries and the lining of the womb (endometrium) in preparation for the possibility of pregnancy. When you menstruate, your body gets rid of the monthly accumulations of tissue that it no longer needs. "Typical pre-menstrual symptoms can range from bloating, breast tenderness, fluid retention, fatigue, diarrhea, and irritability to full-blown symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)," says Ross. PMS symptoms start one to two weeks before your period and are particularly bothersome. "Most of the PMS symptoms caused by normal cyclical hormone changes - including weight gain, menstrual cramps, headaches, depression, mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and fatigue - go away quickly once your period starts," she adds. According to Ross, the psychological and emotional stress from the pandemic has led to an increase in depression, anxiety, mood swings, and irritability, making the overlapping symptoms of PMS worse. Because stress affects the part of the brain that controls hormones, it can upset hormone levels and cause changes in the menstrual cycle, such as B. the frequency and the length. Recognizing changes is the first step in treating period symptoms that are causing you pain and discomfort. As Ross puts it, "Our periods are the perfect barometer of our mental and physical state."
"Talking to my patients and understanding their stress levels is the first step in understanding how stress can affect the normal menstrual cycle, PMS symptoms, and overall reproductive health," explains Ross, who recommends a telemedicine appointment Arrange or see a health care provider if symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or irritability persist after you start your period. "Never be afraid to go to your health care provider for support and treatment; you must be your best health advocate, especially during the COVID pandemic," said Ross. To help her patients manage their menstrual cycles, Shepherd recommends that they keep a menstrual log in which they record things like pain or specific cravings. "Menstrual logs are important to help patients track the changes and be open to talking to doctors about the changes," says Shepherd. You can manually keep a notebook or use one of the many periods tracking apps such as Clue, Flo, and Period Tracker to record your data.
"There are simple lifestyle changes that will allow you to reduce stress and become your healthiest self by keeping your mind, body, and periods in check," says Ross. Three pillars for staying healthy, especially during your period, are adequate hydration, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep. To this end, Ross recommends drinking as much water as possible, at least eight to ten glasses, and eating water-based foods (like berries, celery, and cucumber) to minimize water retention and a bloated stomach. Additionally, drinking warm or hot water has been shown to relax the uterine muscles, so Ross recommends beneficial hot tonics like ginger and green tea.
As for diet, you should avoid foods like beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and foods high in sodium. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates like whole grains and brown rice to prevent bloating. Natural diuretics - like celery, cucumber, watermelon, tomato, asparagus, lemon juice, and garlic - can help reduce that bloated feeling and puffiness. With this in mind, avoid unhealthy, comforting coping mechanisms as well. "Overeating, drinking alcohol, and smoking cigarettes are not particularly conducive to your efforts to keep your menstrual cycle regular and your hormones in balance," says Ross.
For patients struggling with period pain, Shepherd recommends resting with an electric heating pad, which stimulates blood flow and reduces inflammation to help relieve menstrual cramps. Another helpful remedy for muscle tension, especially headaches, is magnesium, which when combined with B6 has been shown to be beneficial in reducing PMS symptoms. Citing medical studies, Ross also recommends probiotics, royal jelly, passion flower extract, and calcium as other helpful agents for treating the most common PMS symptoms.
To reduce water retention, Ross recommends exercising regularly for at least 30 minutes four to six times a week - especially during quarantine when it is harder to stay active and keep your body moving. One of the most popular forms of exercise for period relief is yoga, as popular poses like child stance or the downward facing dog are known to help relieve cramps. Both Ross and Shepherd agree that practicing mindfulness is another important means of managing your period. From meditation to breathing exercises, mindfulness activities can help reduce pain, fatigue, and stress.