I spent many of my teenage years despising my menstrual cycle and for close to four years, I didn’t have a menstrual cycle at all. Any time I did get my period I took it as a sign of failure rather than success. I would be disgusted with myself and with my body for stepping outside the strict rules my eating disorder demanded me to follow. Not having a period meant I was underweight, and being underweight meant I was good. Having a period on the other hand, meant I was overweight, and being overweight meant that I was worthless. Deep down, that’s what I believed.
It didn’t help that when I started my period at 12 years old, I lived with my father who on more than one occasion, made me feel shame for needing to buy pads or tampons at the store. There always came a large sigh after I told him I started my period and needed supplies, and one day I walked myself to to the shopping center down the road with toilet paper in between my legs because he had been drinking and was too tired to drive. I felt weird in my body as a child without my mom around, and with a dad who didn’t exactly know how to discuss or respect lady business in a way that made me feel it was an okay and beautiful thing about growing up and being a woman.
When my doctor expressed concern over the absence of my menstrual cycle at age 16, I assured her it was only because I was highly active and a runner. Lots of female athletes didn’t have a period. So what? I found pride in the fact that I didn’t have to deal with cramps, bloating, or the expense of tampons each month and I had no desire to try and get my period back. The doctor wanted to put me on birth control to try and stimulate mine, but I stopped taking it after I found out some women experience weight gain when on birth control.
I’ve wrote about this in the past, but it took me nearly two years to accept I had an eating disorder, three years to finally commit to recovery, and four years to begin taking the necessary steps to recover. Getting my menstrual cycle back was only one step of victory in my recovery, but at the time I was fighting tooth and nail to not give into the eating disorders voice, which only whispered lies and did everything it could to detach me from being in my body, loving my body, and accepting my body.
Why menstruate at all?
The reason why we menstruate in the first place, has to do with the thickening of the uterus. Each month, one of our ovaries releases an egg for the possibility of pregnancy. This is called ovulation. As this happens, there are lots of hormones at work, thickening the uterus and preparing the body for pregnancy. If no egg is fertilized after ovulation, then the body must shed the thick parts of the uterus no longer needed, which therefore results in a monthly period.
The biggest risk we run with not having a normal period is endometrial cancer. When we can’t shed the build up of lining, our uterus gets exposed to high concentrations of estrogen and therefore grows much thicker than what is considered normal. Women on birth control who lose their periods don’t have as high of a risk for adopting endometrial cancer because most birth control will keep hormone levels low and the lining of the uterus thin.
Menstruation is a gift
What I didn’t understand when I was younger, is that having a regular menstrual cycle is one of the greatest gifts we have as women. Yes, you heard me right. The fact that as a woman, we have the ability to carry another human inside of us–from an egg to a newborn baby–is absolutely nuts! Not only that, but did you know our brain and body actually have to talk to each other for us to have regular periods? Four important parts of the body must function correctly in order to menstruate: The hypothalamus (a small region in the brain that releases hormones), the pituitary gland (the “master gland” of the body, that releases hormones and stimulates other organs to do their job), the ovaries (releases the egg), and the uterus (takes care of and nurtures the egg). Most people forget just how incredible the communicative features of our brains and bodies truly are. In order for one to do it’s the job, it must have help from the other. That is cool.
Now, I’m not saying that just because our ability to menstruate is a gift, that every symptom we experience before, during, or after our periods is also a gift. Usually any pain or cramping women have will start 1-3 days before their period and will go away 2-3 days after the onset of their period…but those few days can be excruciating for some. With that, I want to give a few at-home remedies you might try to soothe your cramps. Obviously there are many different symptoms that can occur during a woman’s period, but I am only going to focus on pelvic pain and cramping in this post. If you decide to try any of the remedies or think of additional ideas as you’re reading, make sure to comment below!
My top tips for how to naturally soothe menstrual pain and cramps:
1. Tiger Balm rub
I’m not joking, this is legit the best at-home remedy I have yet to try for my period cramps. I was over at my friends one evening making dinner and I had the worst cramps ever! Like so bad, I could barely hold a conversation. She voiced to me that she too, gets terrible cramps each cycle and told me to rub some Tiger Balm on my lower abdomen. At first, I was a bit skeptical…but within minutes my cramps were 100x better. They weren’t completely gone, but the Tiger Balm both soothed and comforted me. You can find Tiger Balm for an affordable price in most drugs stores or on Amazon by clicking here.
2. CBD rub, supplement, or oil
When I asked my Instagram community what their top PMS remedies were, CBD was the top response I got. Some of the women said things like:
“I use CBD lotion from the brand Select that works wonders! It’s sort of like icy hot with the added benefit of CBD. I use it for just about everything. Cramps, sore muscles, etc. It’s on the pricey side, but a little goes a long ways.”
“Life changing. I take it as a daily supplement now and it has made the biggest difference for my mood swings and period time. I SWEAR BY CBD.”
“I usually have the worst cramps before the first day of my period. CBD rub and drop works well for me, but it can be spendy.”
I can’t vouch for CBD and it’s success with menstrual cramping, but I have taken CBD liquid before and did notice more of a relaxation response throughout my body, so it is definitely worth a try!
3. Heating pads
The main reason women experience menstrual pain and cramping is due to contractions in the uterine and a constriction of blood vessels in the myometrium (the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus). It is believed by some that heating pads have the ability to help with menstrual pain and cramping by relaxing the myometrium, reducing the constriction, and increasing blood flow to the uterus.
Don’t have a heating pad available? It turns out, making your own is pretty dang easy. Click here to see the simple instructions I found.
Turmeric has a bioactive compound in it called curcumin, which has been shown to help women with menstrual pain. My favorite way to eat turmeric is in my eggs, in a smoothie, on a batch of sweet potato fries, or mixed in with my hummus. However, make sure if you are consuming turmeric for it’s health advantages, you do so while also consuming pepper. The bioactive compound in black pepper, piperine, is what increases the absorption of curcumin.
Boron is a mineral that helps aid the absorption of calcium and prosperous in your body, which can help reduce muscle cramping during menstruation. You can find the mineral boron in chickpeas, peanut butter, bananas, avocados, and prunes.
6. Essential oils
Essential oils are quite controversial. Some people swear by them, while other people claim they’re a waste of money and don’t ever work. I’m on the fence. I’ve found some essential oils to to be miracle workers, while others didn’t exactly do the job I meant for them to. I don’t necesarily think they are the answer to every single symptom or sickness, but I do love the smell and because I already had some on hand for my diffuser, trying them for my menstrual pain didn’t cause me to go too much out of my way. Some of the oils thought to benefit women with menstrual pain include:
- Marjoram oils
Simply, choose a carrier oil (olive, coconut, hazelnut, almond, avocado) and mix it together with a few drops of your essential oil to then rub and massage into the painful area.
The last tip I want to leave you with is, incorporating some sort of light exercise into your daily routine. Whether it be a short walk, yoga, or a game of frisbee out in the yard with your family, exercise releases endorphins and research suggests it can significantly help reduce menstrual cramping and pain. Speaking from my own experience, I have found this to be true. Sometimes running or doing yoga is the last thing I want to do when dealing with cramping or pain, but each time I’m finished moving my body I’m grateful I did. A couple of the Youtube channels I always recommend to my friends who are looking to begin a yoga practice are Yoga with Tim and Yoga with Adriene. Both of these instructors have tons of free videos you can follow from the convenience of your home, and Adriene even has a video specifically for PMS.
8. Eat something you enjoy or do something you enjoy!
Stress is a bigger contributor to our overall health than most people think or know. When you’re in pain, it’s only natural to tense up. Not only that, but it’s possible that on top of having menstrual cramps, you’ve also had a busy day at work, children who won’t stop fighting, or a long to-do list you feel is only growing as the day goes on. Take a second to breathe. What would make you happy in that moment? What would bring you joy? Comfort? When I have horrible cramps before or during my period, my favorite thing to do is to pour a glass of red wine, take a bubble bath, and eat some dark chocolate. I’m not sure there is much scientific evidence saying these things help to improve menstrual cramps, but they sure do lighten my load and help me practice gratitude—an important coping mechanism to fight off stress.
It is my hope that after reading this post, you take away at least one helpful tip to try and implement the next time you experience menstrual pain or cramps. It is also my hope, that through this post you have come to accept and love your body a little bit more. Not because it is perfect, but because through the imperfectness it is resilient and strong. You, are resilient and strong. Own your body and thank it for all it does today. When those menstrual cramps onset remember why they are onsetting and instead of criticizing the pain, learn how to soothe and accept them as a gift of womanhood. And give yourself full permission to access any and all of the things that bring you joy. Guilt free and shame free. Why? Because you are a beautiful being who was knitted together in your mothers womb (Psalm 139:13) by a God who loves you so, and asks us to honor our bodies as thanksgiving to Him (1 Corinthians 16-20). Don’t forget that.