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How my Painful Periods Taught me to Listen to my Body

These three habits made me less stressed about the symptoms my cycle was causing me, and helped me prioritize my well-being.

When I was 11 years old, I couldn’t wait to get my period. Nearly every bathroom visit in those days included me eagerly checking for any possible signs of it beginning. Little did I know that just a few years later, I would dread my period’s arrival every month. 

The first day of my menstrual cycle is often debilitating. Nausea, cold sweats, dizziness, and pain are among the main symptoms that usually leave me curled up in a fetal position somewhere. I have had some good months throughout the years, but most of my cycles start off like this. And I’m not alone. 

According to a 2012 study, 84% of women deal with period pain. And the British Medical Journal published research in 2019 which found that women lose nearly 9 days of productivity due to menstrual symptoms. 

An Impossible Feat

Maintaining my typical lifestyle during the week of my period is usually tough. Keeping up with everything is more difficult on the especially painful or uncomfortable days. And I’m more tired than usual too. Just knowing that my menstrual cycle’s starting soon is often enough for me to start feeling anxious about it. 

The looming threat of crippling cramps makes planning around those first few days a challenge. And the uncertainty of whether I’ll be able to keep plans or meet all my deadlines can be a major source of stress for me. 

Finding Some Light Within the Struggle

For a long time, I resented how my period has this way of interrupting my life. Almost every month, it stops me in my tracks for at least a couple of hours. And I used to hate this control it seems to have over my life. But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate my period’s ability to slow me down for a few days each month. 

Even though managing my menstrual symptoms has been a long and ongoing struggle, the experience has taught me a lot about listening to my body. Because it’s the one time every month that I usually have no choice, but to listen. It literally forces me to stop everything and rest for a while. And honestly, I probably wouldn’t take time to do so if the situation were otherwise. 

How Things Started Changing

It wasn’t until some point in my early twenties that I began taking my period pain more seriously. Before that, I assumed it was just normal for some of us women. But after 10+ years of debilitating symptoms, I knew that I didn’t want to feel this way every month for several more decades. So I started doing some research. And this is when I realized that maybe severe menstrual pain wasn’t quite so “normal” after all. 

As I began to learn more about how my cycle works, I was stunned by all the details that I’d never considered before. I hadn’t understood just how intricately connected each phase of my monthly cycle was to the other ones. And that the foods I ate, how well I slept, and even my stress levels throughout the month could all have an effect on how I felt during the week of my period. 

A Whole New World

Becoming aware of the various factors involved in my menstrual cycle really helped me start changing my relationship with it. It was like a whole new world opened up for me. I went from feeling so little control in this monthly process to recognizing there are actually many aspects that I do have a say in. 

It’s been a few years since I started getting to know my body better. And I still have difficult periods. But now I also have something else: a sense of trust in and respect for my body. 

Rather than ignoring or pushing through my pain and discomfort, I’m learning to pay more attention to it. To tune in and develop a lifestyle that works with my cycle instead of against or in spite of it. 

My journey has been far from perfect or miraculous. I’m still figuring out how to manage my healing in a realistic and sustainable way. But these days, there are 3 key habits that I try to apply every month. Because they’ve made a marked difference for me over the years.  

Habit # 1:

The first habit that changed my life is tracking my cycle. I used to have a vague idea of which week to expect my period, but not much else. I never knew what specific day(/s) it would most likely arrive. And I certainly didn’t know what was going on with my body for the rest of the month. Gaining an awareness of what’s happening physiologically each week of my month-long cycle has been incredibly eye-opening. 

Habit #2:

Understanding the different processes my body is carrying out every day has made me appreciate it so much more. And it’s also been the catalyst for the second transformative habit I try to keep up with throughout the month: eating foods that support me through every stage. I don’t limit my diet, but I do slightly adjust it according to the week of my cycle. By adding in some nutrients that help my body accomplish its job during each specific phase. This particular change has boosted my energy level more than I ever expected! 

Habit #3:

Being conscious of what’s going on in my body every week was also the spark that inspired my third revitalizing habit: considering my cycle when planning my schedule. Of course, I can’t avoid life all-together when I’m on my period. But I can lighten my load that week. And I can also aim to get to bed a little earlier, keep warm, and drink more water than usual to help my body work through it’s natural flow. Being mindful and adding in these simple acts of self-care always helps me feel a little more prepared and relaxed during my period.  

Wrapping it Up

Getting a handle on my menstrual cycle has been a long process. And it’s not over yet. But learning to honor my body and it’s needs, has been one of the greatest gifts that’s come out of this struggle. It was my painful physical symptoms that both pushed and empowered me to take ownership of my health. 

Yes, I still have painful periods. But now every month, I’m finding practical ways to take good care of myself. Because my menstrual cycle has taught me how to listen to and prioritize my body.  

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