The polarizing problem of periods and how to manage pain


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Three months ago, Kiran Gandhi made headlines for running the London Marathon without a tampon. After training for a year, she got her period the night before the race. She wasn't about to let it stop her. Why should she?

Reaction to her story ran the gamut from support to those wondering aloud — as one does on the Internet — why she wouldn't just put on a tampon. Gross, some people said. Disgusting, echoed others.

Her story comes to mind again because last week, British MPs voted against a move to force the government to cut the tampon tax down from its current 5 percent. You see, they think tampons are a luxury item.

It seems pretty contradictory to label something like a tampon a luxury item — which means it's non-essential — especially if you're going to recoil in horror at the sight of a woman running in a marathon without wearing one. One of the reasons Gandhi opted to bleed freely, by the way, was to raise awareness for women in developing nations who are told "to hide their monthly flow, despite the fact that the ways to clean it up are either unsustainable or unaffordable."


Why are periods so damned polarizing?

Even when we're talking about more quotidian issues, such as how much pain and discomfort some women feel, reaction can be hostile, if not downright nasty.

Raise your hand if when asked whether you are feeling okay — by either a man or a woman — and you hint that it's do with your menstrual cycle, you get an eye-roll? They don't even have to say the usual: suck it up, that's nothing, that's not even a real thing. Any woman who's ever suffered through seven or more days of heavy bleeding and severe cramps can tell you it's very real indeed. Sad, therefore, that women lucky enough to have pain-free periods assume it can't be that bad.


It's not all acne and irritability, you know

Depending on the woman, a period can usher in sleep disturbances, sciatica and low back pain, joint pain, painful breasts, loose stools, constipation or hemorrhoids. And that's not even counting what happens once the period begins. Any woman who's trying to cope with a heavy, messy flow can tell you the anxiety she suffers when she feels a sneeze coming on. Sound like a whole lot of nothing now?

If society's view of menstrual cycles is ever going to change, it's probably going to take a long time. In the meantime, however, here are some tips to alleviate some of those nasty symptoms, so people — who aren't going to get it anyway — can leave you be.


For periods that hit with lower back pain or constipation:

Mind Body Green recommends increasing your hydration, which is a good habit to get into regardless of your cycle. Try ginger teas, they say, and consume healthy fatty acids, such as omega-3s. Vegans and vegetarians, that means hit the flaxseed. And mint tea works wonders, too, if you find ginger tea to be a bit too much. It also recommends eating warm and cooked foods, with plenty of root vegetables and warming spices, such as cinnamon, ginger and clove. Don't forget turmeric and garlic — these are also anti-inflammatory. Get a good night's sleep, get yourself a good hot water bottle and try some low-impact aerobics or yoga (particularly the hip-openers).


For periods that hit with acne and irritability:

Mind Body Green recommends trying a daily cooling drink with cucumbers. It also recommends sitting in a relaxed posture, rolling your tongue (or simply grinning really widely while gently clenching your teeth) and sucking in the cool air for five minutes daily. Try some meditation, and avoid oily and spicy foods.


For periods that hit with sluggishness and depression:

Mind Body Green recommends increasing your fruits and vegetables and avoiding foods that are high in sugar. It also recommends eating a pinch of grated ginger before and after your meals and drinking ginger tea (don't forget mint tea is also great!). And it may be the last thing you want to do when feeling like an alien is trying to rip itself out of you after rearranging all your internal organs, but do a little bit of exercise. When you get that blood circulating everywhere, it helps ease inflammation, which is a lot of the reason you may be feeling pain. The more you exercise before and during your period, the better.