Soy Sauce, Sports Bras & B12: Real Women Share Their Secrets To Managing Harsh Period Symptoms

Let's take a moment to address the agony, I mean blessing, that is your period. For all the breadth to the canon of available synonyms — Aunt Flo, menses, moon day, etcetera — our menstrual cycles are rarely as charming and tidy as their euphemisms would suggest. No matter our symptoms, our regularity, our favored balms, our periods tend to take up sufficient space across the real estate of our daily lives.

Sure, some of us get off easier than others, but for the most part, we can expect a lot more than some light blood. Think: headaches, fatigue, bloating, cramps, sleeplessness, nausea, irritability. For some, there's lethargy so overwhelming it makes all forms of productivity impossible. For others, bloat stifling enough to warrant calling out of work. 

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In any case, enduring period-related discomfort, in whatever form it may take, month after month, is a feat of human strength — and one that often goes unrecognized. So, in honor of that very fortitude, we reached out to five women who face particularly taxing symptoms to find out how they cope, temper, and even thrive in the midst of menstruation.

If you, too, are dwelling in some state of period-related unpleasantry, as a first measure, consult your doctor. Then, by all means, consider the below:

Sade R., 28

"Often, I feel really lethargic when I'm on my period. As someone who's generally pretty active, it feels like a big downer for me to not want to get up and exercise. That said, I have to tell you, yoga has been my menstruation saving grace.

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"So, on days when I'm in the midst of my period, I'll take a MidolⓇ Complete first thing in the morning for some relief when my symptoms are starting to set in (cramps, fatigue, muscle aches), then I'll cart myself over to my local yoga studio. All the starfish-esque poses loosen me up a little. They massage my back and my uterus in nice, comforting ways. All the breathing helps balance my head. And best of all, at the end of class, I typically walk away feeling gratitude for my own body, rather than resentment or frustration. That's a good thing, for sure."

"Other than the fatigue, my symptoms are usually very cramp-heavy. The curl-up-with-a-heating-pad sort of cramps — which often give way to back aches, too. Obviously this isn't motivational when it comes to fitness, but I've found that slow-moving Savasana-based, floor-heavy yoga classes can be really soothing for me.

Ella S., 22

"To be frank, I have god-awful period symptoms. My headaches are insane. My bloat is extremely inconvenient — and none of my clothes look good on me. My boobs feel tender. My back hurts. I complain a lot — my boyfriend can attest. 

"But one of the little things that has made a huge difference for me is intimacy with my boyfriend. Maybe it’s a hormonal thing, who knows. But sex helps with the cramps, calms me down, placates my moods, makes me less self-conscious about my bloat, re-instills some of my self-confidence, and best of all, makes me somewhat content to lie still, which is often precisely what you need during your period."

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Emily D., 25

"I've always had a heavy period. In fact, I'm used to swapping out tampons every two hours. Oh, the many pairs of underwear I’ve ruined. But beyond the bleeding, I also tend to suffer from endless bloating. My back aches, my uterus aches. I get fatigued — which, according to my doctor, is partially due to anemia. I’m typically an early riser, but while on my period, I regularly wake up groggy and unable to get out of bed. Then, for the remainder of the day, I feel as if my brain is functioning at half mast. 

"Of course, I've had to learn to cope. So, I'm always armed with an arsenal of tampons (to this day, nearly every one of my purses has three+ tampons tucked inside). I've become diligent about taking vitamins and supplements: iron and B12 to help with the anemia, probiotics to cope with digestive issues, and a steady dose of MidolⓇ Complete every six hours (as directed) when the bloat and the back aches begin to set in. But alongside the more tangible stuff, I've also learned to be less hard on myself — to be gentle with myself when I feel tired or bloated and have to take a step back from some of my normal routines. My body is going to do what she feels like she has to do, so I have to ride that wave with her. Plus, despite the hardship, I feel a kinship to my period. She's uniquely mine, a true demon, but my little demon."

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Laura T., 43

"These days, as far as bleeding goes, my periods are pretty light and slow. Instead, my symptoms are predominantly stomach-based.

"To start, I'm often so bloated I can't wear my clothing. High-waisted jeans are basically out of the question. Everything feels uncomfortable. Then, on top of that, I’m endlessly nauseous and endlessly hungry simultaneously. My whole digestive system is out of whack, and I crave the most bizarre foods.

"Now, I know this sounds like such a minuscule thing, but stir-fries have really become my saving grace during my period. I crave salt, and I crave umami, but I also want starchy comforting things like rice. So: stir-fry, drenched in soy sauce. Silly, but it makes a big difference. It sits well in my stomach, cures the cravings, and best of all, the process of making it is cathartic for me. It’s hard for me to be active while on my period, but the routine of chopping and stirring is calming for me."

Kira A., 33

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"I’m an athlete, so my period can feel like a huge inconvenience. I play soccer in an after-work league, and while it’s not professional, it’s a really big part of my life. Once a month, however, when my period arrives, I’m not nearly as fast or as focused, and worst of all, my boobs are so sore (which makes running particularly uncomfortable). 

"Obviously, this sucks because I feel off, and the game isn’t nearly as fun, but beyond that, I have this feeling like I’m letting my team down. And while I haven’t actually found a way to stop feeling this way, I’ve come up with a few solutions that do help. 

"To start, I wear sport tampons and make sure I have a fresh one in right before the game begins. I take MidolⓇ Complete an hour or two before we start playing to help with the fatigue and the bloat. I wear super comfortable, athletic granny panties. I double up — or even triple up — on sports bras, which helps mitigate some of the boob pain. And most importantly, I’ve stopped being coy about the whole thing. I’ll tell my coach or my teammates, so they know I need to be subbed out a bit more frequently, and they can adjust their play accordingly."

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