Self-Care During Your Period: Why It’s OK to Go Easy on Yourself During That Time
Imagine an illness with 100 documented symptoms. You’d take it easy if you caught it, right? Well, that’s what half of us on planet Earth go through every month. Here, why self-care during your period is not so much a nice-to-have but a need-to-have.
For some women, the period comes and goes without leaving too much destruction in its wake. For many others, it’s like being run over by several trucks in quick succession. Not only do periods trigger a range of physical and psychological reactions (from flu-like symptoms to raging cramps), but for centuries those who identified as women* have been expected to function as if they don’t exist.
Thankfully, the explosion of research in the recent decade has revealed how complex periods are and how important it is to monitor and track your period. Rather than ascribing mood swings, fatigue, and depression to PMS and pasting a fake smile over your pain, I recommend using your period to take some time to evaluate and rest as much as possible.
Whenever I watch Korean reality shows on beauty, I am intrigued by how many times women ask for skincare tips during their periods. No matter how ace your skincare game is, the hormonal changes in your body during menstruation often manifests on your skin. The takeaway I gain from these shows is that skincare and makeup should be used to conceal all signs of a period.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to address period pimples. Or wanting to counteract grease attacks brought on by PMS. But rather than throwing products at your skin, I suggest adopting a kinder stance toward yourself during your period and addressing skin issues from within.
The symptoms of your period
Consider that your body is dealing with any of the following: cramps, fatigue, brain fog, mood swings, cravings, depression, nausea, dizziness, weakness, bleeding, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, muscle or joint pain, headaches, etc. I can go on and on because there are around a hundred symptoms during your period.
Pause for a moment while we ingest this: one hundred documented symptoms.
I’m not saying we experience all of these symptoms. But chances are high that you experience a combination of these symptoms. And instead of grimacing through the dark days, I suggest you use the time when symptoms are at their peak to go easy on yourself.
Why self-care during your period matters
I personally have really difficult PMS and a debilitating first two days of the period. I can feel my cramps even after I’ve popped a painkiller. My body also decides to cosplay a slug. I remember that as a teacher in Korea, teaching multiple classes while on my period was one of the hardest experiences on the job. My fatigue and weakness meant I often had to sit in my chair and teach from there, to the bemusement of my young students.
Menstruation is still such a taboo that even taking things easier on those days feels like a transgression. Women have been known to call in sick rather than explain they’re having their period. Many work environments are not equipped to cater to menstruating women, although some companies have now started offering women optional “period leave.” Girls in some parts of the world often have to skip school because of the stigma associated with periods.
Self-care often gets a bad rap for advocating self-indulgence. However, self-care is smart, especially if it is mindful and orients around you making deliberate choices around your period that boost your mental and physical health. Author and nutritionist Amanda Laird, who wrote a whole book on periods, Heavy Flow: Breaking the Curse of Menstruation, advocates for practicing body literacy by gathering information during your period and eating foods that reduce inflammation and make us feel better.
My Korean friends would often cancel social engagements while on their periods and use those days to rest if they didn’t have to go into work. Inspired by them, and by Laird, I curated a more mindful stance towards my periods. The tips I provide below have helped me greatly on my own period days and have drawn out the stress and anxiety I used to associate with them.
Self-care during your period: Work
See if you can “go slow” at work. This may mean not overloading yourself cognitively, or attending to those tasks that require less mental or physical input but are still necessary for “housekeeping” or staying on track. If you have a major deadline or are working on a huge project, try to work in bursts with rests for stretching and green tea. I recommend eating dark chocolate, kale, nuts, avocados and salmon — these foods tend to soothe the stomach and are both invigorating and nourishing.
Self-care during your period: Home
Now is the time for takeout or a quick meal. Ask family or anyone around you to care for you by allowing you space or resting with you. I generally use my period as an excuse for Korean drama watching. As a postgraduate student, my days fly by in a series of projects and analytical work, so I often only get to watch Korean dramas when I’m sick.
Remember that never-ending list of symptoms a few paragraphs earlier? Having your period is akin to being sick. When you’re in physical pain and your feelings are having their own emotional breakdowns, it’s completely okay to indulge in
Hyun Bin a Korean drama of your choice.
Self-care during your period: Skin
Every woman’s skin is different, but acne tends to flare up around the time of your period. I personally like to spot treat with pimple patches from COSRX. If you wear them at bedtime, come morning, they should have sucked all the gunk out. It’s very satisfying to peel off a patch and watch all the stuff ooze out of your pores. Since skin tends to get inflamed and sensitive during this time, I recommend skincare products that market themselves as cooling such as COSRX’s Hydrium Green Tea Aqua Soothing Gel.
You may also be too tired during your period to do your normal skincare routine. I recommend using sleeping masks so you can wake up the next day with refreshed looking skin. One period-friendly Korean beauty product is Hanyul’s Pure Artemisia Watery Cream. It’s gentle and rehydrates your skin overnight.
If you do have time, break out those face masks. Try face masks that target redness or inflammation. COSRX One Step Green Hero Calming Pad not only calms your skin, they can also be used as face masks. I also recommend Mediheal’s tea tree sheet masks to keep breakouts at bay.
Generally, consider the adage “less is more” as helpful for your period. Rather than stressing out about your period pimples, direct your focus to a creative activity such as baking or making origami bookmarks. You’ll taste the pleasing glow of accomplishment rather than fall into obsessive worry about your period acne.
Don’t forget to reach out
You can also use this time to reach out to girlfriends with words of affirmation or making cards for no reason other than to show how much you appreciate them. Maybe it’s phoning your mother or aunt or elderly family member, maybe it’s baking cupcakes for your colleagues at the office. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant gesture — even a short email will suffice. During this time I like to remember all the amazing women in my life. A small gesture of love can traverse huge distances.
*I use the term women to refer to those who self-identify as women, as I am aware that not everybody who menstruates may do so.