Talking About SRH: It’s Not Just One Conversation

Menstruation is the cyclical shedding of your uterine lining. It is a process influenced by hormones originating in the brain and reproductive tract. Any disruption can result in a late, skipped, or unusual period. Factors such as hormonal, lifestyle and dietary changes can have such effects. One factor that is often overlooked is stress – something that everyone is experiencing right now, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It’s likely that stress combined with the massive upheaval of ‘normal’ life and routine is the reason for your irregular period.

But why?

You may notice that your emotions often manifest physically, such as feeling nauseous or having body aches. Stress works the same way. High levels of stress can impact the ovulation phase – where an egg is released into the fallopian tube for potential fertilization – causing either no ovulation or a delay in the process. This affects the level of hormones, thereby causing significantly heavy and painful bleeding.

Cramps are caused by the uterus contracting to expel uterine tissue. These contractions decrease blood flow and oxygen to the uterus, causing pain.

Your cycle may be longer or shorter than usual as well. High stress levels can also increase the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, however, this is not well understood.

What will help my symptoms?

Alleviating stress will often help with these symptoms, however, always check in with your doctor about any menstrual changes you experience that are unusual or concerning, especially if they continuously occur.

Before we unpack this further, it’s important to note: menstruation is not a sign of COVID-19. Menstruation is a normal, healthy biological process – not an illness. This may seem obvious to some people. However, there are many myths and false perceptions regarding menstruation that circulate around the world – Pakistan included. A current myth, as reported by UNICEF, is that ‘menstruating individuals have coronavirus and can infect others’. This is completely untrue.

However, gender inequality and lack of access to menstrual information and products can leave many vulnerable to coronavirus. Harmful menstrual practices such as being confined in a small space with other menstruating individuals; being denied access to washing facilities due to stigma; and using improperly cleaned menstrual products can result in further risk of exposure. Though it is possible to menstruate while you have coronavirus, solely menstruating is not a diagnosis for it. In fact, good menstrual hygiene will help in the prevention of corona virus as well – with regular washing and proper sanitation.

So now that we know what menstruation is and isn’t, along with the possible reasons for an irregular period – let’s look into what can be done to help with the symptoms.

First things first – remind yourself that what you are feeling is perfectly normal and valid. Coronavirus has impacted the entire world; it is a natural response to feel overwhelmed by the collective confusion and uncertainty everyone is facing. Take some extra time for yourself during this period, while also trying to maintain some sort of a routine.

  • Monitor your daily activities, making sure to set limits for yourself, so that you don’t end up staring at the number of cases on the screen all day.
  • Try preoccupying yourself with household work, a hobby or perhaps, start working on that project you’ve always been meaning to give a go!
  • Remember not to overdo it and get caught up in “productivity culture” – everyone’s needs are different and if yours are to just rest and take things slowly, by all means, go for it!

For the irregularly heavy and painful periods or intense premenstrual symptoms, try the following:

Get Moving! Although the idea of squats, lunges, and sprints while on your period may not sound particularly relaxing – studies have shown that even light exercise can help combat period cramps. Keep in mind that levels of activity can affect hormones that influence the menstrual cycle – so maintain a healthy balance!

  • Choose an indoor exercise that you enjoy which also helps you feel good.
  • Exercises that engage the core can be particularly helpful.
  • Slow movements that involve deep breathing, such as yoga, can also be alleviating.

Try To Relax! Sit back, read a book or doodle while sipping on some tea.

  • Engage in a calming activity that helps you feel good. Don’t over-exert yourself!
  • Quality of sleep has been shown to impact the severity of cramps. Take this time to improve your sleeping habits or maybe just take a quick nap to help you feel more refreshed
  • A good massage can also increase blood flow and therefore help against cramps. Applying some pressure, in a circular motion to the base of your thumb and big toe are some acupressure points that can help with cramps as well

Use Heat! Applying low-level heat in the form of heat pads, hot water bottles or a heat wrap can help in reducing pain, especially when combined with medication. Follow the instructions for these products carefully, making sure not to fall asleep with them as some can cause burns. Taking a hot shower, using a warm towel, or ironing a piece of cloth and wrapping it around your lower back works just as well!

Orgasm! These allow the uterus to relax and increase blood flow, automatically helping with cramps.