There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has added stress into our lives, but how is that stress affecting our periods? Follow along as Intimina Gynaecologist Expert, Dr. Shree Datta, answers all of our questions regarding stress-induced menstrual changes and how to deal best with them in self-isolation. Use this time to get to know how your lifestyle changes are directly impacting your cycle.
1. In the period tax fight, Scotland has won and now menstrual hygiene products are tax-free. Would you like to comment on the situation in England?
I would certainly welcome the move to making menstrual hygiene products tax free. We have previously seen the British Medical Association successfully lobby for free sanitary products for women in hospitals across the UK and this would be the next step to aim for. There is no doubt that menstrual hygiene products are a basic sanitary necessity and it would be in everyone’s interest to ensure they are available and affordable to all women.
In conjunction with this, I would like to see us tackle the stigma around periods – we have seen a lot of progress around understanding the symptoms of the menopause in the workplace, but periods still make a lot of people feel uncomfortable, despite being a natural monthly event for most women. I’d love to see women able to comfortably discuss period pains and heavy menstrual bleeding at home, work and any other place, not just with their Gynaecologist.
2. The global epidemic of COVID-19 is impacting the health decision-making of women across the globe. What is most important in keeping good intimate health?
There is no doubt that COVID-19 is causing a great deal of anxiety and stress to us all. However, this is a good opportunity to get to know your menstrual cycle and to monitor the impact of your diet and lifestyle on your periods and vaginal health. You may find that you are more prone to thrush in the week leading upto your period for example, or after having sex.
Don’t forget to check that you have enough contraception available, particularly if you require a prescription and speak to your doctor early if you need a repeat prescription. If you develop symptoms such as vaginal discharge or severe abdominal pain make sure you seek advice early – under the current circumstances, you may have to seek advice over the telephone so that your doctor can assess whether you need to be seen in person for investigations and also how quickly you need them.
Just remember that if there is a problem, getting it assessed and treated early may prevent complications later on. Whilst coronavirus has affected the care available, you can still access telephone advice for an initial assessment of your symptoms.
3. The stress caused by the epidemic and isolated living may influence the menstrual cycle in many ways. What are the most often changes women come across these days and what are the best ways to deal with them?
The first thing to do is to monitor your menstrual cycle, either in your diary or via an app. Link this to your sleep and dietary habits as well as your lifestyle so that you can start looking at stress factors which affect your menstrual cycle.
For example, you might find that a gentle yoga session helps period pains, whilst late night sleeping may affect your mood or concentration the next day. Use this time to get to know your own body cycle and to optimize your health by reviewing your eating habits, exercise and sleep times.
4. What are the best menstrual product women can turn to as an alternative to stocking up on pads and tampons during isolation (and even after)?
Whilst the evidence suggests that stockpiling sanitary pads and tampons is not necessary, now may be a good time to consider trying an alternative product – such as the menstrual cup, if you’re suitable, particularly if you are used to using tampons. Remember to allocate time when inserting the menstrual cup for your first time, in the comfort of your bathroom ideally.
5. There are many articles underlining the importance of regular exercise during isolation. Many women don’t know that they could also do Kegel exercise to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Why are these muscles so important?
Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles around your vagina back passage and bladder and can help with urinary incontinence and prolapse. Regular pelvic floor exercises can help bowel and urinary control, prolapse and there’s some evidence to suggest more sensitivitiy during sex.
The NHS guidelines also suggest that strengthening pelvic floor muscles can help men reduce symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
6. Practicing self-care while in isolation is crucial to keep women mentally and physically healthy. What would be your tips on practicing self-care?
My first tip would be to monitor your body clock, for example, by recording your sleep times and eating times. Keep a food diary to analyze your dietary habits – are you eating your main meal late at night, for example, or waking up early? Take a look at how this affects your mood and energy levels. Download a menstrual cycle app to monitor your periods – are they irregular, heavy or painful, for example?
Stress factors such as late nights, excessive travel or alcohol intake may affect the regularity of your cycle. Take a look at whether certain foods affect your periods, for example, reducing your salt, caffeine or alcohol intake in the second half of your cycle may be helpful in managing PMS symptoms. Do remember that periods can affect your mood, desire to have sex or exercise as well as sleeping and eating habits.
Also look at the type of exercise you’re doing – yoga can aid relaxation for example, whilst you may get an oestrogen boost to aerobic exercise in the first half of your cycle. Similarly, there is some evidence to suggest that you may find negotiations easier in the first half of your cycle and be more tuned into your emotions in the second half.
Consider this involuntary time alone a silver lining into focusing on our overall wellness. We’ve been trying to understand our cycles since the first time we looked down and discovered a surprise, and now is a good opportunity to not only get to know our periods, but make friends with them.
Treating our bodies right, or at least anticipating how our habits will affect our cycles, is one step closer to gaining the control and comfort we deserve as everyday women.