Those of us blessed with female reproductive organs are also blessed with awesome mood- and appearance-altering hormones that make us feel extra-special once every 28 days. I can't say for sure if I am actually as bad or worse as my fellow ladies, but I do know that I feel EXTRA VALUE SIZE crazy in the week leading up to my Aunt Flo's visit.
I don't know what sets my symptoms or their timing apart from my sisters’, but I do know that mine tend to be more intense during the actual period than the week before. What happens to me the week before is feels--LOTS and LOTS of FEEEEELS. I cry all the time, I think about bad stuff, I fight with my amazing boyfriend, and I get down on everything. Then I wake up one morning with the telltale red dot and I know why I've been being such a bitch.
For all my efforts to perform self-care as often as I can, when it comes to my monthly cycle, I am scrambling for damage control more frequently than planning preemptive solutions to keep my hormones from taking control of my life every four-ish weeks.
My personal situation: I don't use hormonal birth control, so I deal with sometimes unpredictable periods or symptoms. One month, it's extra cramps, the next it's back pain, some months crazy-heavy, others have bad gastrointestinal issues. All I know is that I hate that four-to-five-day phase of the month more than anything.
Writing this makes me conscious of what I may do better in the future to manage my symptoms, such as a menstruation calendar or finally going back to the gyno (I have gyno PTSD), which I will do before my mom yells at me again. But in the meantime, here are some of the super-simple and super-affordable PMS and AMS (Actual Menstrual Syndrome, which is not an actual medical term) solutions.
What could possibly be so easy that you could do it during a commercial break or in between handfuls of Cheetos? A poultice! A poultice is really just a term to describe a topical mixture of healing compounds that is applied to the skin. Think of it as a tea with far less liquid; like using a tea bag on tired eyelids, you use a poultice on your abdomen so that the medicinal properties of what you use can sink into the skin and soothe your angry reproductive organs.
Using a poultice is also a good way to get the benefits of a healing herbal bath without being in bath water. To work properly, a poultice must have constant wet contact with the skin it is applied to for the duration of the treatment.
RED RASPBERRY LEAF
This stuff is hella cheap, clocking in at $3.50 for nearly a pound. It is, as its name suggests, the leaves of the raspberry plant. You can use this topically, as a poultice or steeped, as a tea. It is a potent uterine relaxant and recommended for all women whether menstruating, pregnant (always ask your doc) or pre/post-menopausal.
Red raspberry leaf has a high magnesium content for a tea, and has tannins that help contract and tone internal tissue. This herb is very safe to use, and is great for skin and teeth as well!
To use as a poultice, place half a cup of herbs in a square of cheesecloth or large reusable tea bag. Place it in a bowl and pour in enough boiling water just to moisten it. When it is cool enough to handle but still comfortably warm, lie down and apply the poultice directly to the skin of the abdomen.
Leave this for 20 to 30 minutes and then discard. Go ahead and do this at any point in your cycle, even during menstruation, to help with symptoms.
To use as a tea, place 1 or 2 tbs of the herb in a tea ball and pour over some boiling water. Raspberry leaf tastes surprisingly similar to conventional black tea but lacks the caffeine that can make cramps more intense as well as heighten other menstrual discomfort.
Castor oil is something that you all know I am very fond of. I had mentioned some of its other health-related uses, and this is one of them.
Castor oil packs done BEFORE menstruation can help to soothe the pain and inflammation of your achey guts. This is done similarly to a poultice: a piece of cotton cloth or flannel is soaked in castor oil, placed on the abdomen, and then covered with a hot towel or heating pad. This is, again, best done lying down and with a towel underneath you, as castor oil can cause some serious grease stains on furniture or clothing.
You can refrigerate and reuse this piece of cloth for about two months.
I have mentioned some Edgar Cayce "remedies" in some other posts, and most have just been for cosmetic issues, but this particular remedy is helping to keep my super-angry period under control. The basis of why this works is hard to hear from a naturopathic cure, but as Tiye said in her reflexology post, anecdotal evidence can be the most useful, and I will raise my hand on this one and tell you that I believe that it works.
The gist of it is ricinoleic acid. This is a triglyceride fatty acid, which is complex and resistant to the forces of mold, viruses and bacteria. When applied topically, studies have shown that versus a placebo pack, a castor oil pack stimulates the body's lymphocytes, helping to stimulate the immune system. Ricinoleic acid was also noted to have a similar effect as capsaicin, a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Try to avoid using this cure during actual menstruation, as it can cause heavier bleeding.
Another useful abdominal pack for PMS is a charcoal poultice, and this is also potentially messy. One suggestion I can provide to keep from making a giant mess is to combine your poultice with an epsom salt bath. This, unfortunately, doesn't work for the castor oil, but red raspberry leaf and charcoal will do nicely in hot water, making a tea for your body while the "tea bag" sits on your tummy.
Charcoal is a widely used detoxifier, and can be used to filter water, help get cleaner laundry, and even clean up spills. This is not the stuff you buy for the BBQ. It is very easy to find either online, in a health store, or Asian grocery store. Activated charcoal is taken internally for a number of reasons, too, and Sable did a great post about some of its easy and effective topical uses. This time, we will be using to it relieve bloating and inflammation.
Charcoal can't simply be sprayed with water and applied to the skin--it will dry right up and then flake and be charcoal again. Take half a cup cornmeal, flax seed, bentonite clay, or oatmeal, and heat it to a simmer with 1 cup of water until the liquid is absorbed. Add 2 capsules of charcoal powder (roughly 1 tsp) and mix well.
Spoon this mixture into a piece of cloth and lie in your designated towel zone to apply it to the belly. Lay a nice sheet of plastic wrap over the top if you will be using heat. This will help trap the heat as well as keep your heating pad from getting wet or gooey. This poultice should stay on for a minimum of about an hour.
Nobody likes to have their period. If you do, you are certainly an anomaly. I know I want to crawl into a cave like a hibernating mammal and shriek until the four days are over. Oh wait, I already do that!
But seriously, when I remember to stop and try and take care of the pains I am feeling, I am listening to my body, and swallowing two dozen or so naproxen, acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen every month just isn't good for your liver. When you gotta take something, I know you just gotta, but give one of these babies a shot next time you are feeling the mean reds; it might help you just take one at a time instead of a handful. Use this in combination with a ginger shot to keep your tummy calm as well.