Monthly cycles are a woman’s companion, for 3-4 decades of her life, for better or for worse. Hormonal and mood changes associated with it have been the subject of many anecdotes and tales.
Many of us think of our cycles as unproductive times, both work-related as well as spiritually.
It doesn’t have to be so. Planning and prioritizing tasks can take the burden off from days that you don’t feel 100%.
Spiritually, it does not have to be a complete break, even though we don’t pray during our cycle. We can increase in remembrance of our Creator (dhikr) and other good deeds like charity.
What is a normal period?
A complaint I hear frequently is: “My periods are all over the place. I don’t have any pattern.”
Many of us have a preconception that there is a “date“ on which the cycle must start. If that’s not so there is a problem, and our cycle is irregular.
This is not true.
Cycles can vary greatly and still be considered normal.
The monthly cycle starts on the first day of your last period and ends on the first day of your next period.
Then comes the actual flow. What some women consider normal, others may call heavy.
If you see clots in the flow bigger than a penny, or you soak through and stain your clothes, your periods are heavy, and you may want to see your doctor.
When do periods start and when do they stop?
For most girls, menstrual cycles begin at the age of around 12. But girls are starting periods earlier and it is common to see girls as young as 9 or 10 having periods. Read here to learn more about when to seek medical help if your daughter or sister starts experiencing their periods early.
Menopause, or the time that periods pack up, is around the age of 51 but may vary from 45-55 years. If periods stop before the age of 40, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Some women would need either hormone supplements or medication to strengthen their bones.
Feeling moody before periods?
You are not the only one!
As many as 3 in 4 women can be moody for a week or sometimes two weeks before their period. You may also have headaches and bloating.
Many women will miss work at some point in time because of severe PMS (Premenstrual syndrome).
However, this does not, entitle women to use this as an excuse to be disrespectful or uncompromising with others. A healthier approach is to find excuses for somebody who is moody when it is not in their nature to be so.
However, if you are feeling snappy and short-tempered, and you know it may be because of your hormones, explain to your near and dear ones how you are feeling to prevent misunderstandings.
An exaggerated form of PMS is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
Women experience the symptoms of PMS, but on more intense levels. Some may feel depressed, anxious and even suicidal.
Do not ignore these symptoms in either yourself or a family member. Sometimes the one suffering from PMDD may not have insight into the severity of the problem and a close friend or family member may pick it up.
You need to refer yourself to emergency services, which may vary depending on the country where you reside. Most countries have emergency mental health services.
Changes in the pattern of your periods
Each one of us recognizes what is normal for our cycle.
It is not unusual to have early or delayed periods, heavy or light periods for a couple of cycles. Stress may cause hormonal imbalances and it usually settles back into a normal pattern.
However, if your periods start getting heavier and you are above the age of 40, do see your doctor.
Spotting in between cycles is a common complaint. If there is any possibility of pregnancy at all, do a pregnancy test to read more about the causes of spotting in different age groups, read this article.
If periods start spacing out and becoming lighter near the age of 45, you are probably going through the menopausal phases. No need to worry!
Should menstrual leave be universal in workplaces?
Japan is one of the few countries where women are allowed a menstrual leave. This law has been in place for nearly 70 years. South Korea also allows women to take leave during their periods if they suffer severe pain or heavy periods. Despite being entitled to menstrual leave, a 2017 survey in Japan showed that only 9 in 1000 women claimed menstrual leave. The reason being, there is a stigma attached to the menstrual cycle and women do not like telling their male employers that they are off sick because they are menstruating.
India is one of the countries where there is a lot of shame associated with periods. In some rural areas, girls are not allowed to cook or touch people when they are menstruating!
“Girls in India typically miss 20% of the school year because of their period, and 70% of mothers consider menstruation ‘dirty,” according to a 2014 report by philanthropic organization Dasra. as quoted in an article in CNN in 2021.
No wonder Indian food delivery company, Zomato, made recent headlines when CEO Deepinder announced period leave for their female employees. Read the note here.
Shockingly, the biggest opponents of period leave is women!
Westernized countries are yet to offer period leave, although it has been debated.
Feminists have widely debated the matter and are divided if menstrual leave helps or hinders women in the workplace.
Befriend your monthly cycles and embrace your womanhood!
Understanding your cycle and accepting the changes that your body goes through will make you happier and productive.
Focus on what you can do rather than the limitations.
For sporty sisters, don’t let your cycle dampen your spirits. Think of alternatives – treatment to control symptoms and be open with your trainers so that you can discuss options.
Working women need to adjust their commitments around their cycles if their periods hinder everyday life. There is still a lot of shame attached to admitting that you are unable to perform certain tasks effectively. It will take the collective effort of men and women to overcome this long-standing negative perception of periods and it’s connection to productivity.
Stay-at-home mums – tell your husband, children, and other family members if you are struggling and ask for help. Don’t suffer in silence. They don’t know till you tell them.
Be positive, be kind to yourself and spread positivity and kindness.