5 Simple and Surprising Ways to Heal PMS - Christine Kane

I’m a songwriter, not a doctor. I’m a performer, not a medical expert. But I have one huge credential in writing this post that no male doctor can put on his resume:

I used to get PMS. Now, I don’t.

Here are the five simple (and surprising) things I did…

1 – Stop calling it the curse

In fact, stop any and all menstrual-berating period. (Uh, no pun intended.) I read and hear all kinds of period-trashing in supposedly feminist humor – jokes about bleeding and tampons and how men are somehow either lucky or less-than because they don’t have to deal with this kind of suffering. (In fact, you probably have one of these in your email in-box as you read this.) This level of thought is so not a service to women. It just continues the idea of the menstrual cycle as something bad.

I was embarrassed to write this article at first. “Uh-oh,” said I to myself. “This is too, uh, feminine. Everyone will laugh.” That attitude is the very basis of why we get things like PMS. It’s shame. Plain and simple.

Now, that’s not to suggest that we start tossing tampons at men and throwing our self-righteous hear-me-roar crap at everyone. That’s just inflammatory and annoying. It serves no one to get angry or self-righteous about a very natural normal cycle. Do you get angry and self-righteous when you notice that the moon is full?

2 – Have Red Tent Days

I loved Anita Diamant’s novel The Red Tent. I read it on the beach a few summers ago, and I found myself wishing I lived in a culture where women could just go away when they got their periods. I was envious and a little sad. Then, I took my own advice about jealousy. I created my very own Red Tent Days.

Now the first day of my period is officially called a “Red Tent Day.” I don’t go to the Y. I don’t leave the house if I don’t feel like it. I hunker down. Of course, there are times when I can’t do this. For instance, if I’m on the road performing at The American Theatre, for instance, I can’t very well call them and say, “Yea, I know you’ve sold all those tickets. But it’s a Red Tent Day!” Sometimes Red Tent Days don’t happen. But since I’ve created Red Tent Days, I feel happy on that day. “Oh Boy! A day off!”

Even if you have a job, can you go in late, or make some kind of ritual for a Red Tent Day? Any gesture can do wonders for changing your attitude towards your period. I’d like to see women take that day off. You don’t have to announce it. But try it once. See how it feels.

3 – Minimize Tampon Use

I know. I know. I’ll get all kinds of hate email about this one. But hear me out…

Much of what creates poor health is our addiction to the notion of “convenience.” It’s not convenient to make dinner, so we toss something pre-made, over-salted and processed into the microwave. (Then years later, we wonder why we have health issues.) It’s not convenient to sit with a child and listen to her cry about something that happened to school, so we plop her down in front of the television. (Then we wonder why so many girls get eating disorders.) It’s not convenient to get our period – so we all use tampons and continue the frenetic pace of our daily rounds.

The only problem here is that your body is actually cleansing itself when you bleed. Your body is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s not an inconvenience. There’s a huge difference in mindset when you wear a tampon versus when you wear a pad. The latter forces you to acknowledge that this cleanse is happening. And that it’s supposed to happen. And that there’s no real need to fight it, except for this odd mental illness called “convenience.” It actually reminds you of this blessedly important gift you have called your body.

Years ago, I was on tour in Colorado, and I was sick. Through various connections, I got to visit a prominent Japanese acupuncturist/acupressurist. The author of several books, he talked with me for quite a while about my approach to my periods. He told me that tampons actually keep toxins trapped in the system. He said that when those toxins aren’t allowed to flow out, problems develop. Some people would call that a bunch of crap. I took it to heart because I sensed this man’s wisdom. He wasn’t trying to sell me anything. And his advice may have saved my life.

4 – Do Some kind of Energetic Exercise

Take lots of hikes throughout the month. Go on vigorous walks. Even if it’s cold in the morning. Visit the gym for a 20-minute romp on the ArcTrainer. (Oh how I love the Arc Trainer.) Exercise because it helps your mood. That might motivate you more than weight loss or some other magazine-induced goal. Exercising every day – even for 20 minutes – can do wonders for PMS.

5 – Eliminate Dairy from Your Diet

Going vegan was the last step for me to healing PMS. I’ve had no symptoms at all since giving up dairy. And this is not some granola-crunching-Birkenstock-wearing-Asheville-residing hippie advice here. The first time I learned about doing this was from Dr. Christiane Northrup, in her book Women’s Bodies. Women’s Wisdom.. She makes a case about all the hormones and chemicals being added to dairy products today – and how deeply those things affect women’s bodies. She suggests eliminating dairy, or at the very least going totally organic. I was totally organic for years. Then I eliminated dairy altogether. The difference is huge. Try it for two months. You’ll be amazed.

Final note: When I read this post aloud to my husband, he said, “You didn’t mention the part about your husband rubbing your back and how much that helps.” And I will add that it does help to have a compassionate and loving partner who takes time to be extra sweet throughout the month. You absolutely deserve that.

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37 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • Silvia

    Regardless of what is said, it still remains a massive INCONVENIENCE, and with the lifestyle I lead wearing a pad is just not something that will ever cross my mind. I ride horses and run about for a large part of the day, aside from the comfort factor is that the damn things don’t stay put and its a bigger mess with than without.

    In addition, I had changed to a complete vegan diet due to my PMDD (not PMS) and it hasn’t helped at all. Dealing with this wretchedness and providing my period it’s own little celebration is like adding insult to injury. Many women who deal with PMS will not come close to understanding what those with PMDD go through. Severe anxiety attacks, almost manic mood swings, lack of energy to the point of collapse, flu symptoms, cold sweats, dizziness, aches that would make you feel like you’d rather lose the limb… this is some of what PMDD is.

    • Meak

      I deal with that, too and what has helped immensely are b12 shots and Magnesium but I take malate, 1000mg. No refined carbs and raw vegan actually cured my pms.

  • Mary Allen

    I’m keep a list of resources related to yeast cures and remedies – please feel free to link back.

  • Erin

    Great post and I’m glad you took the issue on. I had toxic shock syndrome a couple of times from using tampons as a teenager. Now I am a cloth pad user and I love them – like flannel pajamas for my special lady parts! I only use tampons for occasions like swimming. Diva Cup didn’t really work for me but it is an awesome product.

    My most prominent PMS symptom is sleeplessness, which certainly doesn’t help my sensitive emotional state. Instead of forcing myself to keep up with my usual work and social schedule, I take it easy now with PMS. Easy cardio and gentle stretching, warm baths, chilling at home. Exercise helps enormously, limiting or eliminating dairy and sugar and booze (the dehydration makes the cramping worse). For cramps, I’ve found that putting something heavy like a dictionary on my pelvis helps move the cramp along.

    I’ve also started talking about my period more and embracing that it means that I am a fertile woman with an amazing, intuitive, knowledgeable body. No slang words for vagina in my life either. I used to be friends with a woman from Somalia and she found it so bizarre that North Americans refers to their genitals with all these other words – silly words, baby talk, mean words, curses. In Somalia, a vagina is a vagina, nothing else. I loved that and have embraced it!

  • jenna

    I to am not a fan of tampons I quit using them quite some time ago. In my search to find something better I came across Winalite
    they are a sanitary pad free of chemicals and synthetic materials. They are not bulky and offer great protection pads are not as bad as they would seem. They also have something called an anion strip embedded in every pad it is antibacterial and offers numerous benefits. For me pads are the clear choice and I don’t have to worry about any harmful health risks. I recommend checking out the site it has lots of great information because it should matter what we put in or around our bodies.

  • Caren

    Just came across this from a link a friend sent:

    http://goddessontheloose.com/?p=118

  • Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul

    Thanks, Christine, for this post … it’s not something we often talk about! I don’t get PMS. Every month, I’m kind of surprised when my cycle rolls around, because I don’t have any of the moodiness or anything that usually alerts women that it’s coming.

    Except for the elimination of dairy, I actually do all the stuff you recommend. I’d love to stress that yoga is awesome for regulating and balancing the endocrine (hormonal) system. I give most of the credit to the absence of PMS to a regular yoga practice.

    I loved what you said about tampons – I’ve always disliked them, especially since I’ve had a baby. I just didn’t know why. Thanks, again!

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • angela

    great post! i wanted to comment to liz williams that disposable plastic cups (like the softcup you mentioned) are really bad for the environment (just like disposable pads & tampons), eek! i hope that you find a re-usable silicone cup that works for you. i have so many friends who love their keeper or divacup or whatever. 🙂 i use cloth pads, myself.

  • Christine Kane

    Thanks everyone for your passionate and courageous thoughts and responses. (and ruth, for the pun!) i have a new song called “i am the moon” which i wrote as a response to my own bout with some shame-y thoughts. someday i will sing it for each of you!

  • Angela

    What an incredible post, Christine! I, too, loved The Red Tent and felt sad that we don’t do something similar in our modern society. I found myself especially thinking of my young nieces and hoping they will find a way to honor their menstrual cycle. And I think changing language is huge about anything we want to change in our lives.

  • ruth

    bloody good post! (I couldn’t resist…) years ago a physician told me that the craving for chocolate is your body needing magnesium and she recommeded eating broccoli and other green leafies in that week before. It makes a difference for me.

  • Caren

    retroberry’s post reminded me – A friend who beads made me a gorgeous bracelet with red jasper stones. She made it after we had both read The Red Tent, and were talking about ways to honor ourselves and our cycles. When I bleed now, I wear the bracelet! It’s a celebration of my cycle, being a part of women everywhere, and the connection I have with my friend.

    I love the name Luna!

  • RetroBerry

    One more thing to add to all the wonderful suggestions by everyone — it’s kind of an extension of number 1 or I guess could be it’s own suggestion.

    I was tired of feeling “bad” or “shamed” by society over my period, so I took to giving it a new and gorgeous name — something that made me not squirm or want to whisper. I call her “Luna” and she comes up in a positive way in conversations much more these days. I always hated the word “period”…each time I would say that I would feel the shame my mother obviously felt about her cycle. Luna is a whole different story. When she arrives (even though it’s still with cramps sometimes), I always say out loud, “welcome, Luna! I’m so glad to see you”. It might be totally nutty, but it reminds me in the moment just how precious my body is and I give thanks that it is working exactly as it should yet one more month.

    Thank you for writing this post, Christine.

  • Chris

    Well said. Especially about appreciating this amazing thing that your body does. I have always been extremely irregular thanks to a health issue – I might get my period three or four times a year, six if I’m lucky. Because of this, my fertility is in question. I would LOVE to get cramps and PMS; I would gladly suffer a little for the knowledge that everything is healthy down there. Ladies, I know PMS is hard, but what’s harder is not knowing if you’ll ever have children (not that a regular period means you’ll be fertile, but you get my point). Trust me, your period is a blessing.

    Oh and to commenter Liz Williams, thanks for the comment about vulva vs. vagina. I work with small children and we (the adults) try to use the correct terms for body parts. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to correct a co-worker who was talking to a child about the child’s “vagina” when what they really meant was “vulva!”

    • Meak

      I think it’s a bit unfair to say that. This is not a competition and I can have children but I choose not to. There is more to life for me than that.

  • JaJa

    We don’t know what kind of ingrediants are in tampons and disposable pads. They don’t have to list any ingrediants. Stayfree pads have latex in them without a warning on the box. Ever since(the very first day) I quit using tampons and disposable pads I don’t get the need to curl into a fetal position and cry- I only get very mild cramps. The resuable menstrual cups are conveinient and comfortable, they don’t absorb and hold more than a tampon. I don’t mean to sound like I’m advertising but not using tampons has made me feel so much better. Plus, I don’t get a yeast infection after each period anymore. http://www.livejournal.menstrual_cups.com has a lot of different information on reusable menstrual cups.

  • Christine Kane

    hey caren – well, it’s good to know your limits! 🙂

    liz – thanks for all that. it’s good to hear that so many women are into that product! and yes, the shame thing still catches me. even as i’m reading all these comments i find myself thinking, “oh no! all the men will be laughing at us!” and then I have to just get over myself. thanks for your kind words too.

    thanks carmen – yes, several of my friends will say, “of course it hurt. i was giving birth.” but they said it wasn’t as hellish as they had heard, mostly because they accepted that they were having a baby and that the pain was going to be a part of it!

  • Carmen

    Hi Christine! Great post today. I loved point number 1, especially. If we talk about menstruation like it’s something horrible, of course we’re going to feel terrible the minute we come “on”. In the same vein, I always cringe when I hear childbirth described as “hell” or “torture”, etc. on tv or by women in general. Sure, it wasn’t easy, but it was joyous and amazing and totally doable. As women, we need to relabel our experiences and package them up in the pretty paper that they deserve.

  • liz williams

    Oops – got the link wrong – it’s http://www.softcup.com

  • liz williams

    Hi Christine – Thanks for this post. Odd that this feels so risky to talk about, isn’t it? Perhaps we need another volume in the “Everybody Farts, ” “Everybody Poops” series of children’s books that normalizes bodily functions?

    Wanted to weigh in on the cups. I’ve been using instead softcups http://www.softcups.com for nearly a decade. They are disposable and I find they work well for travelllng. I love them. Comfy, simple to use, effective even for heavy flows and available in my local Walgreen’s. I’m excited to learn about some non-disposable cup options as well (thanks to liz). Not sure I can picture myself washing one out in a public restroom when I’m on the road, but am willing to consider it.

    Regarding the (absurd! Who’s shame is it, anyway?) shame of it all, I recently read a passage in Harriet Lerner’s book “Fear and Other Uninvited Guests” about our shame-based refusal to call women’s genitals by their proper name (specifically, it’s a vulva not a vagina). She’s a wonderful writer and thinker with a balanced but pointed pen. Might be something to extend your already well-developed thinking on this.

    Your blog is a pleasure to read – thanks for writing it. I just started blogging myself over on collaborationzone.com/blog and have printed your 17 mistakes post so I can make sure and hit them all my first year, if not sooner 😉 I’m sure I’ll have a few of my own to add.

  • Caren

    Yeah, but I’m not willing to look at my sugar consumption, yet! 😀

  • Christine Kane

    caren – you’re right. i did leave that out, but not intentionally! i remembered it today as i was doing errands. i have never noticed a difference one way or the other with caffeine. but i know lots of people who swear that it makes a huge difference for their symptoms. same thing with sugar.

  • Caren

    Thanks for the post, Christine!

    One thing you didn’t mention, and I think it plays a big part in PMS, is caffeine. When I’m off caffeine, the only PMS-y symptom is wanting that day off, just reading in bed or something. When I’m “doing” caffeine, I get really cranky, and I just want to look for something to fight about! Or, I’ll feel quite depressed and hopeless. Luckily, I’ve become more of an observer of those thoughts than a participant, but sometimes, I forget. I’ll think the sky is falling, then I’ll remember – this might be PMS. And I’ll gain perspective again.

    None of that when I’ve had no caffeine. Seems like I’d stay off the stuff, huh?

  • Christine Kane

    hi steph – i agree with your advice about not getting uptight – there are instances where the convenience is necessary!

    hey leah – you’ll love it – and soon, it’ll just be a normal thing. let me know how it goes.

    liz – i had never heard of those things. thanks for adding to the conversation.

    thanks kathy!

    thanks kris – you might like The China Study. it’s got a lot of great studies about women and dairy in it.

    thanks katherine and kiwi!

  • Kiwi

    I am another cloth pad and Diva user. One you get over the learning curve of using a cup (hey, we weren’t all masters at tampons the first day either..) you have convenience and are still allowing your body to cleanse itself properly. Cloth pads are much more comfortable than disposables, and since using these two exclusively (for alomst a year now!) I actually look forward to the end of my monthly cycle. Who knew?! Being happy about getting to use a new printed cloth pad with fun designs instead of dreading those days. And they really do help with the cramps.

  • Katherine/ME

    I will try the diva cup, now that I have learned more about it via Liz’s post. thanks!

  • Kris

    Great post! I’ve got my own PMS perculating in my brain this week. I just wanted to mention that I just watched one of Dr. Oz’s specials on the Discovery Channel. They did a study with a group of women with severe pms symptoms. They had each of them eat a boatload of lowfat dairy products for a period of time, then reevaluated their symptoms. They all had amazing improvements.

    Of course, there are other places to get calcium than in dairy products. 🙂

  • Kathy

    What a great post! The miracle of femininity! I’m a big fan of Dr. Northrup and she so eloquently paints the picture of menstruation, not as something to be embarassed over or to hide but as a reminder of the miracle that we are. Not only is it not bad – but it is to be celebrated – as in the Red Tent! And having a partner that gets it and celebrates it with you is not to be minimized. Thank god for the enlightened men (and women!) in our lives.

  • Liz

    This is a fantastic post! I found I got a lot of the same benefits when I switched to reusable menstrual products. I primarily use cloth pads and occasionally a Diva Cup (actually I prefer my Lunette to my Diva, and I use a cup primarily for swimming), and in addition to just generally feeling better, I’ve found myself really embracing my cycle. Thanks for being so open about all of this!

  • leah

    oh my! i loved this post!

    i prefer pads to tampons for multiple reasons, but the logic behind this tip is one that i felt, but couldn’t quite explain. thank you for putting it into words for me.

    and thank you for the reminder about the red tent! i remember reading that book and feeling that same jealousy. rob brezsny has written about this idea as well. in the past, i blew off the idea because my work situation simply wouldn’t allow for it, but it so happens that i could take red tent days now if i chose to. what a wonderful idea to just make it a red tent day when possible. the challenge will be to give myself permission. i’m going to give it a try.

  • steph

    This is not just PMS, but period pain in general. If you do nothing else, the exercise will help immensely. Instead of moaning on the couch, getting up and walking around the block gets you up and moving, and seems to give me instant relief.

    Also, even if you switch to pads, don’t get all uptight about using a tampon once in a while – and don’t miss your swim!

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