How To Deal With Period Pain At Work

Picture the scene: you’re sitting at your desk and your period cramps are excruciating. It feels like somebody’s using their fingernails to slowly, methodically scrape away chunks of your uterus. All you can do is curl up in silent protest and wait for the pain to gradually subside.
Except you can’t, because you’re at work. Your boss doesn’t know the level of your discomfort: how exhausted your period makes you; or the waves of nausea; or that your joints are aching; or that you have to keep running to the loo because of dodgy loose stools. You’ve just got to sit there, and do your job exactly how you would if you weren’t on your period.

What are some common period symptoms?

First, of course, there’s the dreaded cramping in the pelvic area. “[Period] cramps come from asymmetric contraction[s] of the uterus, a muscular organ,” says certified nurse midwife Kristin Mallon, Co-Founder and CEO at FemGevity. “These can happen during, before or after your period. These cramps are caused by hormonal changes that signal to the brain to shed the lining of the endometrium.
The period affects the whole body. “There can be any number of symptoms that [people with periods] feel, ranging across any system: like headaches, vision changes, sometimes even changes in athletic performance, bowel changes, urinary changes, libido changes,” Mallon says. Not to mention:
Joint stiffness
Back ache (especially lower back pain)
Mood changes. “PMDD is a known concept; but mild versions of this can also be experienced, from insomnia, anger, rage, depression and anxiety,” Mallon concludes.

How might period symptoms affect someone’s ability to work?

It’s not just the pain. Being on your period can affect you mentally, too, making you feel more irritated, anxious or angry than usual. This may also affect your ability to focus.
Of course, period symptoms – and how they’re experienced and managed at work – are not a ‘one size fits all’. “Every woman who menstruates experiences it differently – some may experience little to no pain when they’re on their period, and others may be in so much pain that [it] means they can focus on little else,” Murray explains. “Some may find that sitting down helps them to manage period cramps, whereas others may struggle with a desk job while they’re on their period; preferring to keep gently moving to alleviate symptoms.”

How could I broach the topic of period symptoms with their employer?

“Speaking to your employer about period pain may feel intimidating, especially if it’s making work feel impossible,” says Murray. “[But] having a conversation with your employer can help them to better support you during this time so that you can feel more at ease when you’re working [while] on your period.
“If you have a regular one to one catch up with your employer, this may be the ideal time to talk about how you’re struggling,” Murray continues. “You could start off the conversation by saying something along the lines of: ‘You may have noticed that I have been finding work more difficult sometimes, this is because I’ve been struggling to manage period pain. I wanted to let you know, as I find that the following helps to manage my [period] symptoms…’.”
It’s difficult to do – but you have every right to be honest with your employer about how you’re feeling. No one should have to pretend to be ok when they’re really, really not.
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