The 6 Stages of Your Period & How to Deal

Aunt Flo, the crimson wave, riding the cotton pony…your period. That time of the month may come with different (sometimes ridiculous) nicknames, but it usually means the same thing for all collegiettes: a weeklong roller coaster ride of emotions, discomfort and Nutella.

Although no two periods are alike, every girl goes through various stages during the week. We spoke with Christine Ryan, DO, and Tanya Vaughn, a certified nurse-midwife, to learn more about how you can deal with each phase while keeping your emotions, friendships and sanity intact.

Stage 1: Being annoyed at everyone (“don’t even dare ask if I’m PMSing”)

You know it’s coming when your irritability is through the roof and any tolerance you previously had for other people has suddenly disappeared.  No matter what you try, every little thing drives you absolutely crazy, and you’re close to packing up and moving to a private island sans civilization.

The solution:

Although you may feel frustrated and think that no one understands what you’re going through, most collegiettes can relate to experiencing some level of irritation in the days before their periods.

“The week leading up to your period is related to hormones, which, fun for us, we [have to] deal with,” Vaughn says. “The PMS [phase] can occur about one to two weeks before your period, and the symptoms of PMS typically go away after the first day of bleeding.”

She says that “a lot of women experience at least some level of [moodiness],” but dealing with those feelings comes down to the individual. Every girl is different, and what might calm one person down could trigger greater feelings of annoyance for another!

Find an activity that comforts you, whether that’s going to the gym, watching your favorite Netflix miniseries (and getting away from everyone) or cooking dinner for your roomies.

Stage 2: The cramps kick in

Even though you’re basically a period pro by now, nothing can really prepare you for cramps. Any collegiette will attest that those suckers hurt, although it hurts some collegiettes more than others.

It’s no fun heading off to lecture when it feels like someone is repeatedly stabbing you in the stomach. Ibuprofen only helps so much, so how’s a girl to deal?

The solution:

We experience cramps because “the endometrial lining, or uterine lining, sheds if an egg is not fertilized… and this results in uterine contractions, or what we call cramps,” Ryan says. “So the uterus ultimately cleans itself monthly.”

To combat against the pain, Ryan says exercise should be your number one priority. When you stay active, it significantly alleviates discomfort and cramping. Try taking at least 30 minutes each morning to get moving and keep the cramps at bay!

Along with exercise, Vaughn recommends taking medications before you actually start bleeding instead of waiting until the cramps are at their worst.

“The best way to ward off cramping is to start taking… ibuprofen, which works better than Tylenol, and start that a day before your bleeding,” Vaughn says. “It will actually help your cramping better than when taking it when the cramps are bad.”

If the cramps still stick around, Vaughn says heat is a great way for girls to deal with them. While some heating pads are on the pricier side, you can find cheap alternatives that work just the same. Give a ThermaCare HeatWrap ($6.99 at Walgreens) a try!

Stage 3: The heavy flow

Once you make it past the god-awful cramps, it’s smooth sailing, right? Unfortunately, for some collegiettes, it’s just the beginning. And if you’re prone to irregular periods, you never really know what you’re going to get. While some days stay light and manageable, other times you find yourself running off to the bathroom…Every. Single. Hour.

The solution:

First, you need to differentiate between occasional heavy bleeding (which is normal) and heavy bleeding every time you have your period.

“What we consider too heavy would be [using] more than one tampon or pad (or both) in one hour,” Vaughn says. “If the person is continuing to have [that] happen to them… they might want to come in [to see a doctor], because something else might be going on.”

Ryan says that addressing heavy bleeding with your doctor is important because if it’s ignored, it could lead to further issues, such as anemia.

“The best way to deal with this issue is discuss your concerns with your family, listen to family history and then see your doctor for suggestions on what you can do to help prevent a heavy flow to prevent further issues, such as anemia,” she says.

One way to lessen heavy bleeding would be going on birth control, which would help stabilize your hormones. “You need to control the hormones in order to control the bleeding,” Vaughn says.

With birth control pills, each prescription comes with a row or specific number of placebo pills (sugar pills) to induce a period. Vaughn says that in certain cases, girls can skip taking these altogether and continue with regular hormone pills.

“…Sometimes we can even skip that last week of [sugar] pills and keep them on continuous pills to help decrease bleeding or eliminate it,” Vaughn says. “It’s not medically necessary to have a period every single month, but some people just like it because it’s a reassurance.”

Stage 4: The emotional roller coaster

It’s not really that time of the month without at least one mental breakdown, and the only thing that seems to help is a rom-com movie marathon with your favorite snacks (where’s the chocolate?). When they say, “Don’t mess with a girl on her period,” they really mean it. After a while, the emotional highs and lows can get tiring and really distract you from your schoolwork and enjoying time with friends.

The solution:

While emotions run high during the PMS phase, you can still find yourself dealing with them throughout the entire week. Everyone will experience varying degrees of emotions, but some collegiettes may feel increasingly anxious or even depressed.

“For some people it’s worse than others, and I would say that if it’s altering people’s daily lives, they need to seek help because there are things that we can do to help level out those hormones,” Vaughn says.

Ryan recommends looking into activities that regulate your stress level. “[Try] looking into yoga, which is not only relaxing, but can also help treat the cramps,” she says. “Some women may need to talk to their doctors about anti-depressants if the symptoms are debilitating.”

It’s about finding what’s relaxing and meaningful for you! If you can’t seem to keep your emotions under control, reach out to friends, loved ones or even a doctor for support.

Stage 5: Craving loads of sugar and comfort food

At this point, you’ll do anything for your favorite comfort foods. Your guy friends don’t (and will never) understand it, but for some reason, chocolate is the answer for everything. You’re normally a healthy eater, but you have the unhealthiest cravings throughout this week—what gives?

The solution:

There’s science behind why these foods are comforting in stressful times. “Those comfort foods, the way that the carbohydrates are digested, help send out dopamine from the brain, which is actually your pleasure center,” Vaughn says. “This is why we associate those things with comfort food.”

According to Vaughn, there’s nothing wrong with spoiling yourself just a little with mac and cheese or some chocolate during your period!

“To a certain extent, giving in to some of those cravings is a good thing,” she says. “It’s about moderation, because if you just keep avoiding those things, that really aids to the person’s anxiety and stress and it makes them more irritable.”

Don’t feel guilty, collegiettes! You deserve that extra scoop of ice cream.

Stage 6: Too tired to function

Between classes, extracurricular activities and homework, you’re bound to feel exhausted at the end of the day. Throw in that time of the month, and it’s no wonder you never want to get out of bed! With cramps, bloating and now fatigue, how’s a girl supposed to make it to class AND stay awake?

The solution:

The key to fully restoring your energy is to stay active and (unsurprisingly) get a good night’s sleep!

“To combat fatigue [you should] make sure you’re exercising regularly and watching your caffeine intake, because people try to use caffeine during that time, when really if they took care of themselves by using proper medication for cramping, they would be able to get a decent night’s sleep and not need [caffeine],” Vaughn says.

Along with getting enough sleep, your diet plays a huge role in how energized you feel. It’s okay to indulge in chocolate and other munchies, but as Vaughn emphasized, it’s all about moderation. Eating a well-balanced meal of veggies and protein will give you an energy boost.

Congrats, collegiettes! You made it. Have your own tips for how to deal with Aunt Flo?