Unbearable Period? Here’s How to Alleviate Cramping + Balance Hormones

This one’s for all the ladies! I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that many of us could write the book on premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cramping. After all, who hasn’t experienced period pain and cramping that makes you want to just lay down and relax? Frankly, we don’t talk about our sacred gift enough. Menstruation is a sign of fertility—the ability to bestow the gift of life. Understandably, we find it hard to honor that magic and spiritual perspective while wallowing in fetal position and canceling our social plans due to what can be excruciating discomfort. 

PMS rose to prominence in 1987 when Anna Reynolds of England was charged with the murder of her mother, which she committed while suffering from the effects of PMS. While Reynolds’ case is nuanced, her story highlights that PMS and menstruation were often taboo throughout history. In 1981, 20% of men believed menstrual pain was psychological, not physical, and 39% reported having the belief that a woman’s period affects her ability to think [http://www.worldcat.org/title/tampax-report-summary-of-survey-results-on-a-study-of-attitudes-towards-menstruation/oclc/10421512]. Despite what some may think, PMS affects brain chemistry and periods can be painful! In fact, biological research reveals that the fluctuation of endogenous opioids and serotonin during our cycle greatly contributes to mood stability and behavior [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20191865].

It’s estimated that about 85% of women experience PMS symptoms each month [https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/premenstrual-syndrome], and at least 20% of women say period pain hinders them from performing daily activities [http://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0215/p386.html]. Though each person’s body and cycle is unique, we benefit from sharing experiences and natural remedies—especially when we feel as if our period and PMS keeps us from living and loving life.

If you feel like you’ve tried it all, incorporate essential oils and ritual into your self-care routine for greater relief. Fatigue? Bloating? Dull aching? Insomnia? Irritability? Mood swings? Aromatherapy is a powerful subset of herbal medicine that can holistically help manage physical and psychological aspects that come with that time of the month. Below are 5 well-rounded essential oils that alleviate cramping and help balance hormones.

1. Clary Sage

When people complain of cramping or PMS, aromatherapists immediately think of clary sage. It’s nutty, earthy aroma works as an antidepressant and sedative. It’s the go-to oil for female hormone balancing and uterine relaxation. It helps manage symptoms of menstrual cycle irregularities, PMS, and menopause. In fact, clary sage has demonstrated anti-inflammatory and moderate peripheral analgesic activity [http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10412905.1997.9699459], making it a go-to oil to apply topically for easing period cramps. 

How-To: Add 15 drops into a glass roll-on bottle. Top it off with an ounce of sunflower oil and massage on cramping abdomen. Feel free to add in other hormone balancing oils, like geranium, or analgesic oils, like plai. 

2. Petitgrain

A mood uplifter that also calms, petitgrain can be over-shadowed by more well-known oils of the citrus family. But, petitgrain’s sweet, dry aroma nicely complements many heavier, earthy scents often used in period blends. It boasts anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory benefits, but works wonderfully on a more subtle, energetic level. Inhalation has been shown to balance the autonomic nervous system [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27763785], so reach for this oil not only to help with cramps, but also manage irritable emotions and mood volatility. 

How-To: If you’re feeling low or lethargic, inhale some petitgrain. You might also want to try stimulating the ‘Grandfather Grandson’ acupressure point. Located about a thumb’s width below the ball of your foot on the middle part of the foot’s inner arch, stimulating this point mitigates cramping, while relieving stress and anxiety.

3. Rose Geranium

A fresh and slightly rosy aroma, geranium embodies feminine energy. A known anti-inflammatory, it helps reduce symptoms of PMS and hot flashes. In fact, geranium inhalation has been clinically demonstrated to decrease anxiety and blood pressure [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4484988/]. While therapeutically powerful, I often blend using geranium as a balancing oil because it offers deep benefits beyond the physical body. It helps assuage mood swings and agitation. Reach for it when you need some calm, energetic loving.

How-To: If you have hormonal headaches, add geranium to a topical cramp blend, but also try stimulating the “Union Valley” acupressure point. My mom taught me about this pressure point when I was younger, and it’s been my go-to for treating period headaches and cramps. Stimulate this point by gently pressing the skin between the thumb and index finger on either hand. 

4. Fragonia

One of the only trademarked oils, fragonia is truly special. A balanced oil, it’s delicate, yet mighty. While there’s not much literature, it’s known for balancing homeostasis and regulating the body’s hormonal clock. Preliminary research confirms what many who work with fragonia know— it’s anti-inflammatory [http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/19090831] and has an analgesic effect, which helps with period discomfort.

How-To: Traveling and PMSing? If you feel like your body rhythm is thrown off, add 7 drops of fragonia into an ounce of sesame oil and place it on the base of your neck and temples to re-energize and re-center yourself. 

5. Roman Chamomile

Medicinally used since ancient times, I reach for it when I am overwhelmingly crampy and need instant relief. The strong apple-like aroma is soothing and familiar. It’s a must-have oil to treat muscle spasms and cramping, and works wonders for dysmenorrhea and sore breasts. A robust analgesic and anti-inflammatory [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=rossi+anthemis+nobilis], it also blends well with many other oils on this list. 

How-To: Take a few drops and rub neat on your lower abdomen when having intense cramping. Because it’s an acute condition, it’s safe to use without dilution— only every once and a while!

Related: How To Apply Essential Oil To Every Part of Your Body
The Best Affordable Aromatherapy Essential Oils
Essential Oils That Beat Brain Fog + Boost Energy? Heck, Yes!

Photo: Stocksy

Leigh Winters | Editor-in-Chief
Written by Leigh Winters | Editor-in-Chief
Leigh Winters, M.A./M.S., is a clinical researcher at Columbia University’s Spirituality Mind Body Institute and Columbia University Department of Psychiatry’s New York State Psychiatric Institute. She works in the Substance Use Research Center on opioid, cocaine, and alcohol treatment trials that involve motivational enhancement therapy, pharmacological facilitation of mindfulness training, mindfulness-based relapse prevention, and mind-body practices. Leigh is a certified aromatherapist and Ayurveda specialist. She is passionate about health and wellness and enjoys writing. Leigh holds dual master's degrees from Columbia University in Clinical Psychology & Neuroscience. Reach out to Leigh via leigh@wiseandwell.co or on Instagram @wiseandwellco.