If you’re a woman, menstruation is probably the thing you look forward to least every month. Men of the world: You got out easy.
If you’re not into popping pills to help ease all the bloating and cramps (or if pills just plain don’t help), there are a number of all-natural ways you can go about trying to feel better. Experiment with the following to make Aunt Flo’s next stay as pleasant as possible. (Note: Netflix binges aren’t on this list, but they can certainly help, too.)
Hit The Gym
While taking a long nap sounds very appealing during your period, you won’t regret getting yourself to the gym. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (like jogging, swimming, or cycling) per day to help reduce PMS symptoms such as fatigue and feelings of depression.
“Aerobic exercise increases our bodies’ production of endorphins, hormones that act like our natural painkillers and mood elevators,” says board certified OB/GYN Shawn Tassone, M.D., Ph.D. So don your comfiest gym attire, pump up the motivational tunes, and sweat some of the misery away.
A few dietary changes can help you feel much more comfortable on your period.
Say sayonara to caffeine and alcohol, and limit the salt you eat, recommends the ACOG. Comfort foods will only make you feel more, well, uncomfortable. Salt, for example, causes your body to retain water, which will make any bloating worse.
“Some women find that caffeine affects breast tenderness, while alcohol may spur overeating and worsen any stomach upset.” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., creator of Better Than Dieting and author of Read It Before You Eat It.
Instead, focus on a balanced diet of whole foods. “Eating lean proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates from whole grains is important in feeling more balanced,” says Taub-Dix. “Whole grain carbohydrates, like those found in lentils and brown rice, boost your brain’s output of the feel-good hormone serotonin and may help minimize the mood swings and food cravings that often torment you throughout your periods,” she explains.
In addition to what you eat, when you eat can also make a difference. Try to eat five to six smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large meals to help keep your blood sugar levels stable, says the ACOG.
Make Sure You’re Well-Stocked On Calcium And Vitamin D
A few studies, including one published in the Taiwanese Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, have suggested that cyclical fluctuations of calcium play a role in PMS symptoms like cramps. To help offset this effect, the ACOG suggests consuming 1200mg of calcium daily during your period.
“To meet your daily calcium needs, you’ll need at least three servings of calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, or yogurt,” says Taub-Dix. “You might also want to consider a calcium supplement, especially if you don’t eat dairy.”
To make the most of that calcium, you need vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium and supports the immune system. Vitamin D can be found in salmon and fortified milk, or taken in supplement form. Many calcium supplements include vitamin D, so check your labels! Taub-Dix recommends aiming for 400 IU of vitamin D per day.
Up Your Magnesium Intake
The mineral magnesium plays a role in hundreds of cellular reactions in our bodies, including those related to nerve and muscle function (it’s even known as a natural muscle relaxant, says Tassone). It’s no surprise, then, that the ACOG says that magnesium may help make your period more bearable, potentially easing bloating and cramping. You can find magnesium in foods like cashews, peanut butter, and oatmeal, or in supplement form. Taub Dix recommends 400mg daily.
Related: Are You Getting Enough Magnesium?
Go Herbal With Yarrow Flowers
“Taking a yarrow flower supplement may help to ease severe periods,” recommends Tassone. “I use it quite a lot in my practice, and have found it to be very helpful.” How does it work? A paper published by the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association suggests that the traditional herb may have a relaxing effect on the uterus.
Fix Yourself The Perfect Period Snack
Instead of falling face first into a box of peanut M&Ms, craving-proof your time of the month by making yourself a snack that may actually promote an easier period. “A bowl of whole grain cereal with milk is the perfect combination,” says Taub-Dix. “The whole grain carbs satisfy you while the calcium and vitamin D in the milk support your period symptoms.” You could even top your bowl off with dark chocolate shavings for an extra decadent-feeling treat. (Dark chocolate also contains magnesium, says Taub-Dix—score!)
Drink Plenty Of Agua
It’s perfectly normal to be bloated during your period. And while feeling like a giant water balloon may not inspire you to down a bottle of water, hydrating can actually help relieve that puffy feeling. Drinking plenty of water can help dilute the sodium in your body and flush out some of the fluid you’re retaining, so shoot for six to eight glasses a day, recommends Taub-Dix.
Get Your ‘Ohm’ On
Consider your period the perfect opportunity to chill. Practices that connect the mind and body, like meditation or yoga, may help balance your mood throughout your period. A study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, for example, found that regularly practicing yoga throughout their periods improved women’s feelings of well-being.
Related: Need some quality yoga accessories?
Experiencing achiness in your lower back, on top of the slew of other symptoms? Consider it the ultimate excuse to book yourself a massage or acupuncture session. Then try ending your day with a nice long soak in an Epsom salt bath. Not only is it relaxing, but the magnesium in the Epsom will soak into your skin, says Tassone.
Last but not least, getting at least eight hours of shuteye per night may also help ward off moodiness and fatigue, says the Office on Women’s Health.