Rest as an Act of Rebellion
Have you ever considered that there may be a good physiological reason why you feel the need to curl up on the couch and rest when you have your period? Yet mainstream period care brands show horseback riding and prancing through fields of flowers as reasonable menstruation activities. If you’re wondering if you should rest on your period, I have a bigger question for you: why do you need permission to rest? Friends, consider this your invitation to rest as an act of rebellion!
In today’s world, we are constantly in a state of ‘to do’. We are always accessible and often bombarded by lists, tasks, and messages. Feelings of inadequacy—or the dreaded laziness—peak through if we are not always doing or progressing. The vilification of rest—specifically rest without a reason—is a phenomenon that has impacted the health of individuals and communities at large. Along with the social expectations of having a diehard work ethic, the term ‘rest’ itself is widely associated with illness, injury, or being in an unfavourable state.
We subconsciously live with a mindset that rest is a reactive response, as opposed to proactive (or preventative) care. Intentionally taking on fewer tasks—and more naps!—during your bleed is a form of social rebellion and individual reclamation to your own body.
Act #1: Resist the Hustle - Schedule Your Rest During Your Period
As counterproductive as this may seem, scheduling time to rest can be life-changing! While it may seem ironic to pencil in some downtime while consciously trying not to schedule your whole life, it’s a great way to create a habit of setting aside that you-time.
Track your cycle
If calendars and planners are your best friend, try tracking your menstrual cycle to ensure more rest specifically during your bleed. There are so many great period trackers on the market—and many free apps!—which make it simpler to identify the trends in your cycle—think upcoming mood swings, sudden exhaustion, upset stomachs.
Make a note for irregular periods
However, if you find your periods irregular, scheduling your downtime can be done much less rigidly. Jot it down in your phone’s notepad, or throw a sticky note on your mirror the morning your bleed starts. The important part of any method is that you intentionally choose a time to rest, and follow through!
Act #2: Knowledge is Power - The Physiological Purpose of Rest When Menstruating
We’re taught as kids that the basic function of sleep is to restore and reset our bodies. As we age, we realize the absolutely essential role our sleep plays in the state of our mental health.
Changes in hormones and increased fatigue contribute to increased anxiety, sadness, irritability, and other emotions that overwhelm some menstruators. That, along with the stress of our daily lives, is enough to require frequent naps. Full stop.
Taking time to rest mentally—logging out of social media, reading a book, watching a favourite show, and meditation—is extremely important in coping with mental health barriers and establishing a good baseline when it comes to mental wellness.
Rest and your menstrual phase
During the menstruation phase (days 1 -7 of the cycle), bodies do some hardcore work from the inside. I prefer to describe this objectively, not with the passive, flowery tone of elementary school: The uterus is shedding its lining and contracting repeatedly, to expel the tissue through the vagina.
Cramps, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, sore breasts, body aches, and fatigue can all occur during this phase. For many, the physical symptoms are regularly heightened enough to be called a ‘period flu’. Well, when we catch a common flu or cold, the first order of business is to get into bed and rest! Menstruating bodies deserve that same reactive (ideally proactive!) treatment.
You and your uterus deserve to rest
The uterus is the only organ that sheds its lining multiple times over the years. It is the only organ that regenerates as rapidly as it does, fills with minerals and nutrients, fluctuates daily with the body’s hormone levels, and grows to approximately 15% of its size before expelling all of its hard work from the month. Bottom line: You (and your uterus) always deserve to rest.
Act #3: Do What Works for You - Media and Commercialization of Rest
Whether we open Instagram or flip through TV shows, we are bombarded with different perspectives on rest and the socially-imposed limitations of the outlets we choose to unwind.
Period Care ads reinforce harmful productivity ideals
Period commercials profit off the efficiency of their products in terms of absorbency while “keeping busy and working hard”. These ads favour the body that takes on the most, despite having a period instead of at “rest is best” approach. Mainstream period companies have switched their marketing lens in the past decade to reflect their concept of inclusivity and equality. What they’ve continuously omitted is the fact that a resting body is equally as valid as an active body.
Capitalizing on self-care
On the other extreme, social media has seen a growing trend of self-care as a consumable, profitable trend. With underlying tones of how rest should be performed, society still assigns value to resting in certain ways. Common themes of ‘Have a nap, but don’t be lazy.’, ‘Self-care as a bubble bath!’ and ‘Embrace the idea of your bleed, but don’t overshare because, gross.. ”, can all be found on our timelines every time we open our screens. Social expectations placed on rest and relaxation of the menstruating body are direct and indirect repercussions of an intertwined patriarchal and capitalist system. Our bleed should be hidden, and productivity must always increase.
Capitalizing off the need to slow down during the menstrual phase in particular is becoming the norm, so let this article be a reminder to rest however you can, whenever you can, with whatever you have at your disposal, and without justification to yourself or others.
Rest is a Right
Rest is a subjective yet basic need. Rest is not a luxury or a privilege and should never be treated as such. Rest is unique to each individual. While the overarching idea is to collectively embrace rest and relaxation as a key part of daily life, this cannot be done if we internalize feelings of guilt in response to caring for ourselves.
Enjoy resting during your period. Turn off your phone, read that book, do some yoga and light stretching, watch your favourite series, grab your vibrator, or stretch out in the blankets. Whatever you choose to do, know that by resting, you are giving your mind and body the most radical form of love that you can.
About the Author
Hannah Legault (she/her) is a harm reduction worker, full-spectrum reproductive justice advocate, intersectional feminist and part-time writer. In 2018, Hannah launched the Canadian chapter of the Red Box Project. This non-profit provides a variety of period products to schools across Niagara. She is a member of the Society for Menstrual Research, Niagara Reproductive Justice, and the Harm Reduction Network of Ontario. She is currently working on her first book. Read Hannah's full bio here.