The COVID-19 outbreak has unquestionably caused havoc on our personal and professional front. With communication is limited to virtual platforms, and survival which is based solely on home-deliveries, it is safe to say that a lot of our lives will never be the same. The blurring lines between our home and work-life have caused many to take on more stress than usual. Apart from the physical impact that we collectively face against the virus today, WHO (World Health Organisation) has also cautioned us about the psychological repercussions that come along during these trying times.
It's Time for Action
For many women, this time of uncertainty has brought on a bizarre effect on their menstrual cycles. With one too many social media posts floating about how periods have been 'hitting them differently' is perhaps more than just a coincidence. Keeping this in mind, World Menstrual Hygiene Day which was first initiated by the German non-profit WASH United in 2013, came up with their annual theme for the year: #ItsTimeForAction
"Periods don't stop during a pandemic, but managing them safely and with dignity has become a whole lot harder," Susanne Legena, chief executive officer of Plan International Australia, was quoted during a public statement to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day. "In many countries, period products have become scarce and vulnerable girls and young women, in particular, are going without," she said, urging governments to include menstrual hygiene in virus response plans and invest in water and sanitation services."
Knee-deep in stress
Amidst other lifestyle changes, stress has had a fairly prominent role to play. "Although some stress can be good and even help us challenge ourselves, too much can negatively impact health," says Dr Yasmin Salim Siddiqui, a clinical psychologist consultant at Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai. "The body is sensitive to any unexpected disruptions. Managing cooking, cleaning, office work, household chores, children, their online classes, never-ending demands of family are also leading to a rise in stress amongst women, and thus leading to menstrual dysfunction."
Smruti Shedwaikar, a final year fashion management student from Mumbai, finds that the lockdown has contributed to reducing her flow. "My period in this quarantine period has been regular in terms of the dates, but I've noticed that I bled lesser than usual," she tells us. "In fact, have experienced fatigue even with a sedentary lifestyle. Of course, the scarcity of dark chocolate also adds to the pain part of it!"
Akanksha Saxena, a journalist from Aligarh too, has faced the brunt of her hectic lifestyle. "Predominantly, the reason behind it has been stress which I have been facing lately due to the new job I have started," she tells Sakal Times. "Last month, I had my cycle twice in the month, one in the beginning and one in the end."
The long-term repercussions
Apart from the psychological side of it, the strife with COVID-19 has contributed to a host of health problems that women of all age-groups have been facing.
"Women are far more stressed than during the pre-lockdown phase. With the extreme amount of anxiety, the stress hormone of the body, cortisol levels would have risen in response. Wherever there is an imbalance with one hormonal system, the other hormones would also get affected in tandem with it. This eventually feeds into the imbalance of hormones for the menstrual cycle hormones, paving the way to cycle irregularities," says Dr Rajalaxmi Walavalkar, medical director, IVF Specialist and senior gynaecologist at Cocoon Fertility, Mumbai. "This shift is only because it (lockdown) has compelled people to stay indoors and has led to a far-reaching fluctuation in our lifestyle. Diets, sleeping patterns, and exercise routine have all witnessed a major change," she says.
"Furthermore, stress hormones can cause insulin secretions to go irregular. In cases like PCOS, insulin resistance makes it more difficult for women hormones to be metabolised in the fat cells. In addition to the cortisol effect, the metabolism and the working of a woman's sex hormones tend to get hampered. Hence, menstrual irregularities both scanty menses to heavy menses, the regularity of menses, and the quantity that women might bleed might be very different from what it was in the pre-lockdown period," she explains.
The shortage of sanitary products is yet another aspect of the battle that women have to endure during the lockdown. "Ever since the lockdown commenced, I have seen the supply of sanitary products go down considerably," says Vasudha Kaukuntla, a journalist from Hyderabad, who has faced apprehension on buying these products. "The supermarkets and departmental stores were running out of stock. And going out to a locality elsewhere was not possible because of restrictions," she tells Sakal Times.
Healthy and hygienic
We spoke to Dr Swati Gaekwad, consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist at Motherhood Hospital, Kharadi, Pune, for tips for maintaining menstrual hygiene at all times. Here's what she had to say:
- Changing sanitary napkins every 3-4 hours. Period blood attracts a lot of bacteria, which causes irritation and rashes, ultimately resulting in urinary tract infections.
- Wash your vagina properly. It is very important to wash the vaginal region regularly.
- Use lukewarm water during menses to clean the vaginal region. Vaginas have their own cleaning mechanism during cycles. Using vaginal hygiene products can hamper the vaginal health.
- Disposing tampons and sanitary napkins are very important. Wrap them properly before throwing it away. Washing your hands regularly is also important step after you throw the napkins.
- Wear comfortable undergarments. While changing sanitary napkins, it is advisable to wear cotton underwear that allows your skin to breathe.