Ah, the menstrual cycle. What's the first thing that springs to mind when you hear this phrase? Your period? Right? Well, your cycle is more than just your period. I wanna discuss what the menstrual cycle actually is, what happens to your body through the cycle and how you can learn to work with it's natural rhythm.
The menstrual cycle is the hormonal cycle your body goes through in order to prepare for a possible pregnancy. Whether you're interested in getting pregnant or not, you cycle is worth getting to grips with. Working in sync with your cycle can be the key to enjoying the cycle as a whole, rather than just dreading your period every month.
The cycle can be broken down into 4 phases. Each of these phases comes with a set of hormonal changes that can affect your mood and your energy levels, as well as bringing physical changes to your body. You might not feel huge shifts between these phases, it might just feel like you slip gracefully from one phase to the next - much like the changing seasons of the year.
The 4 Phases
The 4 phases go as follows:
• Pre-Ovulation or Follicular Phase
• Premenstrual or Luteal Phase
Menstruation (AKA Your Period)
Although you might think of you period as the end of your monthly cycle, Menstruation actually signals the very beginning of your cycle.
The first day you get bright red blood flow from your nether region, is day one. It's important to note that if you get some spotting before your period, this is perfectly normal, but it doesn't count as your first day. Wait for that full flow of blood. This is day one of your cycle.
While you're menstruating, you might feel tired. Your body is doing a bloody big job behind the scenes. If you're not pregnant this cycle, your oestrogen and progesterone levels drop which signals your body to shed the uterine lining. This is your period. These low oestrogen levels can cause you to feel tired and sluggish.
When you're on your period, that tiredness you feel might seem like a bit of an inconvenience. You need to work, look after your children and maintain your home - but taking a rest while your bleeding is always a good idea. I know it might seem impossible when you have responsibilities to see to, and you may well feel guilty for taking some time off for something as "trivial" as your period, but as far as I am concerned - it's essential.
If you can learn to better prepare for your period, and let go of the guilt that surrounds taking a break, menstruation can become much more enjoyable. Your perfect period plans might look like snuggling up on the couch with a hot water bottle, a snack and some Netflix - but if you can't always take this much of a break while bleeding, do what you can to rest. If it helps, think of your period as your inner Winter - a time for hibernation.
Pre-Ovulation (The Follicular Phase)
Just like thinking of your period as your inner Winter, you can think of your Follicular phase as your inner Spring. That tiredness you felt during your period has started to wane, and you're ready for new life.
After you finish bleeding, you get a steady increase in oestrogen. Remember how we said that low oestrogen levels cause tiredness? Well, as your oestrogen levels start to increase, you start to have more energy. You've awoken from the period slumber and are ready to start exploring the world. Because each person will have a slightly different cycle length, it's hard to say which day of your cycle this will happen for you, but when you finish bleeding is a big indicator.
During your follicular phase you might notice that you're coming at life with a new found curiosity. It's a great time to do some learning or try something new. You might also notice that any worries or insecurities you had when you were pre-menstrual start to melt away. This is a time for feeling energised and carefree.
Charting your cycle is a great way to start to notice patterns in how you're feeling month to month. All you need to do is jot down how you're feeling on a day-to-day basis. You can do this in the corner of your diary or in a journal. It doesn't have to be complex. Just a few words about your general mood and your energy levels will be enough, although if you want to go in deeper with this, by all means, do!
After the follicular phase, we reach ovulation. Ovulation is when the egg is released from the ovary. Those rising oestrogen levels you experienced during your follicular phase come to a peak at ovulation. This means that when you're ovulating (and for a few days either side) you are feeling super energetic. Think of this phase like your inner Summer - you've got lot of energy, you're feeling super sociable and you're generally just loving life.
Remember how I said before that if we can learn to better prepare for our period we can make it more enjoyable? This is the time to prepare. Granted, you probably won't bleed for a couple of weeks yet, but making the most of this peak in energy can really pay off when you're feeling like you want to take it easy.
Suddenly you're feeling like superwoman, you're working harder, being way more productive and are generally a "get shit done" kinda girl during this phase. Use than energy to get things done now that you might not have the headspace for later. Batch cooking, getting big projects completed or being sociable are all good ideas here.
Think back to when you were last on your period. What was one thing you really struggled to do while you were bleeding? How can you make the most of the energy you have now to better support you during your next period. What can you get done now that will allow you to take a break later?
Pre-Menstrual (Luteal Phase)
Once you've ovulated, your oestrogen levels start to decline and progesterone starts to dominate this part of your cycle. The role of progesterone is to prepare the womb for a possible pregnancy by thickening the uterine lining - much in the same way that animals spend the Autumn preparing their nests for hibernation. Yes, you can bet that this phase of the cycle is like your inner Autumn.
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and assume you've probably heard of, and maybe even experienced, PMS. In fact, it was my self-confessed, semi-psychotic PMS symptoms that really prompted me to get to grips with learning about the menstrual cycle.
Anxiety, moodiness and anger can all come out during the premenstrual phase, and while it's easy to write these things off as PMS, they can actually serve a greater purpose in the grand scheme of your life.
Some of the annoyances and worries you experience during the premenstrual phase might be unwarranted, it's true. But some of them might have been bothering you for some time, you just didn't notice as much when you were feeling on top of the world during ovulation. It's worth taking note of these things and coming back to them once you start your period. When you're bleeding, it's much easier to be reflective of whether or not these things are really bothering you, and to find solutions for how you can change them.
Tracking Your Cycle
As I already mentioned, tracking your cycle is the gateway into fully understanding how you are feeling through each phase of the cycle. It doesn't have to be difficult - in fact it's really simple, yet it's a great tool for getting to know yourself and your body better.