If I ask women which part of their cycle they like the least I can almost guarantee it will either be the menstrual or pre-menstrual phases. For some, extreme pain and heavy bleeding can make menses a horrible time of the month. For others, suffering from mood swings, fatigue, headaches and a whole range of other PMS symptoms in the run up to our period means that by the time we finally start bleeding it is a relief. If either of both of these situations are familiar to you, I hope I can offer a different perspective which might help you to embrace your cycle and perhaps ease some of your pain.
In order to understand what is happening during these stages, we need to consider the menstrual cycle as a whole. I did write about getting to know the different phases of the cycle through menstrual cycle awareness here for those who are interested. The key part here is realising that the cycle can be separated into two: the first part beginning after your period until a few days after ovulation (we’ll call this the expansion phase) and the second part from here until you finish bleeding (this is the contraction phase). You can imagine your cycle like a tide, moving upwards and reaching high tide at ovulation and then slowly retreating until low tide during your bleeding days.
A similar tide is happening internally. During our period we tend to feel more introverted with lower energy to go out and do things. We feel like hibernating at home with comfy blankets and food and often can find people annoying and demanding. Afterwards, our energy starts to rise along with our oestrogen levels and our curiosity about the world outside increases. We start to get more motivation to go out into the world, start new projects, be active etc. and the feeling keeps rising for the next couple of weeks until ovulation when we tend to feel our most outgoing and confident. For obvious reasons this is usually the more preferred part of our cycle. Especially in the crazy modern world where we constantly having things to do and people to see, this ongoing energy is what we crave.
However, if we continue with the “doing all of the things” energy we would eventually burn out. So thankfully our bodies have a built in mechanism to slow us down and force us to retreat inwards and recharge our batteries. After ovulation when oestrogen levels peak, they fall off a cliff and progesterone takes over. This is the luteal phase which lasts until we start bleeding. If we accept this as a time of relaxation and surrender, it can actually be very enjoyable. It is only when we feel that things should be different than they are that we start to feel resentful. Now, I understand that we still have things to do during this time. Unfortunately work, families and other demands don’t just stop because of changes in our hormones but we can learn to work with the changes rather than continuing to force the outgoing energy and burning out.
This could look like changing our work schedule if possible to avoid any big meetings or presentations during the second half of our cycle (and we will be much more engaging and confident if we can arrange these around ovulation so win-win). Also switching up our workout routine to include more gentle exercise such as walking, yoga or short resistance training sessions rather than high-intensity cardio circuits. It might seem counter-productive if we have fitness goals to achieve but actually working with our bodies we will see much better results. At home we can try to make things easier by doing as much of the intense cleaning and admin we need to do during the first half of our cycle so that we can allow ourselves more space to relax in the second half. Finally, not pushing ourselves to go out and socialise when we really want to stay in and read a book. This can be a difficult one too as we aren’t in control of other people’s calendars and there will be events that we don’t want to miss but the best thing to do is listen to our bodies and do what feels right in the moment.
Now, it is common to feel in a funk during this time which might make us more grumpy than usual. People around us (by this I mean fathers, husbands, boyfriends..) may start to dread this time or criticise us for being hormonal and moody. If things aren’t going as we would like in our lives this is the time when our intuition will be screaming at us that things aren’t right which can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and depression. It is true that we are more critical than usual during the second half of our cycle but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The reason is that we are much more insightful during this time as the excessive optimism rose tinted glasses attitude of ovulation has rapidly disintegrated and we are finally able to see clearly. If we can work on our communication skills with those around us, we can be really good at giving advice as we can see the big picture.
Our intuition is also strongest at this time, especially during bleeding days, and we have a strong sense of purpose and direction. If we channel this energy through spending quiet time in meditation or through reflective writing we can get some huge insights about our life and what we want. If we have projects ongoing this is a great time to take stock of where we are up to, what is going well and what needs to change. This is not the time to keep pushing if we are in the middle of something but a time to take time out and reflect. Although, if we are coming to end of a project the luteal phase is the perfect time to finish up and tie off loose ends as our heightened criticism means we can easily pay attention to detail.
I hope this offers another way to think about your cycle if you are struggling. Its not always easy but trying to see this hormonal rollercoaster as bringing different strengths and skills rather than focusing on the challenges can really help!