A new perspective on pre-menstrual symptoms

If I ask women which part of their menstrual 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 pre-menstrual 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.

Your menstrual cycle explained

In order to understand what is happening during these the reason for pre-menstrual symptoms, we need to consider the menstrual cycle as a whole. The key is realising that your cycle can be separated into two halves. The first half begins after your period and lasts until a few days after ovulation (we’ll call this the expansion phase).The second part then lasts until you finish bleeding (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 within your body each month both physically and energetically.

On a physical level, the lining of your womb builds as prepares to host a fertilised egg. If you don’t get pregnant, this lining is then shed. Your womb alternates between building, holding and releasing. Energetically, we tend to see an increase in energy during the first half of the cycle and a decrease in the lead up to our bleeding days. Especially if you experience pre-menstrual symptoms, this can be a challenging time.

During your period you might feel more introverted and have less energy to go out and do things. You might feel like hibernating at home with comfy blankets and food and may find people annoying and demanding! Afterwards, you probably see your energy starts to increase again along with your oestrogen levels. Your curiosity about the world outside increases and you might have more motivation to start new projects, be social or active.

Around ovulation 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.

A reason for pre-menstrual symptoms

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 estrogen levels peak, they fall off a cliff and progesterone takes over. This is the luteal or pre-menstrual phase which lasts until we start bleeding.

If we push too hard during this phase, we can experience pre-menstrual symptoms such as exhaustion, headaches, backache, headaches and mood swings. In my experience these are our bodies response to a stressful lifestyle and imbalance in energy. By this I mean when we expect our bodies to do more than we give in return via food and rest. I would go as far to say that this is most women today – and yes I have been there too!

There is so much pressure on women to do it all, to take care of everyone and to be beautiful and successful at the same time. Sound familiar? If this doesn’t put a huge amount of stress on our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies then I don’t know what does!

How to reduce pre-menstrual symptoms

Luckily there is another way. If we accept the pre-menstrual phase as a time of relaxation and surrender, it can actually be somewhat enjoyable. It is only when we feel that things should be different than they are that we start to feel resentful. 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. 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 can help massively to reduce pre-menstrua symptoms. 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 during the pre-menstural and menstrual phases. Finally, not pushing ourselves to go out and socialise when we really want to stay home. 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.

Pre-menstrual mood swings

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 and connected to our deeper emotions. The excessively optimistic 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. This means 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. Our heightened criticism means we can easily pay attention to detail and make great auditors!

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.

Over to you…

If you would like to work with me to balance your hormones and improve your health, contact me to set up a free 15 minute discovery call. I am a nutritionist, yoga teacher and women’s wellness coach. We work together using a combination of modalities to support your individual needs and help you to feel your best.

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