I think I speak for many women when I say that it took me a long time to understand my menstrual cycle. In fact, I’m still trying to understand it! Combine long term use of birth control, a PCOS diagnosis and a whole host of mood swings, as well as an irregular cycle that was unpredictable and painful; I’ve experienced it all.
So now I’m taking it back to basics, talking through the menstrual cycle stage by stage, and informing you how you can plan your schedule around your cycle to really optimize your time, and your mood.
Let’s first talk about birth control: I had been on it since I was 14 years old. Some skin problems and a lot of tears led to my doctor prescribing me Dianette. At the time, I couldn’t have been happier. It helped my skin, and my periods where predictable. The issue, 15 years on, was that the pill had masked Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, my skin hadn’t really got all that much better, and my hormones were certainly not what they were meant to be.
At the age of 29 I took myself of the pill and decided I needed to get to know my body, in order to help it heal from the inside, out. Just as a side note, I don’t want to demonize the contraceptive pill, but please please if you are using it, consider if there are alternative, more natural solutions that could address the root cause of your issue.
Do you think you could maybe try giving up the synthetic hormones and exploring other options? This is something I would be happy to discuss in a FREE health history consultation.
So back to my cycle… when I came off the pill I immediately started tracking using the Clue App. And it was just so unpredictable. My period would come anywhere between 45-80 days apart. Through learning to understand my body better, monitoring my mood, my temperature and skin, I became better at predicting what my body was up to, and in turn I could help it out a little. As our hormones fluctuate, our body becomes better at coping with different stressors.
If we can understand our cycle and try and plan events and work/life demands around this (where possible), we can really begin to thrive in tune with our body.
Here is a little run down of our menstrual cycle, and what you should be planning to do, when:
(image from naturalcycles.com)
This is the first week of our menstrual cycle. Bleeding can last anywhere from 3-8 days and can vary in strength of flow. This is quite simply the shedding of the uterus lining, as no egg has been fertilised. Contractions help release this lining, which can be the cause of cramps we feel during this time.
Now is the time we should embrace restorative practises and rest. Try not to do anything strenuous (trust me, I know this isn’t always possible – my period decided to come the day after I summited a 6000m mountain – cheers body!). Reduce caffeine intake, embrace hot water bottles and relax!
You might also be craving some solo time, so try not to book anything too social in your calendar. Focus on utilising this ‘me’ time with some goal setting and planning. Your gut feelings may be strongest at this time, so decide what needs your attention and set your intentions.
The week or so after our period we enter the follicular (pre-ovulatory) phase of our cycle. Your body temperature tends to be a little lower, and progesterone and oestrogen levels are low initially. Gradually oestrogen levels increase, which may make you feel energised, motivated and ready for anything! Book in for that mountain hike, or attend a new Bootcamp class now. You will own it!
Also this is a great time to start working on something new, or something you’ve been putting off for a while. Increased testosterone will have you more willing to take risks, and with oestrogen boosting the glow of your skin, you’ll feel ready to take on that challenge.
By around day 12-14 (it varies, and generally decreases as we get older) we move into the ovulatory phase. Egg release is stimulated, oestrogen levels peak, and progesterone levels begin to increase. This phase usually lasts 16 to 32 hours.
During this time we may feel more creative and social. Use this to your advantage and schedule important meetings or attend that networking event you’ve been meaning to go to! And don’t forget date nights…. Womens’ libido tend to increase during ovulation, so make the most of it. Just remember you are at your most fertile, so take precautions if that’s not your intention!
We reach the luteal phase around day 15, and it lasts around 14 days. More progesterone is produced now, which increases your body temperature, and oestrogen is still high. Both these hormones cause the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for possible fertilisation. If the egg is not fertilised our progesterone levels eventually drop back down, and after a final spike, oestrogen decreases and the lining starts to break down, leading us back to the start of the menstrual cycle.
During the second week of the luteal phase leading up to our cycle it can be advantageous to choose slower, lower impact activities that connect you to your body, like Yoga and Pilates. But try and stay moving – increased blood flow can help alleviate painful cramps, and the endorphins will boost any drop in your mood. And make sure you are getting enough magnesium (the number 1 most deficient nutrient of Brits!) by eating leafy greens.
Tracking your cycle is the number 1 way to start synching your schedule with your cycle and making the most out of our hormone fluctuations. It’s not always possible, but where it is, let’s make the most of an increase in energy, creativity, confidence and a little extra glow when we can ; )
Can you see where you could take advantage of your menstrual cycle? A great way to do this is to colour code your schedule so you know where you’re at, and you can try and plan things accordingly. See the image below to give you some ideas. If you want to discuss this further, leave a comment or get in touch!