I'm fascinated by the human body and approaching health holistically. I'm also fascinated by cycles and how they appear over and over again throughout nature: birth, death, plant life cycles, seasonal patterns. Cycle awareness has led to such tremendous growth and inner peace for me and the women I've talked about this with.
Especially when it comes the menstrual cycle we women experience for a great chunk of our lives.
Many women despise their period and do whatever they can to suppress it and pretend that it doesn't exist. After studying the cycle (the whole thing!), I've become very grateful for this system. I've discovered that by becoming very self-aware of the stage I'm in, I'm able to understand my health so much better, be more effective in the things I'm trying to accomplish, and be more in tune with myself and the world around me. I would also propose that men would do well to learn cycle awareness because the fact is: you are affected, whether you are a woman or you live in the same house as one. 😉
Whether she is aware of it or not, a woman is profoundly affected by her cycle. From the onset of her first period to the closing curtain, her menstrual cycle plays a huge role in how she feels, what she does, how she thinks, her libido, and what she gives and seeks in relationships. Becoming aware of how she's affected throughout each “month” (which can really vary – a healthy cycle can be anywhere from 21-35 days, sometimes longer for very young women) can help her to plan her life around it in order to be more effective and have her needs met. I believe there's a spiritual factor to the cycle, too. It's hard to quantify this, but I think if you begin to pay attention to the rhythms of your life, you'll intuitively pick up on how you're affected.
There are three major hormones at play during the cycle: Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Each plays an enormous part in preparing the body for conception and dramatically affects mood and behavior. You can probably think back to many times where you reacted dramatically different to similar situations: it's a safe bet that you were at different points in your cycle, with different levels of these hormones active.
Each stage comes with it's own challenges and advantages. And it's all about hormones, baby! Here's a breakdown of what goes on.. and how to make the most of each stage.
Week 1: Thoughtful, Intuitive, Empathetic
The first day of the cycle begins with bleeding: the levels of estrogen and testosterone start at a flat line and steadily rise. Only a few hours into the period, estrogen levels spike. The consequence is a boost of serotonin levels in the brain. It's a feel-good chemical that eliminates the grouchiness that comes right before the period. Also known as the premenstrual symptoms, PMS. Hallelujah!
On the first few days of the period, fatigue may be experienced due to the still low levels of estrogen and testosterone in the body. Moreover, the body is fast losing iron due to menstruation. Fatigue is, therefore, only natural. This changes towards the middle of the week where these hormones are at a higher level coupled with the end of the period. Translation, the body, already feeling good all over again.
Women eat 12% less on average during this time. It's a great time to focus on very clean, healthy, fresh food, especially if you overdid it with the comfort food you were craving last week.
Now is a good time to listen to yourself. If you're feeling fatigued, rest. You are likely very thoughtful at this time, so it's a good time to write, journal, do creative projects, assess your goals, and make plans for the future. You'll see more connections now: study your interests and notice how connections you didn't notice before come to light. It's a wonderful time to connect with other women, especially if they in the same stage as you. You might find Week 2 women very flighty, but you'll be at your most empathetic right now.
You'll take notice of what's not working in your life right now. Set intentions to let those things go. Don't be too hard on yourself… you need to direct that empathy to yourself as well.
Practice gratitude for what's going well in your life. What you focus on will flourish. What you let go of will ease your emotional burden.
Week 2: Energetic, Creative, Fun
With the onset of this week, the estrogen and testosterone levels keep rising. Translation: you have all the energy and pep to keep you going all week. You feel on top of the world! You're more creative, flirtatious, optimistic, eloquent and impulsive this week.
You'll ovulate soon: due to the increase estrogen and testosterone, the sex drive gets no higher than this week. Of course, you'll approach this differently, depending on whether you want to have a baby or not!
It's a creative time: both literally and metaphorically. As your body is prepares to create a baby, you'll also have a lot of creative ideas during this time. You are “planting seeds” for how the rest of your cycle will go… You'll be excellent at brainstorming this week, but more action-focused only toward the end of this stage.
Flightiness can be an issue for some personalities. (Ahem.) While you are bursting with ideas, it can be difficult to follow up on them. You may feel pulled in many directions, especially if you're going through a stressful time in your life. Grounding is an excellent practice to manage these issues. Earthing and grounding herbs and essential oils like Cedarwood will benefit you.
Be careful not to spend too much money, or over commit yourself by saying “Yes!” to every opportunity or favor that's asked of you right now. You may feel on top of the world now, but you will regret stretching yourself too thin in the weeks to come if you're not cautious.
Week 3: Be Intentional
You ovulate now, causing estrogen and testosterone to dramatically plunge, only to rise on the third or fourth day once more. Progesterone kicks in this week, steadily increasing all through. Due to the dip in estrogen levels, one feels irritable and as blue as can get. The rise in progesterone only adds to this.
Hang in there. By the third or fourth day, those hormones start to balance out again, bringing you back to center.
Progesterone has a sedating effect, slowing the body almost to a halt. Speech becomes impaired, the energy levels become incredibly weak, and so does the sex drive.
Comfort yourself with this mantra: “This too shall pass.” Don't get swept up in negative thoughts: instead, act upon the creative ideas you had last week. This is a time for wrapping things up and moving forward, but you can be very ineffective if you let yourself get caught up in sadness or stress. Practice positive thinking: force yourself to look at your accomplishments, not your mistakes.
Be very blunt with your family this week and next: it's okay to say that you need time to yourself. You'll be at your best when you are honest about your needs
Week 4: Meeting Your Own Needs
This is the premenstrual week and all hormonal levels drop. The proverbial mood swings take full effect this week. You might sway from happiness to irritability in a heartbeat. The decrease in estrogen levels means a reduction in serotonin in the brain, thus a higher susceptibility to stress. Migraines may hit due to a dip in estrogen.
You may crave more alone time, or you might feel very needy: the circumstances in your life will dictate which. The bottom line: pay attention to your feelings and desires and be open and honest about them. Be careful, though, because you're prone to being hard on yourself and others this week.
Try to save big decisions for next week: you're not thinking as logically now as you are at other points in your cycle.
Spend time with others who are positive; avoid more abrasive personalities right now. List what's going well in your life. Be aware of negative situations, but don't get too wrapped up in them. Ideas for improvement will come soon.
It's good to know that not every woman operates on a 4 week cycle, and not doing so doesn't necessarily mean that anything's wrong. It's also important to know that while hormones are tremendously powerful, they can affect us in different ways depending on other lifestyle aspects and health conditions. If you do one thing to change how you approach life with your menstrual cycle in mind, it should be to start journaling how you feel throughout each stage. As you do, you'll start to see your own patterns of how you approach life throughout your cycle and understand better how to bloom right where you are as you move through it.