Does your period seem like an awkward and unfortunate aspect of your physiology?
Have you ever thought much about the impact of your entire menstrual cycle on your life?
Most of us focus on the bleeding aspect of our cycles. It makes sense; your ‘period’ is the bit that requires direct action.
What’s less obvious (but just as significant) is the pattern of your entire menstrual cycle can impact how you feel day-to-day. Those non-bleeding days matter too.
The pattern of your entire menstrual cycle can impact how you feel day-to-day.
Your cycle is like a silent internal wheel that keeps turning — it never actually stops unless you’re pregnant, use ovulation suppressing birth control, experience ovulatory dysfunction or reach menopause. This ongoing process essentially means there’s a constant stream of cycle-related activities and shifting hormone levels which can impact you in some way.
It’s an exciting revelation. When you understand the nature of your entire cycle, you’re better placed to make choices aligned with your body’s natural rhythm.
Menstrual cycle refresher
To understand the impact of your menstrual cycle, you need a sound understanding of how it works.
JeanHailes.org explains that “the menstrual cycle occurs because of a complex relationship between hormones from the brain and ovaries.” This nifty biofeedback system fine-tunes your inner workings and constantly moves you towards a pregnancy or a period.
In many educational resources on menstruation, you’ll find references to different phases of your cycle. There’s your ovarian cycle which is all about what your eggs get up to. You may have heard your Gynecologist refer to the follicular, ovulation, and luteal phases of your ovarian cycle. Then there’s your uterine cycle which covers what happens to the lining of your womb.
When you’re not looking at your cycle from the perspective of pregnancy or health-related concerns, these medical definitions fall short. They don’t extend to answer the question “What does this all mean for me?”
The reality is that the influence of your cycle goes beyond reproductive function. The hormonal shifts you experience can affect your mood and energy; they can affect your desire for sex, socializing and physical activity. Understanding this impact can give you useful personal insights and help you navigate the world in a way that’s in harmony with your body.
A fresh perspective on menstruation
One way to think about the phases of your cycle is to use the analogy of having internal seasons (winter, spring, summer, and autumn).
When you get to know the nature of each season, you can gain some great insight into why you are feeling a certain way and make choices in tune with your body’s internal rhythm.
Viewing you cycle in this way isn’t suggesting you’re ‘biologically’ determined to be ruled by your cycle (an outdated and utterly false notion). It’s about recognizing your cycle and hormones can have a notable influence on your life.
Your period is like your internal winter. It’s where your womb clears out what it doesn’t need, and you shed blood, fluid and the lining cells of your uterus through your vagina.
A period typically lasts between 4 and 8 days, and during this time your hormone levels are at their lowest.
During your period, you may feel a drop in energy and generally feel less social. You might also find jam-packed work schedules and a massive line up of social commitments don’t sit well with you. It’s a great time to introduce quiet time and rest (particularly on your heaviest bleeding days).
You can think about the winter phase as a time to retreat and recharge.
Your very own springtime covers the 6 to 10 days after your period (which lead up to ovulation). You may not be outwardly aware of it, but you’ve got a lot going on at this time.
Your estrogen levels rise sharply, your body stimulates follicles (fluid-filled sacks that contain immature eggs in your ovaries) and matures eggs. As well as all this egg action your body thickens the lining of your womb in preparation for possible pregnancy.
A possible (and happy) side effect of all this activity is that you may quite feel energized. You may find your spring phase is a peak time for action, socializing and generally ‘getting stuff done.’
Who doesn’t love summer? Your summertime covers the 3 to 5 days around ovulation and is generally the sweetest part of your entire cycle.
During this phase, you womb continues to thicken, and one follicle in your ovary releases an egg. This is the window where you can get pregnant if your egg happens to cross paths with a sperm.
Ovulation means your estrogen and testosterone hit peak levels; a heady hormone mix that can leave you feeling confident, energetic and attractive. You might also feel particularly sensual and receptive to sex. Human physiology is nifty like that!
If there’s any activity where you need your mojo at its peak — your summer is the ideal time to schedule it in.
Your autumn phase directly follows ovulation and typically lasts 14 days. This phase has two parts; the first is often marked by fatigue and the second may involve Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).
Part 1 (fatigue)
Following ovulation, your body continues to prepare for pregnancy by building the lining of your womb.
Progesterone rapidly becomes the key hormone player (it’s released from the empty follicle your egg came from). The hormonal mix in this part of your autumn phase can leave you feeling quite tired (progesterone is thought to have a sedative effect).
Part 2 (PMS)
When your body realizes you’re not pregnant, your progesterone and estrogen levels plummet. The lining of your womb starts to degenerate (and you move towards your period again).
At this point, PMS symptoms can kick in. The PMS experience seems to vary widely. You may find your worries, pressures, and stressors feel amplified. Maybe you find yourself feeling extra sensitive or indecisive. It’s possible your mood will fluctuate (hello anger, weepiness, and heightened anxiety!) Sometimes PMS feels like a general sense of unsteadiness. While PMS manifests in different ways, the common thread is that it can be challenging to navigate.
The key to this phase is taking care of yourself. It’s a time to ramp up exercise and good food and be disciplined in making time for self-care practices (whatever this looks like for you).
Self-awareness is also an essential part of dealing with PMS. If you can identify your feelings are PMS related (in the moment), it can help you to pause, understand them and choose your response.
Harness your internal rhythm
It’s likely that if you look closely, you’ll find personal patterns (whether they are subtle or sharply marked).
Viewing your menstrual cycle as seasons isn’t necessarily an accurate blueprint for all women. Your experience may be very different. What it does highlight is that you have an internal rhythm that has the potential to impact how you feel. It’s likely that if you look closely, you’ll find personal patterns (whether they are subtle or sharply marked).
Does this mean never going for a job interview when menstruating or avoiding all social events in your ‘autumn’? Absolutely not! It just means where it’s practical and makes sense you can align your day-to-day life with your cycle. Sometimes small adjustments to your schedule and plans are enough to make life feel a little easier.
Over to you
The impact of your menstrual cycle goes well behind having a period once a month. Likening the phases of your cycle to internal seasons (winter, spring, summer, and autumn) is one approach to breaking down and understanding what your cycle really means for you.
Identifying personal patterns linked to your cycle can also be useful in understanding how you feel at certain times and be helpful when making choices about your schedule.
What patterns have you identified? Does the internal season analogy work for you? Let us know in the comments!
our cycle. Sometimes small adjustments to your schedule and plans are enough to make life feel a little easier.