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Body Love: Working With Our Flow Cycles

Body Love: Working With Our Flow Cycles

Most of us have hated having a menstrual cycle at some point or another. But there is so much more to a menstrual cycle than just PMS and periods.

 

The female body is a thing of wonder. There are weeks where creativity flows effortlessly, and weeks where logic is stronger; weeks where energy levels are topping the charts, and weeks where they’re bottoming out, giving way to intuition and introspection.

 

Instead of feeling like our inconsistent energy, desires, focus and cravings are things to beat ourselves up about, we can approach our bodies’ needs from a place of understanding. We can have our lives fit into our menstrual cycle, instead of seeing it as something we have to ‘power through’ in this productivity-focused world.

 

By paying attention to and becoming more intimate with the different phases of our menstrual cycles, we can access greater levels of self-awareness, self-care and self-acceptance. And with that, greater depths of self-compassion, self-love and self-confidence.

 

Rather than setting developing young women up to hate their bodies and their periods before they’ve even begun, let’s connect them with all the wonders and opportunities (yes, opportunities!) that living in a cyclic body brings.

 

It can feel like there’s an infinite number of elements at play encouraging women to war with their bodies. And as a resilience coach for teens and young adults, I can’t think of a greater lesson to instil in a female-bodied teen than to trust in the wisdom and magic of her body, can you?

 

In this article, I’ll dive into the different phases of the menstrual cycle, comparing them to the different seasons; the cycles of the earth that our bodies mirror. I hope that by the end you’ll agree that having your period can be a treasure (even if right now it feels like a trauma) and that you’ll share this hopeful perspective with the young women in your life.

 

1.  Winter: Menstrual Phase (Days 1-6)

 

When I think winter, I think of stillness. It’s a time of release, hibernation and retreat.

 

The first day of our bleed is counted as day 1 in our cycles, with the average cycle lasting 28 days. (Note that some cycles are shorter or longer, and especially for teens who have just started their periods, it’s completely normal for their cycles to take some time to settle into regularity.)

 

This is the phase most of us refer to as our ‘period’, where the uterus sheds its thin lining of cells.

 

Physically, our body has recognised that we are definitely not pregnant, and we live the season of winter by releasing the previous cycle through bleeding.

 

Our oestrogen levels have bottomed out to allow this to happen, and as a result, so have our energy levels, motivation (and depending on the person, sense of humour.)

 

There’s no denying that this can be an uncomfortable phase. Some have even gone as far as referring to it as a “curse”, my past-self included. Painful cramps, headaches, migraines, bloating, nausea and even vomiting, anyone?

 

But with our interest and energy in the outside world withdrawing, if we allow it, bleeding can offer us a time of rest and replenishment, and connection with our inner guidance systems.

 

The inconsistency of the cycle can be frustrating: we’re not as productive, focused, or motivated and we don’t have the same strength or stamina, whether work-wise, project-wise or exercise-wise as in other phases.

 

But every good athlete knows the importance of rest for gains and improvement, and resting during our period is about sustainability and sustenance, not about making excuses, being lazy or irresponsible, which is often the view our society takes on self-care.

 

Our bleed is an invitation to press pause in our go go go world, and doing so has important implications for our energy levels later on when our cycle is in full swing. It also has important implications for our mental, emotional and spiritual health, as well as our relationship with ourselves.

 

While you may be unable to pause completely, it’s a good time to ask where you can pull back a little. And perhaps where you can support your teen to do the same during this phase.

 

Where can you each nourish and support your bodies and minds a bit more? For teens and working moms, missing school or work on the first day of their bleed may be unrealistic. Instead, maybe it’s pulling back from social media. Maybe it’s going to bed earlier. Or maybe it’s a bubble bath.

 

For me personally, it means only gentle movement instead of intense exercise. It also means putting off socialising where possible, as I’m naturally more introverted during this phase.

 

It’s all about experimentation. Guide your teen to find what works for her body.

 

2.  Spring: Follicular Phase (Days 7-13)

 

Spring is all about renewal. We’re post-menstrual but still pre-ovulatory, and as our oestrogen and testosterone levels start to rise, we’re “coming out of the period cave”, as menstrual cycle coach and author of 50 Things You Didn’t Know About Periods, Claire Baker, puts it.

 

After the intuitive stillness of winter, this phase is all about logic, practicality and a “get it done” attitude. We’re taking action, ticking off to-do lists and kicking goals.

 

With our energy, motivation and strength gradually increasing, we might even feel the need to “spring clean” or re-organise our lives a little. It also means that exercise now feels fantastic and is especially important in promoting well-being.

 

I often find it helpful to remind myself that this vibrant energy of spring is coming if I feel frustrated at the lack of focus and productivity during my winter phase. Knowing that an energy surge is on its way can give us permission to rest when our bodies are asking for it.

 

Interestingly, research has shown that oestrogen positively influences left-hemisphere activity like cognitive functioning, verbal articulation, fine motor skills and memory retention in women (1, 2).

 

This means that as oestrogen rises through the spring and upcoming summer of the cycle, it’s a great time to take advantage and study and learn new things! It’s also a great time to take action on projects or try something new.

 

That said, we’re in a bit of a push-pull in this phase: ready to bust out, but still emerging, not yet at the peak of the cycle. Being mindful of our energy and not expending it all in one go – which can be tempting! – is important.

 

For many, it’s also a phase when the inner critic is active. Through journaling, I’ve even found that the types of thoughts and narratives my inner critic comes up with are different at different phases.

 

While this is a great phase for learning, your teen doesn’t get to choose when their exams, performances or matches get scheduled. But by knowing where they’ll be in their cycle, they’ll know how to prepare, best support their bodies to achieve their goals and cash in on the benefits of each phase.

 

 

Summer: Ovulatory Phase (Days 14-21)

 

We’re now at the peak of our menstrual cycle, and like summer, we’re at our warmest, most energetic, strong, creative and most resilient. We’re on fire!

 

This makes sense because physiologically, and whether we intend to or not, our body has a creative agenda: to make a baby.

 

Hormonally speaking, oestrogen peaks and luteinizing hormone (LH) rises to trigger the release of an egg from one of the ovaries (ovulation) about halfway through the cycle. This might show up as a dull pain in the right or left side of the lower abdomen.

 

Luckily, creativity doesn’t need to end with baby-making (and preferably not for your teen at this stage!) Instead, we can take advantage of this creative momentum and channel it into any area of our lives we might need: into our relationships, bringing a project to fruition, or just making time for play and fun.

 

We’re the most confident and extroverted during this time and are more likely to feel social. We’re also able to handle challenges better than at any other phase because we’re more tolerant and patient.

 

With a boost in stamina and strength, our potential for muscle-building also increases in spring and summer. It’s a great time to add some higher-intensity workouts and resistance training or give it our all in whatever sport we’re training in.

 

In the second half of this phase, progesterone begins to rise, which leaves us feeling more grounded and relaxed. But with oestrogen and testosterone starting their decline around days 17-20, you might notice a shift in energy.

 

Over time I’ve even noticed that if conflicts happen, they almost always happen around day 19. Like clockwork. I’ve also noticed that if I haven’t taken time out at the beginning of my cycle, my energy really takes a dive around this time.

 

3.  Autumn: Luteal Phase (Days 22-28)

 

Autumn… a time to let go of what isn’t needed. The same is true for our bodies in this phase if our egg hasn’t been fertilized and implanted into the uterine wall. Our hormones plummet and the body prepares to shed the uterus lining.

 

We’re now post-ovulation and pre-menstrual, and it’s during this phase that PMS and PMDD symptoms can flare up. Our breasts might be tender, we might feel slightly bloated or experience gastric disturbances, and our bodies tend to feel heavier.

 

Exercise becomes more of a challenge as oestrogen and testosterone make their way out of the building, and our ability to focus tends to follow suit.

 

If you’ve ever felt like you were killing it at the gym one week, and then wondered where your strength went the next, you were likely influenced by this summer-to-autumn transition! Try not to be hard on yourself… this is completely normal. Being aware of it means that you can account for it.

 

(Tough though it may be, keeping active and getting sweaty can be a real stabiliser for both mood and PMS symptoms.)

 

Although focus is not at its strongest, a different kind of intelligence takes the reins here: emotional intelligence. We may feel more sensitive and emotional, but on the flip side, many women say they feel more like their “true selves” in this phase than at any other.

 

You may even be familiar with the infamous “pre-menstrual inner critic”, and it can turn into a full-time job keeping her at bay.

 

But instead of ignoring these inner messages, it can be a powerful time to take stock of ourselves and our lives. Studies even show that the right hemisphere becomes more active (3). Dreams become more vivid and we’re more in tune with ourselves. Taking time alone where possible can allow us to make the most of this, increasing our self-awareness and making sure we’re maximising on our dreams and potential.

 

Don’t limit yourself

 

Although each phase has its strengths and weaknesses, this is not to say that we can only do certain things at certain times, like socialising in our summer phase or journalling in our winter.

 

Rather than seeing our cycle as limiting, the aim of becoming more intimate with the ebb and flow of our different phases is to live with greater wisdom, to see our body’s needs through a lens of compassion, and take advantage of the opportunities the different phases afford us, like intuition, creativity, productivity or focus.

 

Wrapping up

 

The fluctuating energy, focus and strength associated with living in a cyclic body can be frustrating. But rather than buying into the modern narrative of menstrual cycles being a “curse”, we can set our teens up to be more deeply attuned to their bodies and needs. By teaching your teen to be mindful of their body’s natural progression, you’ll be teaching them to find a little more patience, compassion and acceptance for themselves. Doing this without turning self-critical can help them feel more confident and have a greater sense of integrity in the long run.

 

References

 

  1. Hampson, E. (2018). Estrogens, aging, and working memory. Current Psychiatry Reports, 20(12). doi:10.1007/s11920-018-0972-1
  2. SHERWIN, B. B. (1994). Estrogenic effects on memory in women. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 743(1 Hormonal Rest), 213-230. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1994.tb55794.x
  3. Northrup, C. (2020). Women’s bodies, women’s wisdom: Creating physical and emotional health and healing. New York: Bantam Books.

 

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