It happens to half the population, every month. It is part of the reason that all of us exist. It is a powerful, and quite frankly miraculous, cycle of nature. Yet, talking about periods is still so taboo, and a lot of us have very little understanding or appreciation of what is really going on. For this special guest article, Tara Ghosh unpacks the power of our menstrual cycle and how you can learn more.
There are many myths surrounding our menstrual cycle
> Our cycle always has to be 28 days long
> It’s normal to have period pain
> You don’t need to have a period unless you want to have a baby
> The pill “regulates” our period
All wrong! But the biggest myth of all is that people with periods are unpredictable with our moods seemingly changing at will from one week to the next. It is completely NORMAL for people with periods to feel different every single week. Seriously. We are cyclical and our moods and energy are supposed to shift as our hormones ebb and flow through the month.
But nobody teaches us we are cyclical – not our teachers, our parents, doctors or society (which is almost criminal).
It’s a man’s world… literally
We live in a non-cyclical world that’s built around men’s non-fluctuating hormones. Many of the problems people with periods face are because we are trying to be the same person every day of the month. With our changing hormones that’s simply not possible. This is why when we have an “off” day we feel bad about ourselves. And this is why often we feel burned out – because we push ourselves too hard instead of listening to our needs.
It may be hard to believe, but our menstrual cycle actually gives us superpowers. Unlocking the secrets of our cycle is like being handed an instruction manual to ourselves. It explains so much about how we feel and can improve every aspect of our life.
Setting the scene & breaking it down
To set the scene we need to understand how our hormones change through our menstrual cycle and how this affects our energy and mood. Day 1 of our cycle is the first day of our period. As our body recruits follicles for this cycle oestrogen starts trickling in from day 3 and peaks around when we ovulate (which is about 2 weeks before our period arrives).
You can consider oestrogen as our YES hormone. It wants adventure, it wants to help others, it wants to be out there in the world doing its thing. Oestrogen boosts our mood and energy, improves our skin and hair and increases our libido. And there’s more. As we have oestrogen receptors all over our body, oestrogen’s power is far-reaching. It’s super important for many things including our brain, heart and bone health. Who would have known?
Just around ovulation, our body produces testosterone. These supposedly “male” hormones boost our libido and makes us motivated and assertive. But it also has a key role in turning fat into muscle, increasing bone density and improving our brain function.
After ovulation, our body starts producing progesterone. Now progesterone is much more likely to say NO, “shhhh be quiet” and “oh my goodness that annoying thing in my life is still happening”. Progesterone wants us to prioritise ourselves and calls out injustices in the world. Progesterone is “pro-gestation” as it’s there to sustain a pregnancy. But once again, its impact is felt far beyond the womb. It supports our breast and brain health and most notably our nervous system. It is progesterone that helps us carry out when all is crazy and it can make us need more sleep in the second half of our cycle. A sneaky nap the week before our period, anyone? On the flip side, low progesterone can be one of the reasons sleep alludes you in the run-up to your period.
You can consider oestrogen and progesterone as dance partners together. They are equally brilliant and we need both in the right quantities for our health to be in balance.
A vital sign full of signals
We often think of our period as a random thing that happens to us once a month. While in fact, our menstrual cycle is our fifth vital sign and it is very important we listen to it. Our menstrual health is a complete reflection of what is going on in our life. So when we have awful period pain or huge mood swings this shows there is something out of balance that needs addressing.
The main issues influencing our cycle are our diet and stress levels. If each month feels like a rollercoaster of hell, there are actually simple steps that can be taken which can turn things around. Like cutting out dairy, eating your meals slowly, a gratitude or yoga practice. These things and others can make a huge difference to your monthly moods and period. That said, there can be underlying health issues like endometriosis which can affect your menstrual health and so you should definitely seek medical advice if you are suffering from your periods.
Image: by Laker from Pexels Image description: a pink grapefruit with a tampon in the middle of it on an orange background
Four seasons of different superpowers
We can divide our cycle into four seasons with each giving us different superpowers, as well as challenges. Winter is when we have our period. Our superpower is claiming time for ourselves and tapping into our intuition which is at its highest. The obvious challenges are debilitating period pains and migraines, with 50% of women* reporting they suffer from one or both. But an unspoken challenge is that the world we live in does not respect our need to slow down.
The week after our period is spring. It’s a time of renewal, where we can plan our month ahead and creative ideas come bubbling up. But with that increased energy and influx of new ideas, we may find it difficult to keep our focus. It’s also easy to overdo it, going too fast after we’ve emerged from our winter.
Around ovulation is our summer and for many people, this is our superwomen moment. To-do lists vanish in the blink of an eye, you are bursting with confidence and are happy to be a social butterfly. A downside to this is we feel so full of energy we book the rest of our month up, forgetting that quite soon we will be in a different season altogether.
The 7-10 days before our period is autumn. Our superpower is our ability to say no and claim time for ourself. We also have a great eye for detail so it’s a brilliant time to edit and organise either at work or at home. For many people, autumn is the most challenging time when we get irritated by others and our sugar cravings and mood swings dominant.
The first half of our cycle, with the outward energy in spring and summer are welcomed by us and others as they are socially acceptable. But our inward focussed, quieter or more critical seasons of winter and autumn, oh no, they are not generally shunned. But this does everyone a great disservice. How can we only like ourselves half the time? We need to accept and celebrate every part of ourselves and find ways to soften the tougher phases.
The power and freedom of knowledge
By tracking our menstrual cycle, making a note of how we feel each day, we will see a pattern and be able to plan our life accordingly. We can’t always stop our busy lives, but knowing where we are in our cycle allows us to be kind to ourselves. We can appreciate that the way we feel on any given day is because of our predictable hormones and not because we’re lazy, unsociable or broken. This is hugely freeing.
Knowing what to expect from our hormones through our cycle means you are not crazy for feeling different each week. We are like the changing tides. Predictable if you know the rhythm. Once we understand the superpowers our menstrual cycle gives us, we will never doubt ourselves again and we will be unstoppable!
Tara Ghosh is an Arvigo® Therapist and health coach passionate about empowering people with periods to feel strong whatever season of their life they are in. Tara works with people 1:1 all over the world and her 5-week course Embrace Your Cyclical Power starts on 7 June. This course provides the answers to all your period and hormonal issues. Want more energy, improve your moods and boost your libido? Grab your 10% discount on the full price workshop using the code GREEN10.
* N.B. not everyone who has a period identifies as a woman. For the purpose of this article, the term women is used to also include all those AFAB.
Featured Image: by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels Image description: a lady holds a reusable menstrual cup filled with small flowers in her hands while smiling at it