When we lean into this cyclical way of living, we will see massive shifts in our energy, our life, our self-compassion and even in our work and relationships. Remember, we don’t have to live in that male centred 24-hour cycle, but rather, lean into our 28-day infradian rhythm, living our lives in harmony with our cycle, and ultimately not fighting against ourselves.
The Menstrual Phase
The Science Bit
The Menstrual Phase lasts from 3-7 days and is the time when our hormone levels decline to their lowest concentrations. The effect this has on our brain chemistry is that it creates the greatest communication between our two brain hemispheres which are the left “analytical” side and the right “feeling” side. This means that at this stage in our cycle we are best able to analyse the facts of a situation, see how we feel about it and determine the best course of action. It’s a great time for analysing and reviewing our goals, thinking strategically about where we want to take things in our life and consider what feels good. Naturally, it’s a period of inward reflection, resting and enjoying alone time.
Remember our Infradian rhythm strikes a perfect balance throughout our cycle. The ovulatory phase was exceedingly high energy, very outward focused, a time when we want to be more social. And now we have the balance of that in our menstrual phase - lower energy, more rest, less doing, more alone time, less being with others, and more inward focus.
If we look at the full cycle, we can see how the phases natural balance each other…
- The first half of the cycle (Follicular and Ovulatory phases) our energy is higher and focused outwards. That is balanced in the second half of the cycle (Luteal and menstrual phases) when our energy is lower and the focus is more inwards.
- Our Follicular phase is about new beginnings while our Luteal phase is about completion.
- Our Ovulatory phase is about being social and outward focused while our menstrual phase is about being alone and inward focused.
There is a time for everything. And everything can be balanced and in harmony. When we allow it.
How to Move and Eat with the Menstrual Phase
The Menstrual Phase is the time to abandon all responsibilities and do nothing. A time of rest, repair, and renewal. In fact, menstruation is the great interrupter of our busy world and it’s important we listen to the needs of pausing at this time. Rest is as crucial as sleep for our physical body, and equally essential for our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Our body’s ability to de-stress depends on downtime, and downtime at menstruation is one of the most effective and efficient ways to soothe and repair your nervous system. We may think we simply can’t afford to stop – there’s just too much to do. We feel guilty because we haven’t done enough and haven’t earned the right to stop. Or we subscribe to the notion that the need for rest is a weakness. But what’s worse is not resting.
We can’t avoid the need to stop. Either we do it consciously or we get tripped up through illness, burnout, or other nefarious scheming’s of our body.
There are times when our body shouts at us to rest. Cramps, headaches, and low energy are ways our body is trying to communicate with us, especially during the menstrual phase. Adding stress to our body is going to throw our cycle off and will probably result in severe cramping, headaches, or exhaustion. Tune in to how you are feeling at this stage and exercise in a way which benefits you.
If you feel like some movement, go for it. Focus on lighter forms of exercise like walking, yin yoga or gentle stretches. Try not to put pressure on yourself to work out and most certainly do not feel guilty for not working out. Listen to your body. Allowing it the rest it needs is the perfect way to be in harmony with your cycle.
As our hormone levels and our body temperature drop during this phase we might find ourselves craving comforting, warming foods like soups and stews which are ideal as they are also nutrient dense, which is important during this phase. Eat proteins and healthy fats, as well as lots of fruits and vegetables which are great to keep your blood sugar steady and add fibre.
Seafood can help remineralise our body of lost iron and zinc. Avocado on toast for lunch, or humous and crackers as a snack are great go-tos for me during this phase. The healthy fats keeps blood sugar and mood more stable and helps stop me from reaching for chocolate 534 times during the day!
I do like to eat a little dark chocolate or drink cacao during this phase as it gives the satisfaction of chocolate but without the empty calories a 'normal chocolate' bar might give. Among other benefits, dark chocolate boosts serotonin which helps relax both body and mind. Cacao boosts serotonin levels too, contains magnesium and is a healthy source of fats so it’s perfect for this phase of our cycle.
How to Work & Mother with the Menstrual Phase
This week, our brain chemistry is optimised for evaluating and analysing. As I mentioned, it’s a great time to reflect, evaluate and listen to our intuition. It's speaking more loudly during this phase because of the strong communication between our brain hemispheres. But also remember, this phase is about rest so leveraging the menstrual phase is mostly about keeping our schedule as spacious as possible.
How to Work:
Working during the menstrual phase involves a lot of analysing, thinking, and reviewing so it’s a great time to get stuck into those analytical tasks. Data analysis, reading reports, reviewing financials, analysing project results, and reflecting on the month. It’s a chance to seeing where course corrections might be required, or to ponder how you or your team performed over the past month. It’s a time to ask questions, and search for answers in an inward way. Did you make steady progress towards your goals? Are you working on tasks that mean something to you? Are you happy in your job? Do you like your colleagues? What does success look like to you? Are you heading in the right direction? What changes can you make next month to feel happier in your work life?
How to Mother:
Much like working, mothering takes the same inward approach during the menstrual phase as we temporarily slow down. We can evaluate family priorities by shifting down gears, especially in the first few days. It’s a good time to take a step back and let your partner handle the lion's share if that's an option. If not, embrace movie time snuggled on the couch with blankets. There should be more lego, more colouring, more encouraging the kids to entertain themselves as much as possible (and to tidy up after themselves as much as possible!).
Think about it this way (and work towards something that’s manageable for you) … if in an ideal world you would stay in bed for a full day - what would doing 5% of that look like? Staying in bed for an hour while your partner holds the fort? Even an hour will make a big difference! The idea is to take as much rest as possible and don't do anything which isn't absolutely essential. Laundry, tidying up toys etc, can all wait a few days. It’s a time to lean on easy dinners which you can pull out of the freezer and shove in the oven.
How to do Self-Care:
Self-care, as always, is deeply personal so how you do self-care during the menstrual phase will be different for everyone but some aspects which we can all benefit from include limiting our incoming stimuli such as the news, tv, or social media. It’s a good time to connect with your thoughts so journaling is beneficial. Focusing on the food we eat, wearing comfortable clothes, enjoying the feel of fresh bedsheets, and drinking lots of comforting, hot drinks such as herbal teas and benefiting from lots (and lots!) of rest.
Remember what I said in last week's blog post, much of what we label as PMS is a sign that we’re run down. Again, lots of rest and practicing phase specific self-care helps. Taking magnesium and a probiotic was a game changer for me on this front (please check with your own doctor regarding benefits, uses, dosage before taking any supplements).
Eating foods which help our body metabolise excess estrogen during the ovulatory and the beginning of the luteal phases will help avoid most PMS symptoms and cramps.
And of course, rest, rest, and more rest!
Often just taking it easy, relaxing, and giving ourselves permission to do nothing can help alleviate these symptoms massively.
Read The Full Unlock Your Cycle Blog Series
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