Health & Wellness: Unlocking wellness: Optimizing your menstrual cycle for a balanced life
That time of the month can often feel chaotic for those of us that menstruate. Then again, so can the week before, the week after and the weeks in between. Our bodies are in a constant cycle of changing hormones and internal phases that affect our mind and body.
Fortunately, there are things you can do and signs to be aware of that can help your body take advantage of each of those phases. This article will help guide your activity during each phase that will optimize the way you manage menstruation and leave you feeling more in tune with your body.
Understanding your cycle
Before we begin diving into each phase of the menstrual cycle, it’s important to understand what exactly your cycle is. Your cycle is not just a period: It’s a chain of activities that occur in your ovaries, uterus and brain that are all linked to your hormones. These chemical reactions all contribute to your cycle, but to simplify, it happens in four general phases: menstruation (your period), follicular, ovulatory and luteal.
It’s important to remember that not everyone’s cycle is the same and that cycles can vary from month to month. So don’t expect your body to be on a perfectly timed clock. Instead, be able to recognize your body’s signals and determine what phase you are in based on what your body is telling you.
Phase one: Menstruation
Perhaps the most infamous phase of the menstrual cycle is the period. Your period occurs when the uterine lining is shed through the cervix and vagina, resulting in blood loss. This phase lasts from the time the bleeding starts until the bleeding stops.
During menstruation, your estrogen and energy levels are low. This is your body telling you you need to rest so it can focus on shedding its lining and recharging its hormones. One thing you can do to help your body do its job during your period is to provide yourself with nutrients that help with period symptoms. This can include increased amounts of fruits and vegetables, seafood and more water intake to help counteract cramps and bloating that typically occur during menstruation. Light exercise is also recommended to keep your body moving — such as walking, yoga or meditation.
Phase two: Follicular
The follicular phase technically occurs during both the menstruation and ovulation phases. It begins on the first day of your period and ends on ovulation. For this article, we will refer to this as the time between your period and ovulation. This is your body getting ready for a potential pregnancy. The process prepares about 10-20 eggs for development, but usually only one of those makes it to maturity. One of the signs that you are in your follicular phase is an increased body temperature and a higher sex drive.
Because your body is preparing for potential pregnancy, it’s producing more estrogen and is better able to use energy stored from carbohydrates. Since energy levels are increased, you should take this time to engage in high-intensity exercise and consume more iron to make up for blood loss. It’s also important to stay hydrated and drink at least 6-8 ounces of water a day.
Phase three: Ovulation
Ovulation typically occurs at the midway point of your cycle: around 14 days before your next period. However, this can vary. Remember that egg we talked about in the follicular phase? Well, now is its time to shine. Estrogen levels are at their peak, causing the egg to go from the fallopian tubes into the uterus. Signs that your body is ovulating include tender or sore breasts, releasing clearer and wetter discharge or changes in libido.
When ovulation occurs, your body is at its most fertile. Your egg has made its way out of the ovaries and into the fallopian tube and is prepared for sperm to fertilize. If you are wanting to get pregnant, this is the best time to try, as your body is in prime condition. If you are wanting to avoid pregnancy, it’s best to avoid sexual activity during this phase or to use extra contraceptives.
Increased estrogen means that your body has a lot more energy. Take advantage of this phase by engaging in more cardio and filling your body with greens such as salads, fruits and vegetables.
Phase four: Luteal
After ovulation comes the luteal phase. It typically lasts around 10-16 days and is responsible for the unfortunate symptoms of PMS (post-menstrual syndrome). When the luteal phase begins, your body is preparing for a potential pregnancy that would have started during ovulation. To start this process, there is another increase in estrogen and progesterone as your body begins to thicken the uterus lining in case a fertilized egg (an embryo) is implanted. If you are not pregnant, a structure called the corpus luteum will dissolve, and hormone levels will decline. During this time, you are more likely to experience mood swings, bloating and tenderness because of the hormonal fluctuations taking place.
While we tend to associate this phase with irritation and general feelings of unwellness, there are many ways to make our mind and body feel better during this time. Eating more calories and keeping a healthy eating schedule will help balance insulin and can help with fluctuating hormones. We also recommend light exercise and less cardio. Allow yourself to relax and take time for your body to catch up with all of the changes that are going on inside.
Go easy on yourself during this phase and listen to the signals your body sends out. If you’re feeling more tired than normal, lie down and rest. The more you listen to what your body is telling you, the better you will feel when you do what it’s recommending.
Navigating the twists and turns of your menstrual cycle doesn’t have to be a confusing journey. By tuning in to the rhythm of your body and understanding the different phases of your cycle, you can unlock a wealth of opportunities to enhance your well-being. Each phase comes with its own unique characteristics and signals. Armed with this knowledge, you can tailor your activities and self-care routines for a more balanced and harmonious life.
Remember, your menstrual cycle isn’t just about your period: It’s a dance of hormones and bodily changes that influence your physical and emotional state throughout the month. Embracing these changes and working with your body rather than against it can lead to a more empowered and fulfilling experience.
Lily Cook is a content writer at Stage Marketing, a full-service content marketing agency based in Pleasant Grove.