To all my girlies, women, and people with a menstrual cycle.
There is something all of you need to know.
Something that no one has ever done us the favor of explaining – even though you should have learned about this as soon as you started menstruating.
I want to teach you something imperative to your mental health.
Welcome to the side of the internet that cares about you as a whole, and not as a bunch of unrelated parts stuck together.
Overlooked Factors that affect your mental health
Today I want you to understand the importance of your hormones and your menstrual cycle in your mental health and emotional well-being.
Our menstrual cycles, unfortunately, have been one of the most overlooked factors when it comes to understanding our mental health, as well as keeping it in control and stable.
Even though science is very clear in telling us that the changes in hormones throughout the menstrual cycle can impact mood, cognition, and behavior, we’re still not being taught this as the basis for how we’ll experience life in the different weeks of our cycle.
The phases of your menstrual cycle
In case you don’t yet know, your menstrual cycle goes beyond your period. This cycle is made of 28-32 days in which a lot of magic is happening inside of you.
To make it easy for you to understand those 28-32 days can be divided into 4 phases.
Let’s break it down:
The 1st day of your cycle is actually the day that you start bleeding. This phase is therefore called the menstrual phase – depending on the length of your full cycle, this can range between 3-7 days.
You then transition into your follicular phase – which usually lasts between 7-10 days.
Then comes the ovulatory phase, which is the period before and after you ovulate, not necessarily only the day that you ovulate – this phase can last between 3-4 days.
Lastly, you go into your luteal phase – which finishes your menstrual cycle with around 10-14 days. This is the phase that you spend the longest – which is usually the phase that gives you the most trouble – hint: PMS!
There’s a lot that you need to know about each one of these phases and how they can transform your life from stressed out and miserable, to calm cool, and collected.
We will dive deeper into each one of these phases and how to use them to support your mental health in following articles.
Awareness is where change starts.
For now, I just want you to realize that you have different hormones rising and falling at each stage. These fluctuations greatly affect your mood, energy levels, and cognitive functioning. Becoming aware of these shifts is what will help you begin to take proactive steps to improve your mental health, as well as prevent it.
But before we go into any of that, you need to start with step one.
And that is:
Start tracking your menstrual cycle.
There are several apps available that do a really good job.
The one that I stick to and use for all my clients is MyFlo by Alissa Vitti.
The reason I prefer this app to others is that:
- it follows the different phases very closely,
- records your symptoms,
- and suggests simple solutions to the symptoms you may face in each cycle.
So, if there is one goal that you can take away from this article, is to always know where you are in your menstrual cycle.
And this is where the app is going to be really useful in the beginning.
We’re so used to not acknowledging these 4 phases that it will be easy to forget. But anytime you have doubt, just open the app, and it will clearly tell you what’s going on with your hormones, moods, energy and so much more that week.
What you will find while tracking is that certain feelings and desires only happen at particular phases of your cycle.
And that’s when the real fun begins!
That’s you, experience firsthand, your cycle strengths.
Let me explain.
We are not hormonal. Just cyclical.
We have been led to believe that we must feel the same, act the same, eat the same, and exercise the same every day if we’re to be productive and successful.
And while that works perfectly fine for men, it leaves women with a massive disadvantage.
Even our 9-5 jobs are created taking into account the male hormonal patterns and how they maximize energy and productivity.
What I am trying to say is that our society created a way of living that goes against our natural rhythms as people with menstrual cycles. When we do that, we completely dysregulate our hormones. With time, we start experiencing things like PMS, mood swings, anxiety, and depression.
It’s mindblowing to me that we have completely normalized the experience of feeling anxious and depressive just before our periods. What’s even worse is that we associate it with the fact that we have a period.
It has nothing to do with us having a period.
Nature would never create something faulty like that.
The problem is that we never asked the question – why?
- Why am I struggling so much with my mental health this week in particular?
- Why do I feel like the world is ending every time I get close to my period?
- Why am I having random anxiety attacks over the same thing I did the week before, but now it feels difficult?
When we ask why, we get to the root cause.
And when we get to the root cause, we often see hormonal imbalances triggered by years of lifestyle choices that have been forced upon us.
Note: that are many factors that can lead to mental health struggles. It’s not just hormonal imbalances, but they play a huge part too.
Expect to feel different every week of your cycle.
So I want you to remember that you are a different person every week of your cycle, and you shouldn’t expect to feel the same every single day.
Understand that feeling super focused on detail-oriented tasks one week, and then suddenly feeling that you can’t get back into that flow the week after, is something completely normal.
Let me give you a little inside scoop on why.
Your hormones can change your brain chemistry by 25% every month.
For example, during your follicular phase, estrogen levels are increasing, which boosts the brain’s ability to handle complex processing tasks. This is why this week you’re amazing at dealing with mentally challenging assignments and problem-solving. You’re also highly creative in this phase, which makes it an ideal time to tackle new projects and brainstorm ideas.
However, if you try to put tasks like these in your luteal phase, you’ll find it harder to engage in them. You’ll often get distracted and wonder why you feel so unfocused. This is because during this phase your progesterone levels increase and your estrogen levels decrease. This causes you to shift from a creative, problem-solving brain to a more detail-oriented brain. It puts you in a state where you want to wrap things up and get your tasks done, rather than start something new.
Do you see the difference there? Your hormones can actually influence how fast and how well you can perform a task if done at the right time.
But let me be very clear…
You can do anything at any time!!
But that is not the point here. The point is to accept that we have different strengths at different times in our menstrual cycle. And if we use them when they are more pronounced, it will be easier for us to do whatever we decide to do that week.
It’s all about making your life simpler, less exhausting, and more joyful.
But most importantly, this connection with your cycle allows you to stop being so critical of yourself. It stops you from feeling like you’re not good enough.
Instead, you become kinder and more understanding of what is happening in your body. You begin to make better choices that support you in feeling good every day.
And that’s it! That’s your intro to how your menstrual cycle can massively impact aspects of your mental health. This is a life-changing concept that if you take seriously, can help change the quality of your day-to-day for the rest of your life.
More to come next week.
Stay tuned 😉
Dr. Maria – Your go-to doc for happy hormones