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What ACTUALLY Happens In Your Menstrual Cycle And How To Deal With It

WhatActuallyHappensInYourCycle_enIf there is one thing I know, it is that we are all entirely unique. The way our minds and bodies work is completely different from one person to another.

As humans, our sheer existence is miraculous. But being female, this miracle is multiplied. There are so many things about our makeup, that although can be both annoying and frustrating at the best of times, is also beautiful and capable of creating life. Yep, you know what I’m talking about.. your period.

The hormones that govern your menstrual cycle affect both your body and mind, and can lead to mood-related, PMS symptoms like anxiety and even depression.

Your hormones aren’t always or even the only cause of mood swings and disorders. With that being said, they certainly can have enough of an effect on some people to make it worthwhile understanding the co-relationship between your own mood and the stage of your menstrual cycle. This way you can be aware and do some things that might minimise the challenges some moods pose for you (and those around you!).

So a general guide to what our hormones are doing during a 28-day menstrual cycle would look like this:

Day 1 (first day of period) to Day 7 of your cycle (the average length of time of a period is about seven days, however this can be more or less depending on the individual).

Your estrogen starts out quite low, rising throughout these seven days of your cycle.

Moods that can be triggered in this phase:

  • Anxiety if you are sensitive to rising estrogen levels, and/or sensitive to physical symptoms and pain associated with menstruation.
  • High energy, both physical and mental, as the week progresses and estrogen levels build.
  • Pain and discomfort associated with cramps can be associated with irritability and lethargy.

Day 8 to Day 14 (or your ovulation day).

Estrogen keeps rising throughout this stage until it reaches a peak.

Moods that can be triggered in this phase:

  • High energy both mentally and physically.
  • A sense of confidence.
  • Anxiety due to high levels of estrogen. This can be associated with high levels of rumination, intrusive thoughts and an increased sensitivity to stimuli and stressors. You may be more irritable, wired, on edge, nervous or tense. You may even feel you are holding more tension in your muscles and body with things like sore neck, tight shoulders, tension headaches or grinding teeth. If you experience compulsive-type symptoms or panic attacks, they may be more apparent now.

Days 15 to 21 of your cycle.

Hormones seem to be all over the place this week. Progesterone rises; estrogen drops off slightly for a few days then rises again, and testosterone drops.

Moods that can be triggered in this phase:

  • Anxiety as your estrogen drops. Sometimes this can be buffered by the rising level of progesterone, which protects and calms your system.
  • Lows and depression can be triggered or exacerbated with lower levels of serotonin, associated with the drop in estrogen. Not all bad though as for some your mood can lift again as estrogen goes back up toward day 21 of your cycle.
  • Calm can be associated with both the rising levels of estrogen and progesterone towards the end of the week (take note this could be the “calm” before the storm of week 4 and PMS).

Days 22 to 28 of your cycle.

Estrogen and progesterone drop significantly and dramatically.

Moods that can be triggered in this phase:

  • Anxiety, including rumination, excess worrying and even anticipatory anxiety (ie becoming anxious about getting anxious).
  • Low mood and depression. The lows of last week may be incomparable to the sudden drop in mood as levels of estrogen and serotonin plunge, with no progesterone to provide protection.
  • Hunger may escalate to binge-eating or excess.
  • Feeling angry, irritable, or snappy.
  • Insomnia.

The pattern of mood changes are NOT going to be exactly the same for everybody or even for the same individual every month. It can be helpful though to take note of what mood changes there are for you generally each month and prepare to use some other strategies to compensate and/or alleviate the mood swings as much as possible.

 

These are some strategies you might find helpful for dealing with the stages of your cycle:

Mindfulness and relaxation.  
This can be any of the myriad of mindfulness techniques available, but it could be as simple as slowing down your breathing, listening to a meditation app; progressive muscle relaxation, colouring in or other distractions or hobbies requiring you to focus on awareness of your senses, your movement or your inner self and calming your mind. This can be helpful for insomnia, binge-eating, excessive cravings, anxiety, depression and other mood symptoms.

Regular exercise. 
Exercise can release endorphins and lifts mood, even if only for a few hours. Vigorous exercise may distract from pain, discomfort, worries, but also keep in mind that after exercise the body automatically shifts your heart rate and breathing rate back to a slower, more stable pace and can calm your body and mind down at the same time.

Releasing some of that anger or frustration on a punching bag may be just the thing you need on some days to regulate your mood. It may be helpful for insomnia, anxiety, depression and other mood symptoms. Regular exercise may be good for anticipatory anxiety, panic attacks, high-anxiety sensitivity, compulsive rituals, constant rumination or cognitive overwhelm, try more intense exercise and/or for longer.

However on the days of your period, it is often better to rest, and do either no or light/little exercise. Just enough to keep your body moving, but not to exhaust yourself. Listen to your body — if you feel like pushing yourself, do it. If you want rest and to rejuvenate (as most of us women feel is best throughout the days of our bleeding) then do that!

Try yoga. 
Yoga combines mindfulness with both slow and vigorous exercise. I would recommend vinyasa flows especially during days 20-28. But remember it is NEVER about punishing yourself or pushing yourself just to prove a point to anyone. Yoga can be helpful for insomnia, anxiety, depression and other mood symptoms.

Be sure to get enough sleep. 
For those times each month where you may not be getting a good night’s sleep, have a look at how you might be able to optimise it anyway. Have a relaxing routine, hot bath, soft music or candlelight in the lead up to bedtime and let yourself enjoy sleep. There are some sleep visualisations and night meditation apps that can be helpful to nod off to, as well as white noise apps to maintain a constant sense of quiet and calm. Sleep can help alleviate anxiety, irritability and low mood.

Avoid caffeine.
Particularly after 3pm when insomnia is a problem. Ideally avoid it and energy drinks altogether at those times when anxiety is switched on for you.

Avoid alcohol. 
It is a depressant and may leave you feeling lower.

Try drinking chamomile tea. 
It can be helpful in calming anxious moods and a ruminating, spinning mind. Peppermint tea is also really good for sore tummies!

Have nutritious meals.
You may like to cook fresh or if you find your lifestyle keeps you too busy, try keeping some pre-made meals in the freezer and healthy snacks in the cupboard for those times of the month when feeling hungry, or even “hangry”, is likely. This may reduce bingeing or eating empty calories. Take note of the healthy foods that satisfy your particular cravings or reduce hunger really quickly for you and stock up on these before you need them. It’s very much a case of “being prepared”.

Most importantly though – be self compassionate. If you think there might be more to your moods than hormonal fluctuations, please go and seek support from your doctor, psychologist or other health professional.

Love and light,

Caroline x

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