Menstrual cycle awareness and mental health
Menstrual cycle awareness (MCA) is a tool which can help us discover our unique menstrual rhythm and learn how to live in harmony with it.
Based on the fact that women go through several hormonal changes affecting them on a physical, emotional and mental level on a monthly basis, it’s no surprise that learning when those changes occur and how they affect us is key to a healthy lifestyle. It can be helpful to envision the menstrual cycle as an inner compass which can give us clues about what is going on in our body so we can respond accordingly. In the long term, listening to our inner compass can help us know ourselves better and live in harmony with our own rythme.
The first step to start practicing MCA is to be aware of which day we are in our cycle. See, it’s not just about menstruating versus not menstruating since our cycle can actually be divided into 4 main phases, each of them producing a certain set of hormones:
1. Menstrual phase - inner winter:
Follicule Stimulating Hormones (FSH) tells the ovaries to recruit and select ovarian follicles
2. Follicular phase - inner spring:
The maturing follicules produce an increasing amount of estradiol and one follicule is chosen to ovulate
3. Ovulation phase - inner summer:
The released egg survives 12-24hours wherein it will either be fertilized by a sperm cell or disintegrate
4. Luteal phase - inner autumn:
Progesterone levels climb and remain high throughout the luteal phase. It then drops, signaling the uterine lining to shed
Knowing what our hormones are up to during our cycle can help us understand why we might be feeling a certain way at a certain time. Even thought we may not suddenly be able to control how we are feeling all of the time, it can at the very least help us make sense of it. It can also be a nice reminder to stop giving ourselves such a hard time, and to be kind to ourselves instead. With the right knowledge and self-care, we can eventually turn meltdowns and angst into understanding and compassion.
As an example, studies have shown that negative body-related thoughts and anxiety about appearance increase dramatically during the menstrual phase. This also comes with symptoms, fatigue and depression, potentially linked to a drop in the happiness hormone during Pre Menstrual Syndrome (PMS).
Indeed, when it comes to PMS, the female sex hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) peak during ovulation. Both of these hormones begin to fall during the luteal phase. And as progesterone rises, there’s a second smaller peak then drops again.This rapid rise and fall of hormones can affect chemicals called neurotransmitters in our brains, namely:
Both of these neurotransmitters influence our mood, sleep and energy levels. A low level of serotonin and dopamine can sometimes cause:
Understanding our own personal cycle gives us the opportunity to make plans knowing in advance how we might feel. If we know that we experience PMS, that week may not be the best to try out a new dancing spot, instead, it might be more sensitive to schedule some one-on-one time with a close friend, cooking some good food, taking a bath or going to bed early.
When we are feeling emotional or teary, it can be exhausting trying to suppress our emotions and unhealthy in the long run. While allowing ourselves to cry or letting out those emotions in whatever way feels right for us can be quit healing.
Finally, here are some practical advices from The Red School to start MCA :
Create a month-at-a-glance menstrual chart. Go to www.redschool.net/menstrual-chart to download our free Red School menstrual chart. Alternatively, you can draw up your own chart, or use one of the many apps available.
On your chart, record which day of the cycle you’re on. Day 1 is the first day of bleeding (this doesn’t include the spotting that can occur for some women before the full flow begins).
At the end of each day of your cycle, record on your chart your dominant feelings, your dreams, your energy levels, and so on.
Start a new menstrual chart at the beginning of your next cycle.
Alongside the simple daily charting described above, you may also enjoy keeping a journal in which you record more detailed observations, including synchronicities, sexual energies, themes, arguments and insights. At the very least, maintain basic daily observations, including writing them down. Hugo Wurlitzer, S. (2020, 10 avril).
Just remember that what matters is to get a step closer towards knowing yourself.