Yep, we're going back to the basics. Take a moment and think back to the time you were introduced to your period/menstruation/aunt dot/aunt flo/time of the month/moon time/girl flu/the curse/red wedding/Carrie/the red badge of courage/shark week/crimson tide/mother nature's gift. Was the experience positive or negative? Exciting or dreaded? Clear or confusing? Diminished or comprehensive? Appreciated or depreciated?
I would imagine, most of us would say: negative (re: girl flu, red wedding, Carrie, shark week, crimson tide, the curse), dreaded (re: time of the month, girl flu, the curse, menstruation, crimson tide), confusing (re: red badge of courage, aunt dot, aunt flo, moon time), diminished (re: period), and depreciated (re: most of the above).
Unfortunately, our introduction to this beautiful, intricate, biological rhythm is often perceived negatively and with limited education/resources. How can we fully evolve into womanhood when our initial rite of passage (i.e., menarche) is presented in such a way?
Despite popular opinion, there is much more to our monthly cycle than bleeding (or not) 1x/month with the hopes of getting (or not getting) pregnant. Becoming aware and informed of our biological processes will foster an alliance between internal and external routines/regimens for the sake of our wellbeing.
"Women are so hormonal." And to that, I say, "fuck yes we are!"
Hormones are the body's chemical messengers, carrying information and instructions by way of the endocrine system. The endocrine system plays a vital role in regulating many of our body’s functions/processes (e.g., metabolism, growth and development, emotions and mood, fertility and sexual function, sleep, blood pressure...). When it comes to our monthly cycle, there are 4 primary hormones doing their thing(s): luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, estrogen, and progesterone. Similarly, there are 4 phases associated with our monthly cycle. Now, let's explore the synergy between both chemical and physical bodily functions related to our monthly cycle.
PHASE 1: MENSTURATION
What's Happenin'? releasing/shedding your uterine lining
Hormonally? progesterone production lessens; estrogen peaks and then lessens
PHASE 2: FOLLICULAR
What's Happenin'? your ovaries are producing around 5-20 small sacs called follicles, each of these follicles contains an immature egg; uterine lining begins to thicken
Hormonally? follicle-stimulating hormone is activated; estrogen production increases
PHASE 3: OVULATORY
What's Happenin'? follicles burst and ovaries release the most viable egg(s) into fallopian tubes; the egg(s) take a trip to the uterus
Hormonally? sharp increase in follicle-stimulating hormone; luteinizing hormone is activated; testosterone production surges then lessens
PHASE 4: LUTEAL
What's Happenin'? the egg producing follicle transforms into corpus luteum. If pregnancy occurs, the body provides an environment to maintain the corpus luteum. If pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum is reabsorbed
Hormonally? progesterone and estrogen production is stimulated and continues to rise; If pregnancy occurs, a new hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin, is activated. If pregnancy does not occur, then progesterone and estrogen production lessens; testosterone increases
How can you read all of that and not feel like a "beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox" (for the Leslie Knope fans out there)? I know this can feel like a lot of information to absorb, but my hope is to normalize your physical and emotional experience(s), as they ebb and flow throughout the duration of your cycle. Furthermore, I hope you challenge internal and external dialogue that diminishes these natural rhythms.
Now, let's shift our focus to our well-being with all the above information in mind. Approximately every week, we enter a different phase, meaning our needs change just as often. While there is a variety of research/data that details common 'symptoms' within each phase, it's important to remember that we are all individuals. In addition, it's vital to take note/acknowledge other variables that effect our natural rhythms (e.g., birth control, nutritional lifestyle, medications, supplements, stressors, underlying medical conditions, mental health diagnoses, genetics, etc.). Unfortunately, our society pressures us to develop static routines. However, we do have the opportunity to personalize our wellness (mind, body, & spirit) regimens. First, I recommend tracking both your cycle and experiences (physical & emotional) to develop a deeper understanding of your natural rhythms.
Luckily, in this day and age, there are (many) APPS for that! If you are an iPhone user, this feature is already built into the Health App. Here are a few more options you can explore:
Because our cycle is monthly, it takes at least 3 months of tracking to start truly noticing your own patterns. The Social Worker in me likes to call this an Individual Needs Assessment. A needs assessment is the process of gathering info to discover gaps between current conditions (needs) and desired conditions (wants). Before all else, it's essential to become aware of our own needs so we can address them with care. Even better when that awareness comes from an individualized, as well as, informed lens.
With ALL that said, let's get to tracking!
Throughout the process, feel free to connect with me about your insights and challenges. I am more than happy to explore (& will likely even blog) about holistic approaches to reduce common, bothersome experiences. For example, if you notice in a particular phase you often feel anxious, maybe implementing a meditation practice at that time would be beneficial. Though our culture fixates on quick fixes, I am not a fan of that mentality. However, I do wholeheartedly believe that we can flow through our cycle with grace and honor, as we continue to deepen our relationship with ourselves.
Keep on growin' 'til next time,