As women we have expectations of ourselves to be consistent day in, day out. We try to live our life in a male dominated world, where we push and strive, hustle and grind.
Where we fear stopping or pausing for a second, even when our bodies are screaming at us to do so. As a consequence so many of us are feeling stressed and burned out (1). We are suffering with our health, mentally & physically.
But we are not consistent. We are not linear. We are cyclical. We ebb and we flow. How we are and what we like this week is not the same as it was last week. And it’s definitely not the same that it will be next week.
“As with any cycle there’s a rhythm of activity and rest in the menstrual cycle. One minute you’re like Florence Nightingale, tending to the world’s needs with ease and grace, and the next you want nothing more than space and time for yourself, and turn into a grouch if someone pesters you for anything.”Alexandra Pope
We really have forgotten the power we have within us as women. We have forgotten how to connect with our body and how to sync with our cycle.
We need to reclaim the power that living in alignment provides us. And this is where it starts. With knowing the phases & Inner Seasons of our menstrual cycle.
(Note: The concept of the Inner Seasons was first developed by Alexandra Pope who wrote about it in her co-authored book ‘The Pill: Are You Sure It’s For You?’ (2)
Menstruation – Inner Winter
The first day of our bleed is our Inner Winter although many of use may feel that we drop in to it a day or 2 before our period. This is both the beginning and the end of a cycle.
It a phase that every women experiences differently. Possibly as an annoying inconvenience? Maybe a painful time? Heartbreak? Relief? Or even nothing at all.
Oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest point leading to fatigue, mood changes, stomach cramps and breast tenderness (3) . But just as with every phase of the menstrual cycle, there are strengths.
Our Inner Winter is the chance for us to pause and reset. It’s a time to let go of our own expectations and to focus on our needs. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually.
A bit like planning on a Monday for the week ahead, or at the start of a new month, Winter is our chance to pause and reflect on our previous cycle and to set an intention for the following one.
Taking note of what we want more of in our life and what we want to let go of, this season can allow us to grow with each and every cycle.
Follicular Phase – Inner Spring
Inner Spring appears just after Menstruation. For some women it will start around day 3/4. For others around day 6/7. Oestrogen is rising and so is our energy. There is a feeling of potential within us. Our mood lightens, we are more optimisic, we have more desire to socialise as we become more self-confident and motivated (4). No wonder many of love this phase.
This is the time to start afresh, try something new, and explore all the different possibilities that are presenting themselves to you right now. Stay curious and don’t fully commit to anything just yet (save that for summer). Meet up with people, do something fun with the kids and book appointments for the coming week.
And remember to check in with yourself often especially if you push yourself too early or have not rested enough in Winter. It can lead to a feeling of burnout so you need to make sure you have some self-care tools at hand.
Ovulation – Inner Summer
In the days leading up to ovulation we move into our Inner Summer. Oestrogen and Testosterone are rising before peaking at ovulation. It is in this season that we feel capable and confident, powerful and productive (5). We have all the energy and motivation to go with it as we move up and out into the world.
THIS GILR IS ON FIRE!
This is the time for us raise our game, connect with people, be creative (6) and say yes to whatever life throws at us. Our need for sleep drops and we we able to do more, on less. We are getting shit done!
But that doesn’t mean we stop taking care of ourselves. Yes we can be all things to all people but we still have our limits. This is the time we can get carried away and burn ourselves out.
We can also feel a bit scatty at times as oestrogen wants us out looking for a ‘mate’ (7). And for those of us who are introverted or highly sensitive this is the season when we feel exposed and way too visible.
To get the most out of this phase, make sure you have boundaries in place and remove yourself from social media if the world begins to feel too noisy. Break up boring tasks with movement that your body is craving for.
Also remember that in a few days time you’ll be dropping into autumn so don’t go booking things in your diary that your autumn self wouldn’t want to do.
Luteal Phase – Inner Autumn
Once ovulation happens we may will feel a subtle (or for those of us who are more sensitive to our hormones), a dramatic shift in how we think, feel and behave.
This is the part of the cycle that has a bad reputation, associated with mood swings (8), bloating and cravings. Our energy is waning as oestrogen drops. Motivation and positive feelings disappear as our emotions spill out.
We are moving inwards and down into ourselves, as we take off our superwoman cape and remove our rose-tinted glasses. Instead we put put on our X-ray specs and pick up our bullshit detector.
Being in the mature half of our cycle, this is where we realise that we have our own needs and desires. It’s time to let go of the Summer Woman who wants to please everyone.
Despite what many of us think about this part of our cycle, the luteal phase, our Inner Autumn, can be one of the most powerful phases. This is where we grow up and get real. Where we speak our truth and connect with our intuition. It’s where we can sit down and actually focus more on tasks for longer (9). (Which is perfect timing for those reports or articles that you need to revise.)
This is where we need to step back from the world and drop down into ourselves. Where we set boundaries and say ‘no thank you’. Where we decide what’s really important and what’s not. This is the time to edit and organise, tidy and clean (10). It’s the time to finish things….literally & metaphorically.
Despite what many of us think, our menstrual cycle and our hormones are not the problem. It’s our cultural and personal perception (11) that we, as women should be a certain way all the time.
Yes our menstrual cycles do set natural limits in our life. Thats’s what they’re designed to do. After all, we can’t be all things, to all people, all of the time. We can’t keep going 24/7 just as most of us have been doing.
So yes our menstrual cycle provides us with limits. But limits are not limitations. And actually, when we learn to work with our cycle (12) we can thrive more than we ever thought possible.
Understanding and aligning with our cycle can help us to be who we are and let go of who we’re not. We can let go of the expectations that we need to consistent all the time. And instead, enjoy the ebb & flow that our cycle brings.
- Organisation, W. H. (2019). Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019- burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international- classification-of-diseases.
- Bennett, J., & Pope, A. (2008). The Pill: Are You Sure It’s For You? Allen & Unwin.
- Bruinvels, G., Goldsmith, E., Blagrove, R., Simpkin, A., Lewis, N., Morton, K. et al. (2021). Prevalence and frequency of menstrual cycle symptoms are associated with availability to train and compete: a study of 6812 exercising women recruited using the Strava exercise app. Br J Sports Med, 55(8), 438-443.
- Buser, T. (2012). The impact of the menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptives on competitiveness. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 83(1), 1-10.
- Michigan, U. O. (2008). Estrogen Fuels Female Need For Power And Control. Retrieved Retrieved May 9, 2021, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080522075940.htm.
- Krug, R., Stamm, U., Pietrowsky, R., Fehm, H. L., & Born, J. (1994). Effects of menstrual cycle on creativity. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 19(1), 21-31.
- Roney, J. R., & Simmons, Z. L. (2013). Hormonal predictors of sexual motivation in natural menstrual cycles. Horm Behav, 63(4), 636-645.
- Gonda, X., Telek, T., Juhász, G., Lazary, J., Vargha, A., &Bagdy, G. (2008). Patterns of mood changes throughout the reproductive cycle in healthy women without premenstrual dysphoric disorders. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry, 32(8), 1782-1788.
- Solís-Ortiz, S., & Corsi-Cabrera, M. (2008). Sustained attention is favored by progesterone during early luteal phase and visuo-spatial memory by estrogens during ovulatory phase in young women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 33(7), 989-998.
- Stewart, D. E. (1989). Positive changes in the premenstrual period. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica.
- Aubeeluck, A., & Maguire, M. (2002). The menstrual joy questionnaire items alone can positively prime reporting of menstrual attitudes and symptoms. Psychology of Women Quarterly.
- Oleka, C. T. (2020). Use of the menstrual cycle to enhance female sports performance and decrease sports-related injury. Journal of pediatric and adolescent gynecology.