Have you ever done a workout one day and loved it? You felt great during and after the workout – it was challenging, but also not too difficult. You go back a week later only to find that you struggled through the same class or simply didn’t enjoy it at all? Or have you ever felt highly energised, but found yourself feeling more introverted and less energetic a few days later?
The current health model leads women to believe that they should feel the exact same day after day, which can lead us to believe that we should have the same energy level, be able to sustain consistent productivity, and be good (or improving, but never regressing) at the same activities.
But, the truth is, women are cyclical! Our monthly cycle comes with changes in emotions, energy levels, sociability, physical endurance, and even aptitudes for certain tasks. Trying to live our lives as if we’re the same each and every day prevents us from taking advantage of times when we excel at certain tasks at best, and at worst, can leave us feeling drained and burnt out.
Naturally cycling women (those of us without the influence of the synthetic hormones in hormonal birth control) have cycles that mirror the seasons. Just as a day in each season looks a little different, so does a day in each phase of your cycle.
The Phases of Your Cycle
There are 5 major actors in your monthly hormone cycle: follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinising hormone (LH), oestrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. The latter three determine your mood and energy levels throughout the month. This is because they interact with other hormones and neurotransmitters. In fact, a woman’s brain chemistry changes by up to 25% every month.
As a brief overview, your cycle begins on the first day of your period. During this time, your brain scans your body and finds your sex hormone levels to be low. This causes it to release FSH, which tells your ovaries to start maturing an egg, and to start producing oestrogen. When oestrogen levels reach a certain threshold, your brain releases LH, which tells your ovaries to ovulate.
At ovulation, an egg is released from the surface of the ovary, leaving behind a little sack called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum causes your ovary to stop producing oestrogen and to start producing progesterone. You will keep producing progesterone until the corpus luteum dies between ten and fourteen days later. When this happens, your ovary stops producing progesterone, and your period begins, restarting the cycle.
Every woman’s monthly cycle plays out differently according to her unique physiology and hormone levels. What follows is a broad overview of what a woman with a reasonably healthy hormonal balance will experience at each stage of her cycle.
The ‘Bleeding Phase’: Time to Reflect and Make Plans
During your period, at the start of your cycle, hormone levels are low. This usually correlates with lower energy levels and improved focus on ‘the big picture’. Communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain through the corpus callosum is highest during this time. Neuroscientists believe this increased connectivity is responsible for heightened intuition.
This is the best time to review the impact of the past month’s projects, create plans and set intentions. Be sure to make space for quiet time. You may find that clearing your calendar of major social events and making time for self-care is particularly restorative. You should also avoid strenuous exercise – if you feel like you need to push yourself through it. Walking, yoga and stretching may be your best bets right now!
The ‘Follicular Phase’: Time to Collaborate
As oestrogen and testosterone levels rise following your period, your energy increases and so does your sociability.
Physically you should be feeling great, and symptom-free. Some women may notice a slight dip in appetite as they approach ovulation. The higher levels of estrogen and testosterone boost confidence. It’s a great time for you to be social as communication skills are also at their peak.
This is the best time to collaborate on the month’s projects and to attend social events. As your energy levels increase, you can also pick up your exercise regimen to include more high intensity workouts if that’s your jam.
The ‘Ovulatory Phase’: Time to Make Your Move
During this time, the brain registers peak oestrogen levels and encourage ovulation by releasing luteinizing hormone (LH). LH further boosts testosterone production, which will enhance confidence levels.
This is a short phase and only lasts about three days, but the fertile window of your cycle has some of the most interesting effects. Your cheeks may gain a natural flush and studies have shown that women’s voices also raise in pitch during ovulation.
This is a great time to impress your boss, ask for a raise, or participate in public speaking engagements.
You may find that balancing this high energy time with grounding practices like meditation and exercise helps you to excel. This is also a good time for strenuous exercise.
The ‘Luteal Phase’: Time to Refine & Reorganise
After ovulation, your body switches from producing oestrogen to making progesterone. Progesterone is the calm hormone. During this phase, which can last as long as 14-16 days, your basal body temperature and metabolism increase since progesterone is a heat-producing hormone.
Your appetite may increase and as this calming hormone increases, you are likely to feel an improved sense of calm. Your brain will shift from social activities to prioritising attention to detail, and you may feel more introverted. Now, your superpower is refining and fine-tuning projects. This is the time for finishing touches. Making space in your calendar for alone time or more mellow activities may also help to keep your energy levels even.
Towards the end of this phase, as you approach your period, these characteristics heighten. You may find yourself in a nesting or organising mode, and feeling more socially withdrawn.
These few days at the end of the cycle are also the most likely to show the symptoms of any hormonal imbalances. Too much oestrogen in relation to progesterone can result in symptoms like mood swings, anxiety, sugar cravings, breast tenderness and PMS. Take good care of yourself: eat clean and stay hydrated. Make time for rest if that’s what your body craves!
Making the Most of Your Cyclical Nature
Take a look at the four phases of your monthly cycle. You will see that you move from lower energy and less sociability through to high energy and high social drive, then back to calm and greater introversion. Honouring this ebb and flow of outward-focused energy by engaging in high-impact activities when you’re best suited to them and prioritising self-care and quiet when you need it will help to make the most of your energy levels and boost productivity.
Burn out happens when we push through what our body is trying to tell us. We do a high-intensity workout when we’re tired. We go out with friends when we’d rather read a book in bed. On the flip side, restlessness and boredom can take hold if we don’t provide the engagement we need in the more energetic times of our cycle. By keeping an eye on our calendar and where we will be in our cycle at any given time (even if it’s just an approximation), we can start to make the most of our own pattern.
The more closely you pay attention, the more you will notice just how much rest you need, or exactly when you are feeling your most vibrant. Then you can make plans around that!
Give cyclical living a try and see how it effects your energy and productivity.