Your menstral cycle impacts your energy, how you build muscle, your productivity, focus and efficiency, your creativity and so much more. Here Dr Kate Middleton explains the impact our periods have on our minds and how we can manage our monthly cycles.
Love it or loathe it, the female hormonal cycle is an inescapable part of adult life. But as well as the more obvious physical effects - might it be having an impact on your emotions and wellbeing?
Life is all about seasons - and how much attention we’re paying to our monthly cycle varies a lot depending in which we’re in. Each period can be a source of so many emotions - joy, relief, distress and disappointment. Just as the moon waxes and wanes each month so our cycle ebbs and flows in the background, alongside the other challenges of our lives. But sometimes it is a lot less in the background than we’d like - and one very clear example of this is when it triggers difficult emotions and moods.
Your cycle has a big impact on your whole body - including your brain. BBC Radio 4 has been running a fascinating series on the wonders of the menstrual cycle - and it’s clear there is a LOT going on. Your cycle impacts your energy, how you build muscle, your productivity, focus and efficiency, your creativity and so much more.
Your cycle impacts your energy, how you build muscle, your productivity, focus and efficiency, your creativity and so much more.
The bit most people notice affecting mood happens alongside that luteal phase - the second half of the cycle, from ovulation until your period starts. It’s when progesterone levels gradually grow - peaking at around day 21, or a week before your period. This phase can be associated with challenges around our emotions, and how we respond to the world around us. It’s the classic PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) zone - most women who notice emotional changes report things like increased anxiety, anger or frustration, and issues with low mood or depression. Physical changes can be a challenge too - things like bloating, tiredness and headaches. And some people also notice cognitive differences - brain fog, issues with memory and concentration - just not feeling on top of their game. Of course one of the biggest challenges of the menstrual cycle is that no two months are ever exactly the same. You might well notice variation or unpredictability in symptoms - but more significant mood changes or PMS are there most or every month, in that second half of the cycle, relieved (albeit briefly) when a period starts.
The extreme of these changes for some women can be really serious and debilitating. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder describes a severe version of these mood swings and changes that can have a huge impact on your life and relationships. It’s a recognised medical condition - and the good news is that it can be treated and managed. But some women struggle to get themselves heard, or feel like they’re not taken seriously.
Learn to LOVE your body, not FIGHT it.
And of course, later in life, towards the end of the reproductive years, your body starts to get ready to stop this cycle. The perimenopause is the season when this preparation is occurring - and it is renowned for unpredictability and variation in all aspects of that monthly pattern. During the menopause the levels of oestrogen and progesterone are erratic - and this can be associated with worsening symptoms of what used to be PMS - anxiety, low mood, irritability, insomnia, physical symptoms like headaches and ALL the brain fog, confusion, forgetfulness etc.
So how do we manage our monthly cycle - and the impact it has on our minds? Here are three things to consider;
Learn to LOVE your body, not FIGHT it. Its not easy to find different versions of yourself showing up at different times of the month. And it can feel like the pressure is on to fight those things - try to overcome them and manage to pretend everything feels fine. But what if there’s a better way? Maisie Hill’s book Period Power suggests that getting to know and understand your cycle better can free us up to work WITH those monthly patterns, accepting their highs and lows and getting into better rhythms of life that run alongside them. She describes the monthly cycle in season - spring, summer, autumn and winter, and talks through how each might be experienced. The Bible encourages us to remember that our bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). But it can be hard to celebrate that when something about our body is making us feel rubbish. And sometimes, if we’re honest, the moments that our female hormones are ganging up on us can make us feel second best, or just like we’re frail or a failure. Could understanding your cycle more help you to work alongside it instead of feeling like it is your enemy?
Remember - the Bible says you are loved not for what you DO but just for who you ARE.
REST. One strong message from Maisie Hill’s book is that there are times in each month when our productivity will be lower: when our biology is calling us to take a break. This is at odds with a culture that says we must achieve and push the limits all the time. Remember - the Bible says you are loved not for what you DO but just for who you ARE. God IS love (1 John 4:8) - he just IS! It’s nothing to do with what you do or don’t do - God’s love brings good things to people no matter what (Matthew 5:45). You don’t need to earn your value, or work to be good enough for God. In fact rhythms of rest are built into God’s blueprint for life and creation from the very start. God WORKS - but when that work is completed, He and all He made RESTS (Genesis 2:2-3). That pattern of regular rest is a commandment for us too. Might there be moments in your month where you need to let yourself stop?
When your head is spinning, focus on something that is STABLE. All this change and unpredictability is tough. Not knowing quite which version of yourself each day will bring can be really stressful - and can take a toll on your work, social life and relationships. Particularly in times when the pressure is dialled up - when you are hoping to conceive, or in perimenopause, or just if your cycle has become chaotic or irregular because of stress or other things going on - this can be particularly difficult, leaving your head spinning. In those times its good to remember that there is one thing we can rely on that NEVER changes - throughout life, seasons and cycles. In Malachi 3 God speaks to His people in a time of turbulent change and reminds them “I am God—yes, I Am. I haven’t changed.” Do you need to be reminded of that today?