Did you know your menstrual cycle holds the key to unlock your energy and productivity superpowers? This might sound kind of out there for some of you, but hear me out.
The hormones of your cycle affect more than just your period. They influence everything from your energy levels to your cognitive state, your nutritional needs, your sex drive, even your weight and the look of your skin.
Unfortunately, many of us are never taught how to unlock the potential in our cycles.
One of the things I struggled with most when I started out as a freelancer and entrepreneur was the lack of definition in my time. There was no shape, no rhythm, to my weeks and months. The only real marker I had for time passing was the seasons. There was no impetus to take time off, no point to aim for. The weeks just laid out in front of me, seemingly forever.
My days had a clear pattern as did the days of the week. But beyond that…. everything just looked the same.
Then, in a completely unrelated move, I decided to come off the contraceptive pill for the first time in about 17 years. I had been diagnosed with endometriosis as a teenager and had used the pill as a way of managing my symptoms. I had never had a natural cycle as an adult. I became obsessed by periods. I was fascinated by how the hormone cycle worked and the impact it had on my mood, energy and body. As I learnt more about the phases of my cycle and how I felt, I started to adapt my schedule around these phases. And suddenly my life had natural undulations and markers again.
This model doesn’t just work for women experiencing a natural cycle. The principles are valid for everyone - men, post-menopausal women, women on long-term contraceptives. If you don’t have a natural cycle, you can map these phases to the calendar month instead.
Our cycle, like each one of us, is unique so I’m going to share some core principles . Getting to know your own is one of the best favours you can do yourself. Take these principles and see how they show up in your life - adapt and experiment until you find a system that works best for you.
There are lots of apps out there to help you track your cycle. These are some of the most popular (I use Clue and Maya) so experiment and find the one that works best for you.
The female reproductive hormones move through an average 28-day cycle of peaks, troughs, dips, and flows, which affect how you feel. No two days are the same, which means how you are in the middle of your cycle will be completely different from how you are at the end.
As women, we sometimes expect ourselves to be at our peak every single day. We want to be endlessly productive, energised, and consistent. But our bodies just don't run on an every-day-is-the-same kind of model. And ignoring that is costing us. Big time. When you don't understand your female body, you don't know how to live in tune with her. And so you end up getting frustrated, burning out, or feeling completely overwhelmed. (Hello self-judgment). Plus, you miss out on windows of time when you're especially articulate, persuasive, and insightful.
But it doesn't have to be this way. The secret is to live in alignment with the four unique phases of your cycle. I personally use this framework as a monthly sprint for myself as well as my Energised Entrepreneur clients. The principles of the sprint are valid for everyone and help to create rhythm and structure in our lives.
Each cycle or sprint starts with a planning event to identify goals and ends with a review and retrospective to identify lessons and improvements for the next sprint.
Phase 1 – Menstruation [Reflection - Inner Winter]
Estrogen and testosterone start out at rock bottom on the first day of your period, then steadily rise.
This phase lasts approximately 3-7 days. Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of bleeding.
You may feel a sense of release and relief when menstruation starts. During this week, your energy is the lowest it will be during your cycle and you may feel fatigued, introverted and introspective. This leads to a desire to rest and take a break from daily duties or even take a day off. A day off may not be possible for most women but taking time to introduce some quietness can be tremendously helpful.
PUTTING IT INTO ACTION
Practice really good self-care this week. This could mean eating really nourishing healthy comfort foods, taking a yoga class, getting to bed early one night, sleeping in later one morning, reading a favourite book, getting a massage, and anything else that makes you feel nourished and balanced.
When you honour your body’s innate need for rest and relaxation during this phase, you will enhance your ability to get more out of the active phases of your cycle.
Keep any exercise to gentle movement and stretching.
Journal to reflect on the past month. How was your performance? How are you getting along with your colleagues? Are you working on the projects you care about? Is your job going in the direction you want it to? How are you thinking and feeling about your business as a whole? What changes do you need to make to stay happy and successful?
Phase 2 – The Follicular Phase [Creativity - Inner Spring]
The follicular phase begins after menstruation and lasts for 7-10 days. It’s known as the Follicular phase because your pituitary gland releases a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). FSH stimulates the follicles in one of your ovaries to mature. FYI-these follicles contain your eggs. The pituitary gland then starts to release Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which is responsible for ovulation. Only one of these follicles will “ripen” and become mature. During this time, you will notice that your cervical fluid takes on a wetter consistency. It typically looks creamy.
Your estrogen and testosterone levels remain low in the beginning of the Follicular Phase but gradually increase as ovulation gets closer. Both estrogen and testosterone start to boost your energy, mood and brain skills. You start to feel more confident, powerful and are willing to take more risks.
Testosterone starts to stimulate your libido while at the same time making you more impulsive. Estrogen makes your skin look and feel better. It also makes you feel more extroverted and pushes you to be more social and to connect with other people.
PUTTING IT INTO ACTION
Plan the month ahead.
Brainstorm ideas with people.
Dream big. Connect to your big vision and goals.
Get clear on your action steps for the month.
Phase 3 – The Ovulatory Phase [Communication - Inner Summer]
The ovulatory phase is the shortest phase and lasts for 2-3 days. It is the culmination of all the hard work your body has been doing over the previous weeks. Right before ovulation there is a surge of LH and this causes the dominant follicle to burst open and release its egg into the fallopian tube.
Estrogen and Testosterone continue their rise to peak levels, boosting all the effects you enjoyed during the follicular phase. You look more attractive during this time and you’ll feel more confident about your appearance.
PUTTING IT INTO ACTION
Prioritise play and connection during this week. Plan in time with friends and family and other activities you enjoy.
This is also a great time for important conversations and to work with other people.
This is the peak of your energy in the month so take advantage of it!
Phase 4 – The Luteal Phase [Power - Inner Autumn]
This phase has two halves and typically lasts from 12-16 days. Ideally the luteal phase should be closest to 14 days for it to be considered an optimal fertile cycle. This of course isn’t the case for everyone, but evidence suggests that a 14-day luteal phase is the ideal for most women.
After ovulation, FSH and LH levels sharply decline and remain low for the rest of the cycle. Estrogen and testosterone gradually decline and the follicle that released the egg will start to produce progesterone, causing this hormone to rise gradually.
During the second week of the luteal phase estrogen will slightly rise again in preparation for pregnancy. If there is no pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone will drop and cause the uterine lining to shed.
PUTTING IT INTO ACTION
This is a time to start to cut back on your busy schedule and slow down.
Use this time to get things done. Take pleasure in completing projects and wrapping things up. This is all about execution.
You may start to experience PMS in the second half of this phase so clearing your calendar of big social events will help conserve energy.
You probably feel isolated in everything that you experience during this stage of your cycle but know that you are not alone. And these symptoms are not all in your head! There is a remarkable cascade of hormonal events taking place. Focusing on nourishing self-care practices will help you through this period of lower energy as you move back into the menstrual phase.
So, get out your calendar and start marking in the days of each phase. Then, as you’re doing your weekly planning each week, check which phase you are coming into and use the principles of that phase to help focus your priorities.
These are not hard and fast rules – life is just not that neat and tidy! Think about these principles as intentions for the different phases.
If you want to learn more about working with your natural cycles to create more energy for the things that are important to you, why not join my Energised Entrepreneurs Programme?
Over twelve weeks, you’ll learn how to manage your energy, how to work smarter not harder, and how to manage your mind, rather than letting it manage you. All with a supportive community of other entrepreneurs to give you more energy, more clarity and more confidence.
Book a free consultation call with me to learn more.