Hormonal cycles is a topic that is easily pushed aside or ignored throughout our educational systems and society. With the stigma surrounding the menstrual cycle, and menopause, with regards to our physical and mental health, we can be left feeling deflated and misunderstood. Here we will take a closer look at the different cycles so that we can get a deeper understanding of what people experience both physically and mentally.
Whether we have a uterus or not, this information is absolutely invaluable and can help people all around the world. For those with these cycles, it is imperative to understand it for our own physical and mental health and, for those without, this topic should be something on our minds – so that we can have a deeper understanding of the people around us.
To begin with, it is of utmost importance that we address the significance of these cycles in our lives. Not only do we experience physical effects of having them, and the hormones that go hand-in-hand, but we also feel the effects of hormones on our mental health. Our families, friends, co-workers, and all other people in the world, all experience cycles of some kind – yet these specific cycles are still so misunderstood.
The menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones that are within the body, and it is important that we know more about them so that we can find solutions that aid us throughout our experience.
Cycles are influenced and regulated by the interactions of hormones such as luteinizing, follicle stimulating, oestrogen, and progesterone, and the menstrual cycle happens in this order:
The first day of bleeding counts as the first day of the menstrual cycle. The follicular phase starts with a period that usually lasts from 3 to 7 days – and can vary from a light bleed to a heavy flow, or a mixture of the two. Usually this is the part focused on in an educational setting and, although the entire cycle is sometimes studied at length, it is, more often than not, only taught to girls.
We also find that we don’t focus in on the effects that hormones can have on our minds as well as our bodies. So, for everyone, it is critical to learn more of the cycles the majority experiences – so that we can all feel good, together.
“Everything begins with when the hypothalamus, within the brain, produces the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Once this has been produced, GnRH causes the pituitary gland to release the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which results in the growth of eggs within the ovaries.
As eggs develop, the ovaries produce the hormone oestrogen which peaks at the ovulation phase – typically around day 13 to 14 of our cycle. Once the oestrogen has peaked, the luteinizing hormone (LH) is released from the pituitary gland and travels through the bloodstream to move the mature egg out of the ovaries and into the fallopian tube.”
The premenstrual stage, or luteal phase, is the time where “the follicle releases its egg, and changes into the corpus luteum. This structure releases hormones, mainly progesterone and some oestrogen. The rise in hormones keeps your uterine lining thick and ready for a fertilized egg to implant.
“If you do get pregnant, your body will produce human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This is the hormone pregnancy tests detect. It helps maintain the corpus luteum and keeps the uterine lining thick. If you don’t get pregnant, the corpus luteum will shrink away and be resorbed. This leads to decreased levels of oestrogen and progesterone, which causes the onset of your period. The uterine lining will shed during your period.”
FSH, LH, oestrogen, and progesterone can alter our state of mind somewhat severely, especially if we don’t understand that they are a separate layer to ourselves. More often than not, people think that we are slaves to our cycles, and that we don’t have any control over ourselves – which feeds into the stigma that people on their periods, or experiencing menopause, are erratic, irritated, and overly emotional.
However, there is something to be said about the way hormones affect our minds. After all, we experience a huge amount of brain chemicals daily. These chemicals, when out of balance, or in surges, harness the power to change our state of mind on a daily basis – or even from moment to moment.
Much like the release of cortisol – the stress hormone – and vitamin D – the natural anti-depressant – the menstrual hormones also influence the way we feel. Due to our hormonal cycles having a huge effect on our moods and self-esteem, it is essential to find out about more ways that we can ease ourselves in, and out, of each phase.
Menstrual Cycle Coach, Kez Seery , is one of many individuals looking to make a difference to the way people experience their cycles, both mentally and physically. As DivineButterflyCoaching on Instagram, Kez is an independent menstrual cycle coach who is passionately devoted to educating people, around the globe, on their menstrual phases with relation to the mind and soul through rest and nutrition.
We caught up with Kez on this subject and she tells us, “Menstrual cycle education is the missing piece in a woman’s health and wellbeing. As cyclical beings, we have an internal clock which cycles every time we menstruate. Within this cycle we are different people during each of these phases.
“Having an awareness of your own menstrual cycle, that’s all four phases; menstruation, pre-ovulation, ovulation and pre-menstruum can be so empowering and is the perfect way to alter the story that society has led us to believe.”
Not only does she echo the voices of many others innovating within this realm, but she also projects her own strong speech for all people who have these cycles. This is so that she can dispel any negative connotations around our phases. With relation to the building blocks of mental wellness, in relation to our cycles, Kez adds, “Getting curious about our menstrual nuances, and accepting and embracing our phase joys and shadows can be empowering whilst also presenting the ability to create a life which is aligned and filled with self-acceptance.”
Kez’s words describe the loss we feel when we are trying to keep up the pace within our jobs, relationships, and independent schedules. We push hard through our cycles to keep exercising the same, eating the same, working the same, and more, when we should be honouring those different parts of ourselves with rest and recuperation, as well as nurturing meals and behaviours.
“Did you know that a prominent hormone the week before you bleed actually aids in relaxation? The overwhelmed irritability we accept as given and label as PMS does not have to be your reality. The relentless hustle and grind of the linear society we live in, which is unconducive to our cyclical nature is likely a factor towards feelings of rage and despair,” she adds.
Her work is very much centred around how our cycles make us feel. She says, “Becoming curious about our own cyclical patterns via menstrual cycle awareness is the foundation towards living in alignment with all aspects of our being. It’s a remembering of who we really are, and how we really work on a cellular level.”
As we are advancing in our knowledge of the menstrual cycle, we learn more about nutrition in relation to the different segments. There is endless knowledge from books and coaches that we can seek out, but we should also nourish our bodies intuitively too. We can learn to nourish our bodies with what they need throughout each phase – which can aid us when ovulating and bleeding, and in-between, so that we can live more fulfilled lives for our physical and mental wellbeing.
By altering our diets at different times throughout our cycles we can actually invite the right nutrients for what our bodies crave and rely on.
“Your ‘maintenance calories’ will change during the menstrual cycle – the body’s temperature increases and so does the basic metabolic rate. Often women feel less hungry in the follicular phase and the early stages of the ovulation phase. The hunger mirrors the levels of progesterone, when progesterone is at its highest in the luteal phase it is recommended to consume more calories. If a fat loss or weight loss is the goal, this is the prime time for fat burning.”
Rest and sleep play essential parts in our lifestyle – especially throughout our cycles. We find ourselves needing more sleep during the separate sections of our cycles. As Kez previously touched on, a report tells us that “progesterone has sleep promoting effects, so during parts of the cycle where progesterone is increased, such as after ovulation, women can feel more sleepy.
“Then when progesterone reduces, towards the end of the luteal phase, and before menstruation starts, sleep problems can occur. Oestrogen can also promote sleep and most women who have trouble with sleep at different parts of their menstrual cycle, have problems just before and after the start of menstruation, with 30% of women reporting disturbed sleep during menstruation and 23% reporting disturbed sleep in the week prior to menstruation.”
Lastly, exercise can be altered to suit the different segments of our cycles – so that we can achieve optimum results. Whether our goal is to lose weight, tone up, or keep our hearts healthy, the place we are in our menstrual cycle can have a huge impact on our energy levels and results.
When it comes to menopause, food, sleep, rest, and exercise is still of utmost importance for not just ‘dealing with it’, but for thriving and feeling good. We are finding that our wisdom is increasing over time due to the light being shone upon the subject of menopause and, since the dawn of time, as a collective, a huge portion of the population finds themselves experiencing menopause at some point – so why should we sweep the subject to the side?
The tricky part of menopause is the decline of certain hormones within the body as we cease to have the cycles we once had. Whilst oestrogen levels massively drop, FSH and LH levels continue to increase within the body. As our ovaries become less responsive to the hormones released by the pituitary gland in the brain, we have higher levels of FSH and LH, but not oestrogen and progesterone.
During our cycles before the menopause, oestrogen and progesterone are usually in harmony with one another however, throughout the perimenopause and beyond, our hormone levels drastically change.
As we age, we notice our periods become more or less frequent and alter in length, as well as flow. These fluctuations, alongside other symptoms such as hot flushes, high blood pressure, and more, can cause us to feel unsteady and low in confidence. We may even feel like we are becoming out of touch with our empowered selves.
Author of Second Spring: The Self-care Guide to Menopause, Kate Codrington , showcases the many solutions and self-care tips that can ease us throughout this period in our lives. Kate offers insight into the psychological phases of menopause so that we can feel grounded and more accepting of our bodies as we grow to experience the menopause.
Kate shares some words of wisdom on why it is so crucial for us to learn about the menopause, for our mental health. She says, “It’s really important to learn about menopause because our society devalues the power of rites of passage. We have an enormous resource and strength in the menstrual cycle in terms of how we come into our power – particularly in the second half.”
She makes a tangible connection between the premenstrual phase and the perimenopause by describing it as our “inner autumn”, where we find ourselves slowing down and experiencing the decline of energy as well as hormones. She continues, “In these times, we are denigrated in general and, because we live in a misogynistic society, we also denigrate ourselves. And in doing this, we lose connection with ourselves and our truth.”
Kate continues, “This is the part where women are called moody, spiteful, out of control. And, if you have a society that tells you you’re moody, your mental health will suffer. It is disempowering. However, these autumnal times are when we actually come into our power.”
The power that Kate talks of is the control we have over what we choose to have for ourselves. She shares, “We are feeling the gap between the way we have been treated and what we actually deserve. By understanding about the rite of passage of the perimenopause and menopause, we are inviting ourselves to come back to our power. We are inviting ourselves to let go of the shackles that do not serve us – however that manifests in terms of work or relationships.”
Lastly, Kate empowers people to stay true to what they value, and what values them. She believes that understanding our cycles is where our true power lies. “All the things that have held us back come up, and we are invited to let them go, move on, and feel more free – and even more free when postmenopausal. The question is not “how do I manage?” but, “how do I want to live and what do I need to do to live a powerful, creative, vibrant second cycle of my life?””
For further reading on the subjects, Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer provide us with an empowering spiritual journey through our menstrual cycle with Wild Power. This book helps us to “heal, find balance, and reconnect to our emotions. Power lies in the rhythm of the menstrual cycle.” It encourages us to “connect with the body on a deeper level to find healing, balance, and wholeness.”
In the Flo by Alisa Vitti offers a deep insight into our hormonal balances, imbalances, and their translation from brain chemicals to physiological and psychological side effects. Showcasing her knowledge for the subject, Alisa shares some of the most vital information available, so that we can get a deeper understanding of our bodies throughout these cyclical, biological patterns.
With a mixture of scientific research into the human body and mind, and the more spiritual and philosophical information that is readily available, we can understand and derive greater meaning from our cycles.
No matter our age or gender identity, there’s something to be said about the power of our cycles – and we can all benefit from learning more.
By Sofi Bajor