Why it's important to know where you are in your menstrual cycle...

For a lot of women, where we are in our menstrual cycle can have an impact on how we exercise, sleep, what we want to eat, how we feel, and how our body acts, says EIMEAR HUTCHINSON
Why it's important to know where you are in your menstrual cycle...

Understanding where she is in her cycle every month has helped Eimear be a little less hard on herself. Picture: Stock

MAYBE I am showing my age now, but over the last few years I have become much more in tune with how my body is affected by my menstrual cycle.

Honestly, before the words ‘menstrual cycle’ make you go running to the next article, hear me out, because honestly, it is the most fascinating thing.

Before my fourth baby, I never would have noticed where I was in my cycle at different times of the month, I didn’t suffer with cramps or ups and downs with my mood.

However, after having that baby and/or the effect of tubal ligation, I could almost pinpoint the day in my cycle based on how I feel both mentally or physically.

Many women track their cycles for obvious reasons, like wanting to make the most of their fertile time of the month or to simply know when their next period is due. But so many of us can benefit from tracking our cycles to understand how we feel at different stages through the month.

For a lot of women, where we are in our cycle can have a big impact on how we exercise, how we sleep, what we want to eat, how we feel, how rational our thoughts are (me!) and how our body feels or acts.

For me, knowing the effects my hormones can have on me at different times of the month has brought a certain degree of comfort. I know the weeks to take it easy and not to be fighting with myself to go running if I’m just not in the mood, and I understand if I am lethargic or if I’m craving certain foods or a cranky wagon — it’s not me, it’s my hormones!

Let’s start at what is considered the start of the cycle and that is menstruation, which lasts anywhere between three to seven days. This is the start of the Follicular Phase during which the hormones oestrogen and progesterone are at low levels. At this point in your cycle, while you are having your period, you are most likely to feel tired and lacking in energy and some will suffer headaches, cramps and back pain. I like to think of it as the time of the month where I just give myself a break, I pull back on exercise and generally go easy on myself.

The next stage of the Follicular Phase is pre-ovulation and lasts again about a week (days 7-14) and this is the time of the month where we are in the best form both physically and mentally. Those who are into sport and follow their cycles will know this is the time of the month that they can really push themselves.

It is also associated with peaks in creativity and imagination, and you are even more likely to want to be sociable during this stage. Both your oestrogen and progesterone levels are beginning to increase during this phase as they signal the body to release an egg, with oestrogen reaching its peak around day 14.

The third week heralds the start of the second phase, which is the Luteal Phase (days 14-21), during which oestrogen and testosterone reach peak levels and there is a surge in Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which triggers ovulation. What’s really interesting here is that your sex drive is heightened around this time of the month for obvious reasons, but studies have shown you are also more likely to want to buy new clothes or make-up to make yourself feel more attractive! Because nature wants you to attract a mate to procreate with.

For me, this is where the fun ends in the month because the fourth week of the cycle (days 21-28 or thereabouts) is the pre-menstrual phase and I don’t think there is a woman in the country who hasn’t heard of PMS!

During this week, progesterone rises to its peak level but oestrogen levels drop and it is this imbalance that contributes to the symptoms of PMS.

Women can feel bloated, irritated, your sleep is affected, you may feel extra emotional, irritable or tense during this period. For me, I have many of those symptoms and there isn’t much I can do about it, but it has made a huge difference to me even knowing that I feel the way I feel for a reason. I know to put in the effort to be calmer around the children, I know not to pick ridiculous fights with my husband, I know that when my clothes are a bit tighter around the middle, that it’s just for the week and it’s largely out of my control.

Honestly, I find it all so interesting and it has really helped me take stock of the way I feel or think at different stages in the months.

There are some great apps out there to help you track your cycle and all offer great advice as you move through the month. Try it for a month and see if you notice the changes from week to week — if you don’t, lucky you!

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