Last updated: 17 October 2019
Did you know that a woman’s productivity, creativity and energy dramatically fluctuates due to their menstrual cycle?
This is not a myth… but actual biology (keep reading to discover the cool science behind this).
But in short, there are numerous hormones that fluctuate to create the optimal conditions for pregnancy. And if a woman doesn’t fall pregnant during the month, she will then bleed for up to a week before the body starts this process all over again.
This typically goes on from early teenage years, and can continue until a woman is well into her 50’s…
… Every. Single. Month. Talk about a well-oiled machine!
Given the “engineering” at play here, you can understand why a woman might be experiencing extreme fatigue, brain fog or be in pain for a few days each month.
Makes sense, right?
Sadly, however, menstruation is still often viewed as being taboo or “dirty.” Something women should feel ashamed off. Something they should conceal – despite it being a big part of a woman’s life.
Yep… even still, the stigma surrounding the female menstrual cycle is deeply ingrained in our culture & society.
Just the other day, a male colleague said with pity in his voice, “I’m sorry,” when I casually mentioned my period was coming – as if it was a problem. I replied saying, “Why are you sorry? I actually look forward to it.” (No I’m not joking!… keep reading and you’ll understand!)
But his reaction is not unusual, and it’s how so many of us have been unconsciously trained – to react to it as if it’s a problem.
Often either by feeling ashamed, or doubling down and attempting to power through cramping so bad we need to take painkillers so we can carry on as “normal” (rather than being curled up in the fetal position on the office floor).
This is an example of the archaic way of thinking we still collectively perpetuate that we need to let fall into the past, where it belongs. A remnant of when we were not agents of our lives, (akin to that of not being allowed to vote, drive or own property).
But the fact remains… menstruation is a very normal part of life and it does affect a woman’s body considerably throughout the month… and in quite profound ways.
In fact, did you know that there a certain times during a woman’s menstrual cycle where she is primed for peak performance and productivity?
And that some of the more progressive workplaces and industries around the world are starting to leverage the natural ebb & flow of a woman’s energy?
One recent example of this is actually in the sports world! According to the US women’s soccer team who won the World Cup earlier this year, their success can partly be attributed to the fact that they tracked their menstrual cycles so they could structure their training and diet accordingly.
Talk about a clever training “tactic”, eh?
Thankfully, smart, future-oriented businesses and leaders are also taking note and pioneering a new way…
- Highly-reputable companies such as Forbes & Financial Times, Psychology Today have published articles on this topic
- There are many apps that have been created that support tracking a woman’s cycle, not only to track menstruation & fertility, but apps like Clue also help track over 30 other things like energy levels, mood, appetite etc to help you really hone in on your own unique cycle
- Some countries & companies are even giving time off for women requesting it during their menstruation
But, much more education is needed. In the highly male-dominated business world, the understanding or knowledge simply isn’t there – and it’s not just in the business world.
In this article, I hope to help pave the way for a more educated, harmonious & aware future.
A couple important notes to keep in the back of your mind while reading this article:
- For brevity’s sake, this article focuses on biological women who have a regular menstrual cycle, are not affected by birth control, not in menopause and have not had a hysterectomy. I know that each woman has her own unique experience of womanhood – no two of us are the same.
Ultimately, regardless of your unique circumstances, you can still pay attention to and track your own fluctuations. Your body provides all the information you need, to feel into what works best for you and your life circumstances. As you pay more attention to how you feel in your body, you will become more attuned to your distinct fluctuations (here, embodiment practices are highly recommended!).
- Within this article, the overview of hormones and how they affect a woman’s body is very basic. It’s presented in a way to simply give you an idea of what’s going on physiologically so you can flow more naturally with them instead of fighting against them.
There are many more hormones produced by the body, and many things that can interfere with how they best operate.
This can include: diet, environment, toxins, stress, activity-levels, medications etc. If you desire to learn more in detail about hormones and your own body, I highly encourage seeing a hormone specialist, and doing some of your own research!
So… before I go into how to productively harness your menstrual cycle, I’ll do a quick overview of the phases of the female cycle, just so you have a basic foundation to start with.
A woman’s menstrual cycle is approximately 28 days long, as you likely already know. During the 28 days, the cycle has 4 main phases;
 menstruation (bleeding)
 the follicular phase (preparation for potential pregnancy)
 ovulation (peak fertility)
 the luteal phase (shedding of the uterus-lining)
I’m going to start with what’s commonly known as Phase 2, as it’s the one many of us want to relate to more-often-than-not.
Menstrual Cycle Phase 2: The Follicular Phase
Phase 2 is the follicular phase, which occurs as your menstruation phase is winding down.
Physically speaking, as your menstruation completes, your uterus begins preparing once again for a potential pregnancy.
Hormonally your estrogen and testosterone steadily increase during this phase, giving you a massive boost in energy leading toward ovulation, when these two hormones peak.
During this phase you have higher energy levels, are more extroverted and sociable, and even have a higher pain threshold.
In some more esoteric schools of thought, this phase is likened to that of Spring time – new beginnings, renewal, starting fresh. The archetype that could be embodied during this time to really embrace your natural energy is the Goddess – the woman who is fresh-faced, strong, ready to face anything that comes her way head-on.*
This is an excellent time to start new projects or get a lot of progress made on an ongoing project. It’s also a great time to harness your heightened energy to get more organized.
And, with the increase in pain tolerance, it can be a great time to push a little harder in your exercise routine – because your health is your primary asset!
Some areas to take action on in your life during this time could be:
- Are there any old projects you’ve been putting off that you could finish?
- Are there any new projects you could get started on?
- Are there any areas of your life that need organizing or re-oganizing (especially good after the previous week’s internal reflection on what’s not working!)
- Can you push a little harder in your workouts?
Menstrual Cycle Phase 3: Ovulation
The third phase is ovulation – physiologically this is the time, approximately mid-cycle, where an egg is released in hopes of being fertilized. This phase is like the peak of the last two weeks/phases.
Estrogen & testosterone peak around ovulation, which biologically speaking causes you to be more open to mating. However, shortly after, both hormones begin to decrease and progesterone slowly increases.
These shifts in hormone levels can briefly have you feeling a little sensitive and mildly fatigued – these are subtle, but the more tuned in you get, the more you’ll notice it. However, after a few days, estrogen rises a little again, providing you with a little boost in energy once more.
This phase can be thought of like the summer season, or the Mother archetype – you are ripe, at your peak, with full of confidence and agency over your own life. Just as ovulation is the culmination of your cycle, summer is the culmination of the seasons – you are fully blossomed, and expressive at this time.
As well, during ovulation, physiologically your body becomes subtly more attractive, and you can feel more attractive within yourself.
Your voice can become smoother, your features become subtly more noticeable – such as brighter eyes, fuller lips. And your body even produce a different scent! All of these things other people pick up on, unconsciously, that is – so why not use it to your productive advantage?
Taking advantage of this more expressive phase, this is a great time to ask for something you want (like that raise you’ve more than earned!).
Or it could be a great time to have that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding – perhaps with your boss, colleague or partner.
Because of the naturally outward energy you may be feeling, it’s a great time to hold staff meetings, host a work retreat or do some serious networking.
A few things to take action or plan for this time:
- Having that conversation you’ve been putting off
- Holding/leading any important staff meetings
- Asking for that long overdue raise, or feeling into raising your rates (Making sure you’re not selling yourself short!)
- Expressing & exhibiting any new creations you’ve been working on
- Taking time to bask in your wins, however small or large.
Menstrual Cycle Phase 4: The Luteal Phase
This phase is called the luteal phase. Physiologically, if you have not become pregnant, your uterus begins preparing to shed its lining (menstruation, back to phase 1).
Toward the end of this phase (week 4) is when many women and modern culture refer to getting PMS or PMDD.
It is here where your estrogen dips to an all-time low, and progesterone has dropped as well – leaving you with the least amount of energy of the cycle. You often feel much more sensitive and perhaps even more emotional. You may feel much more sluggish and fatigued… have more brain-fog, and have a harder time focusing on tasks.
Physically many women also get more bloated (water retention) and have more intense food cravings – this is due to the fluctuations in your hormones and is totally natural!
This phase can be likened to the Autumn season, or even the “Wild Woman” archetype. Just like in fall with the leaves slowly turning brilliant colors and falling, and the critters fattening up on the abundance of harvest time, preparing for winter… your body is doing the same.
If you are in tune with your natural rhythm, you often find this is a time for winding down. If you’re not honoring your cycle, and you allow excess demands be placed on you, such as at work, at home or socially, you might become agitated, irritable and may even snap at people you care about.
Your sensitivity becomes intensified – physically, you become less tolerant to pain, but also emotionally and intuitively.
Some women actually look forward to this time because they can often harness their natural intuition and gut instincts to a greater degree than at other times of the cycle. Combining this innate information with the intellectual knowledge you gain can pair into quite the power-combo!
This is one aspect of your cycle where modern culture and way of believing – a zeitgeist of our time – has done women (and those who love and live with women!) a HUGE disservice.
A completely natural part of your cycle has been labeled as a syndrome or even a disorder, when in fact, in many cases it’s the societal dialogue around it that causes the disorder… not your body.
But many women have found that when they honor and harness this time as the sensitive, intuitive, moving inward time that it is, their ‘PMS’ or ‘PMDD’ lessens significantly, if not altogether disappears.
When you realize that it’s natural during this time for you to possibly feel more bloated, hungrier, more tired, less ‘productive’, more sensitive – you can stop the narrative (internally and externally) that something is ‘wrong’ with you, or that you need to be different or change or force your way with more coffee or a harder attitude.
When you tune into your natural rhythm, you can take this time to unwind, slow down a little. To illustrate the importance of honoring this phase in a more obvious way – take your regular 24-hour day, for example.
You rise in the morning (phase 2), you move through your day, accomplishing all sorts of amazing things (phase 3), and then you unwind in the evening (phase 3) before you take your nightly rest (phase 1).
Taking advantage of this more inward energy, this is a great time to:
- Use your heightened intuition/instincts in combo with your intellect to create something
- Take extra time for self-care, nurturing
- Lighten your workload – delegate
- Go on slow, long walks instead of pushing through a hard workout
- Schedule less meetings
And last, but absolutely not least, you will complete the cycle, coming to phase 1, highlighting the importance of this natural resting, hibernation or winter phase.
Menstrual Cycle Phase 1: Menstruation
With phase 1, menstruation, comes your monthly bleed. On a physical level, your uterus is shedding its lining after having prepared for a pregnancy that did not come to fruition.
On day 1, your hormones are at their lowest of the cycle. You tend to have the least amount of energy, focus and even patience if you have a very busy calendar.
However, some hormones start slowly increasing within just a few hours after your period starts – estrogen in particular. This slow, steady increase of estrogen ramps up toward phase 2.
This first phase (sometimes referred to as ‘moontime’), is associated with the winter season (think hibernation, rest, renewal, rejuvenation, conserving ones energy for the season to come). The archetypal energy embodied by many women who harness their cycles during this time is of the Wise Woman, or the Visionary.
During the beginning of this first phase, because many women find their energy levels to be at the lowest of the month, those who harness the natural fluctuations of their cycles will take this time to rest. It can be an excellent time to not make any plans with people, to cut back on work and home obligations – to take some extra time and space for some self-care, slowing down and self-nurturing.
Many women find this time to be an excellent time to take their attention inward. Those with regular meditation practices will often have clearer dreams & visions of what they wish to accomplish in life and stronger instincts and intuition.
This can be a perfect time to take a break from seeing so many clients or doing so much consulting, and check back in with yourself and take a personal inventory – are you staying on course with your goals and visions? What’s working in your life? What could use some adjustment?
To go along with our 24-hour metaphor example, this is the phase for rest. Your body needs daily rest – you do not function well without it. And if you’ve rested well, you wake up feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to conquer another glorious day – the same goes for this phase of your cycle.
This is a great time to:
- Rest more!
- Be honest with yourself
- Review & reflect on areas you’re losing time/energy, and cut it out
- Let go of what’s not working
- Reevaluate how you can have something work better
- Then formulate a fresh plan of action for the month to come
So… Where To Start?
For so long, the modern working world has had such a strong and deeply ingrained emphasis on the 24-hour cycle we all live by, that it has come at the detriment of the 28-day cycle women also live by.
We have forgotten how to truly relax and take time to rejuvenate. We don’t get enough sleep. We don’t reserve enough down-time. We choose exhaustive productivity toward that next promotion instead of delighting in a time that should be joyously celebrated.
If all of this feels overwhelming – I get it! But don’t stress. If this is new for you, start with just one thing to track for the first month, like your energy fluctuations.
Or make an appointment to see a hormone specialist. Or notice when in the month your intuition/gut instincts is really on fire.
And next month, pick one more thing. Over time, before you know it, you’ll be much more tuned into your own body and be able to make tiny tweaks in your life to better harness the ebb and flow of your natural monthly cycle.
*When I speak of archetypes, some people may think of this in a more esoteric or magical sense, or my fellow Jungian-philes may think in psychological terms. But in a more grounded, tangible sense, think of embodying a type of person (a wise woman, a goddess, a nurturing mother etc) and imagine what it would be like to be her – similar to that of Amy Cuddy’s amazing work on how your body posture can affect how you feel about yourself, and how others perceive you!
About The Author:
Megan Hart is an Embodiment Coach, specializing in guiding women and men to tune into their own innate body wisdom, truth and joy.