We often take for granted that our natural cycle is just that: cyclical. But it’s because of your hormone cycle that your emotions, energy levels, and even aptitudes for certain tasks will vary from day to day.
Your body’s cycle mirrors the seasons, except the four seasons of your cycle occur every month as opposed to every year. Just like you wouldn’t expect the weather to be the same in the summer as in the winter, you can’t expect your day-to-day experience to be the same in the correlating phases of your monthly cycle, either. Likewise, to work with your own cycle, activities should reflect where you are in the month. After all, you wouldn’t go skiing in the summer, or swimming in the winter, because the conditions wouldn’t be right, right?
The more you respect and honor the fluctuations of your cycle, the less extreme they’ll be.
There are five major actors in your monthly hormone cycle: follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone—the latter three which determine your mood and energy levels throughout the month.
Every menstruator’s monthly cycle plays out differently according to their unique physiology and hormone levels. What follows is a broad overview of what a reasonably healthy and hormonally balanced person will experience at each stage of the cycle (this does not reflect the experience of someone who is on hormonal birth control).
Winter “Bleeding Phase”
Day 1 of your cycle begins with the first day of menstrual bleeding. A sharp decrease of progesterone at the end of your previous cycle causes the release of your uterine lining.
Length: Your period can last 3-7 days. Ideal length is 4-5 days.
Hormones: Estrogen levels will be at their lowest at the beginning of your period. Progesterone and testosterone will also be low.
- The color of your bleeding should be cranberry red.
- Light cramping, particularly during the first and second day is normal. Debilitating cramps may signal a hormone imbalance or nutritional deficiency.
- Communication between the left and right sides of the brain through the corpus callosum is increased, resulting in heightened intuition.
Mood & Energy: Since your hormones are at their lowest levels, your energy will also be at its lowest. This may correspond with a low mood, particularly if you do not give your body the rest and care it requires. Lack of rest may contribute to “short fuse syndrome” or excessive weepiness.
Strengths: Intuition and introspection.
This is a good time for assessing the impact of work projects, etc., setting plans and intentions for the coming month, and goal setting.
Action Items: Build in time for rest, clear your calendar of big social events, spend time taking care of yourself, and reflect on the previous month.
Exercise: Avoid strenuous exercise. Walking, light yoga and stretching are recommended.
Spring “Follicular Phase”
During the latter part of your period, your pituitary gland registers low estrogen and releases follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which starts to mature one of the egg follicles on your ovary. This in turn signals to your ovaries that it’s time to start producing estrogen.
Length: This phase varies in length—11 days is ideal for optimal fertility.
Hormones: Both estrogen and testosterone remain low in the beginning and increase throughout the follicular phase.
- You may notice a decrease in your appetite.
- This should be a pretty happy, symptom-free week and a half.
Mood & Energy: As both estrogen and testosterone increase, your mood and energy levels increase as well. As estrogen increases, testosterone production will increase and stimulate libido. Estrogen will increase your sociability.
Strengths: Brain-storming, problem-solving and as estrogen levels increase, networking.
Action Items: This is a good time for collaborative work meetings and social events.
Exercise: As estrogen and testosterone levels increase, you may increase the intensity of your exercise. You may want to incorporate weight training and moderate cardio.
Summer “Ovulatory Phase”
Higher estrogen levels will cause a surge of luteinizing hormone (LH), which will cause a mature follicle (egg) to be released from your ovary.
Length: This phase is about three days in length and is your “fertile window.”
- LH will also further increase testosterone production, boosting confidence and enhancing your sex drive.
- Confidence and heightened energy from follicular phase peaks.
- Your cheeks may have a natural flush.
- Your voice will raise in pitch (sometimes as much as an octave).
Mood & Energy: Your mood and energy should be at its highest during this time of your cycle. You’ll be magnetic, confident and more social than other times of the month.
For some, the increase in estrogen may contribute to anxiety, but this should be fleeting. Persistent anxiety may indicate an excess of estrogen.
Strengths: Confidence, networking, and flirting. (And orgasms!)
Action Items: Schedule a first date with someone new or super sexy date night with your partner. Ask for a raise. Schedule any public speaking. This is the time you will excel at anything where you want to feel confident and well-spoken.
If you tend to feel a bit anxious at this time of the month, be sure to incorporate grounding practices to counteract.
Exercise: Your body will enjoy strenuous exercise during this time. This is an ideal time for high-intensity or aerobic exercises.
Fall “Luteal Phase” — I
The now empty follicle on your ovary starts producing progesterone in order to grow your uterine lining. This causes estrogen levels to start dropping. Testosterone will decline too.
Length: 12-16 days. 14 days ideal for fertility.
Hormones: Your estrogen levels will drop off as your progesterone levels increase. Testosterone will also decrease as well.
- Progesterone is a heat producing hormone—your basal body temperature will increase.
- As progesterone continues to increase, you may begin to feel calmer (progesterone is the anti-anxiety hormone).
- Brain will begin to prioritize attention to detail.
- Your appetite may increase.
Mood & Energy: High energy from follicular/ovulatory phases will carry over into the beginning of the luteal phase, after which you may start to feel calmer, quieter, and more inclined to introspection than sociability.
Strengths: Attention to detail.
Action Items: This is a good time to start wrapping up projects and putting on finishing touches. You may want to lighten your social and work calendar a bit.
Exercise: Begin to lighten intensity of exercise.
Fall “Luteal Phase” — II
This is a continuation of Luteal Phase I and part of the ideally 14-day long “Fall” of your cycle. This is the phase in which PMS/PMDD symptoms may rear their ugly heads, hence the differentiation from Luteal Phase I.
- Estrogen drop during this period will decrease the amount of serotonin in your system (this sometimes can result in things like sugar cravings).
- Tendency towards nesting and organizing activities.
- You may experience breast tenderness or swelling. Intense soreness, especially over the nipples, may indicate estrogen dominance (a common hormonal imbalance).
- High levels of the pregnancy hormone progesterone may contribute to weepiness or “extra” emotionality.
Strengths: Nesting, organizing.
Action Items: Practice self-care, eat comforting, nourishing foods and do anything that feels grounding.
Exercise: Intensity of exercise should decrease dramatically compared to the Ovulatory Phase.
By aligning your lifestyle and activities with the phases of your monthly cycle, and honoring fluctuating energy levels, you will help to regulate your cycle, reduce feelings of exhaustion and burnout, and boost productivity!
Give living cyclically a try and let us know how it goes in the comments below.
photo credits: Aaron Burdon, Alexandru Tudorache, Corey Agopian, Andrew Preble.
Kara Ferreira is a fertility health expert who works with women to troubleshoot their monthly cycles and digestion so that they can feel their best and be their best selves. Read her full bio here.