Living Your Best Life: Leveraging The Female Hormone Cycle
The modern woman’s life is one full of busy days and endless goals in sight. However, what she fails to realize is that by neglecting her own natural chemistry, she is actively working against the powerful advantages she withholds. If she were able to understand the bountiful rewards of her own female hormone cycle, she might be able to achieve even more than she already has, at marginally lower stress rates. Here is how you, the modern woman, can use your hormone cycle to your advantage.
Understanding Your Cycle
Most everyone has heard of the menstrual cycle, but what does that actually entail? As a woman, we follow both a circadian, as well as an infradian rhythm, while men follow only the circadian. This is because their hormones fluctuate predictably along a 24-hour cycle called a circadian rhythm. Women, conversely, follow a larger 28-day infradian cycle in addition to the same circadian cycle. This 4-stage infradian cycle is what we more affectionately call the menstrual cycle.
The Four Stages of The Female Hormone Cycle
Although we call it the “menstrual cycle”, menstruation is only one of the four hormone stages. The menstrual stage is stage one. In these first 3-7 days, women of reproductive age undergo their monthly bleeding. However, women outside this life stage likewise experience a decline of the progesterone hormone responsible for the uterine lining shed. As progesterone drops, so does energy. Therefore, menstruation is the lowest energy stage of the female hormone cycle.
After menstruation, the follicular stage takes force. Energy is likely to rise throughout these 11-17 days as estrogen and testosterone peak. The subsequent boost in energy is sure to raise your mood and sex drive and may suppress your appetite. These effects last until the follicular phase gives way to the following ovulatory phase.
The well-known ovulation stage is a period of time wherein the follicle of the ovary releases an egg. The egg itself survives for about 12-24 hours, making ovulation the shortest cycle stage. Estrogen and testosterone hit their highest levels, making ovulation a stage characterized by confidence and a high sex drive.
The last week or so of your cycle is the luteal phase. At the start, feelings are very similar to those of the ovulation phase, yet slowly morph into a lessened state of estrogen and testosterone. As these hormones fall, progesterone, an anti-anxiety hormone, rises and creates a sense of slow living. Meant to provide a natural nesting instinct, this week is one designed for relaxation and self-care.
How to Optimize Each Stage of The Hormone Cycle
The Red Week of Menstruation
Menstruation is a taxing time physically, so with that in mind, adjusting your life to optimize comfort is key. In action, this means pursuing low-impact exercise and high-impact self-soothing. This could be a great time to bring out a journal and reflect on the past month. Use menstruation as your personal alarm for a monthly reset. Certain low-impact exercises like walking and yoga can serve as added times for reflection and connection to your physical self.
In terms of diet, food is your tool. A natural dip in serotonin can be mitigated with nutritious serotonin-producing foods such as quinoa and buckwheat. Prioritizing magnesium to combat fatigue is another necessity, so break out the spinach and dark chocolate. In terms of sensation, warm and comforting foods can soothe you from the inside out, be it soups, cooked veggies, or rich starches. Try to avoid taxing business and personal ventures if possible, and focus on comforting the natural discomforts you’re likely to endure. Instead of fearing this dreaded week, look forward to its homely nature.
Ramping Things Up in the Follicular
The follicular phase is your natural planning period. In every aspect of life, this is the time to begin anew. A boost in energy means even more power to take charge of your work life and flourish in social settings. Sign yourself up for the confidence-requiring tasks you may have retracted from during menstruation and enjoy the ease you feel in them now.
Your diet should adjust now too. To accommodate for the fluctuation of hormones in a way that makes life feel more like a stable ride than a bumpy one, now is the time to consider estrogen production. Foods like nuts, eggs, avocado, and fish are known for more quickly metabolizing estrogen and can stabilize its perceived effects in rising. After taking in some seriously nutrient-dense foods and absolutely nailing your latest meeting, head to the gym and max out on your favorite HIIT circuit. High-intensity training is a natural fit for this phase and can be a real addition to the already high confidence at hand.
Getting Social During Ovulation
All of the hormonal changes during ovulation are meant to foster an intrinsically social time. Besides the obvious attention on a special date night or significant other in general, ovulation is your individually perfect time for interviews and first impressions. Similarly to your follicular self, your ovulatory body is reaching its peak energy. Peak energy output also means peak energy input.
A rise in progesterone will likely increase hunger and call for an added snack or two throughout the day. This is a good thing, and it’s an opportunity for you to intake some added B6 and B12 with foods like seafood, beef, dairy, chickpeas, and oranges. Continue using your energy for great, but beware of possible dips during this time, as some do experience cramps and/or fatigue on their specific ovulation day.
Love Winding Down When You Are Luteal
Leading to the start of menstruation, your luteal phase is a time to wind back down. This is a natural time of anxiety and moodiness, but this is not a problem for our hormone cycle experts. They know to focus on self-care and focus on empowering the most important part of their life: themselves. Go get a massage and take a bath, but make sure to do so slowly. Your body will ask you to slow down, and it’s important to appease it.
For those who suffer from PMS or headaches, magnesium supplements may help in muting some of the uncomfortable symptoms. Avoid any emotionally serious situations or physically taxing activities. Continue focusing on high-density nutrient foods to curb some of your carbohydrate-heavy cravings. These foods may boost serotonin, but in excess, they can exacerbate the already harsh conditions your body is harboring. Prioritize high-protein foods for long-lasting fullness and easy digestion.
Lastly, congratulate yourself on making it through four special stages of the female hormone cycle and prepare to optimize them even further as your next cycle starts!
Words by Emma Kelly
Feature Image: Photo by Alice Pollet