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How your menstrual cycle impacts your mental health.

Guest feature

18th April 2021

This guest post has been contributed by Cherrelle Slaney, a woman, mother and menstrual cycle coach. Cherrelle has spent six years living in sync with her menstrual cycle and is passionate about supporting other women to live in harmony with their own cycles. 

It seems like everyone is obsessed with mental health and wellbeing these days. Don’t get me wrong, I think that is brilliant. The more we talk about mental health and mental illness the more we create an open environment for those who are struggling. But, one thing most people don’t realise can have a big impact on your mental wellbeing is the menstrual cycle.

When we think about the menstrual cycle we often think about periods. We feel like they’re a nuisance,  and I’ll bet an image of a rage-filled, premenstrual woman also springs to mind. That week leading up to your period can be tough. You’ve probably picked up on the fact that you feel rubbish, but let’s have a dive into why that might be and what impact your menstrual cycle has on your mental wellbeing as a whole.

For those of us who experience a natural menstrual cycle, the cycle is split up into 4 phases. These are menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. Each of these phases comes with its own set of hormone changes which affect not only your reproductive system, but your moods, feelings, energy levels and a whole load of other stuff too. Getting to know what each of these phases typically looks like can help you to better understand the way you feel on a day-to-day basis.

If you’re someone who uses a hormonal contraceptive you might not get so many ups and downs as someone with a menstrual cycle. This is because the pill essentially turns off your menstrual cycle off. While that might mean you feel less PMS symptoms, it might also mean that you don’t get to experience the highs that come with a natural menstrual cycle. 

You’ve probably noticed that you don’t feel like the same person from one week to the next. How is it you feel really capable and confident one week, but then the next you feel scatterbrained and self-critical? Let me tell you, your hormones have a huge part to play in this.

Your menstrual cycle is essentially about reproduction, but even if you’re not looking to get pregnant right now it’s still worth considering how your menstrual cycle plays out into your life. You go through this constant cycle of up and down every single month. and it’s worth getting to know this cycle to understand how that has an impact on each day. It’s also a really great communication tool. It can let you know what’s working for you right now, what isn’t and what you can be doing to support your body and mind.

 

menstrual cycle graphic by Gemma Correll

 

Let’s start by looking at how you might feel when you’re on your period. Your hormones take an absolute nosedive when you start to bleed. This can have you feeling totally wiped out. When you consider this, it’s no wonder that you might feel like you’ve been hit by a truck on the first 2 days of your period.

I like to think of your period as a time for  rest. Think of it like the night time. At the end of the day you’re tired and so you sleep. If you didn’t sleep through the night time, the following day you would have barely any energy. Your period is similar to this.

If you pay attention you’ll notice that you feel much more tired when you’re bleeding. It’s really easy to ignore this and carry on anyway, but I would suggest it’s not the best option.

If you don’t rest while you bleed, you end up carrying that fatigue through into the rest of your cycle. Just like if you weren’t sleeping at night-time, you would continue to feel tired for the whole rest of the day. Getting some extra rest in when you’re bleeding can set you up for a better menstrual cycle.

It’s really easy to get frustrated and stressed out when you’re bleeding, especially if you try and push through your fatigue. When your body gives you signals that you need to rest – listen to them! Not listening to what your body is crying out for can cause you to feel overwhelmed and and insufficient.

If you’ve taken a couple of days to slow down a little bit during your bleed, you’ll start to notice that your energy increases as each day goes by.  This is because oestrogen starts to rise. Oestrogen is linked with serotonin, the happiness and wellbeing hormone. This means that as oestrogen rises, your serotonin levels do too. As you come out of your period and head towards ovulation you’ll start to notice that your mood and your energy levels increase slightly each day.

The time between the end of your period and ovulation is known as the pre-ovulatory phase. This is a time when you probably feel more carefree, more inquisitive and definitely more energetic than you did during your period. Oestrogen is on the rise until it hits a peak at ovulation.

Once you get to ovulation, your serotonin is at a peak too. This is going to have you feeling super confident, energetic and sociable.You might feel like you want to get out and see friends or work harder than you did during your period. If you don’t understand how your menstrual cycle works, you could easily mistake ovulation for just having a really great day.

During your period, your hormones are an all time low. At pre-ovulation oestrogen begins to rise, hitting a peak at  ovulation. Once ovulation is over, you head into the premenstrual phase. At this point, oestrogen takes a bit of a decline and progesterone takes over.

Since your oestrogen has taken a decline, serotonin will as well. This can lead to you feeling less energetic and having a lower mood than you did throughout ovulation. The premenstrual phase is typical PMS territory. I think we all understand the concept of being “hormonal” before your period, but when you understand what impact your hormones have during this time it’s easier to be a little kinder to yourself.

When you get to the premenstrual phase you might feel tired, more withdrawn and more self critical. Progesterone is a sleep inducing hormone. What’s happening within your body is that your hormones are trying to tell you to slow down. You’re not quite as energetic and productive as you were during ovulation.

I used to suffer really badly with premenstrual stress and anger. I would be really argumentative for no reason. and I would even think to myself mid argument “why am I doing this?” but I wouldn’t feel able to stop. That frustration came from expecting myself to feel exactly the same as I did at ovulation.

For me that tension would rise, gradually getting worse everyday until I started to bleed again. Since I learnt how to live in sync with my cycle my PMS anger is significantly reduced.

This is the thing about the menstrual cycle. You actually have the opportunity to be four different people within a month. You’re still the same person at your core, but you have different strengths and capabilities at each phase. Learning to work and live in sync with your cycle can leave you feeling less stressed and more joyful.

If you want to learn how living in sync with your cycle can lead to a happier, less stressed and more productive life, listen to my podcast – where I teach you how to find your flow to create your own life in sync.

You can also find Cherrelle on Instagram here

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