When was your last period? Do you know? Have you ever tracked your menstrual cycle? Have you ever wondered why some months it’s like a crime scene and others it’s just funny brown sludge (Or is that just me!) I called in the experts to find out what benefits there are to tracking your cycle.
Women’s therapist, menstrual cycle & menopause educator Susanna Guest, (50) has helped hundreds of clients to live a life more in tune with their natural cycle through a combination of coaching, retreats and workshops. Now, she has collaborated with her friend and client, Liz Berwick (41) to create The Wild Wisdom Journal and raise awareness of emotions, creativity and energy throughout the menstrual cycle, menopause, seasons and lunar phases.
It is beautiful. The illustrations are stunning and it’s a very gorgeous journal to read through. It has been designed to be a space to gather your insights whilst keeping an eye on the phases of the moon. This journal is for anyone who wants to track their cyclical ways. If you menstruate, you can chart your moods and tendencies according to your cycle. If you no longer menstruate, have very long cycles, or do not have a womb, then you can use the moon cycle as your guide. What a fantastic gift for Christmas huh?
I’ve always tracked my cycle since coming off birth control five years ago and was hugely intrigued to see how my cycle was synced to the moon phases and, blow me down, it was spot on. I’ve realised that’s where the discrepancies have been. The odd month where things weren’t quite right, they actually coincided with a full moon. Absolute game changer for me to monitor my feelings and hormonal well-being. Especially in the run up to the big M!
So what’s the deal with menstrual cycles? I reached out to my friend and soul sista, Katherine Crawley who runs the AllWoman mentorship program.
Internal feminine compasses
‘As women in our 40s, we are the daughters of a career and success-orientated society. We were raised to believe that happiness means adopting a persona of charismatic success, that we must seamlessly integrate motherhood and work all while flitting from one social gathering to another.
Not an easy persona to uphold is it?
And when the cracks start to show – usually around 40 – sometimes through mental breakdowns, but equally simply via an overwhelm of stress and anxiety, aches and pains, illnesses and even serious disease, the question is, where do we turn?
Well it all starts here, with our menstrual cycles. Our cycles are like our internal feminine compasses. They are the foundations of who we are, as women. They enable us to really know ourselves.
We are nature
Tracking our menstrual cycles and reconnecting to the natural cycles of our bodies is deeply healing. It centres us, it grounds us. We remember that we are not separate from nature, but that we are nature. As we know our own cycles, we have a deeper understanding of the Earth’s cycles; our seasons mirror Her seasons; our moon mirrors Her Moon.
This process of ‘remembering’ gives us a newfound sense of wholeness. We reconnect to our intuitive wisdom and from a place deep in our wombs, we feel the power of our Womanhood rising.
So are our 40s going to see us continue to dogmatically search for internal fulfilment outside of ourselves? Or are we going to realise that our real embodied health and empowerment comes from taking time to understand who we truly are, as women? If we have the wisdom and courage to follow the latter, then cultivating an intimate and loving relationship with our menstrual cycles is the way in.’
Why can tracking our menstrual cycle be beneficial?
Cosmetic doctor and intimate health expert, Dr Shirin Lakhani says:
‘The menstrual cycle is a complex journey of the hormones. Estrogen levels rise and fall twice during the menstrual cycle. Estrogen levels rise during the mid-follicular phase and then drop precipitously after ovulation. This is followed by a secondary rise in estrogen levels during the mid-luteal phase with a decrease at the end of the menstrual cycle. But technically there is no stage during the cycle when the hormone levels aren’t surging or plunging in some way; In the first week estrogen starts out low and begins to rise, with it you become more optimistic and positive, in the second week estrogen and testosterone rise until they peak – making you braver and ready for a challenge, the third week is more complex because for the first half the progesterone rises while the estrogen and testosterone drop – this is when you experience a mood drop, but by the second half of the week estrogen rises again putting a stop to the PMS symptoms. The fourth and final week of the cycle sees the estrogen and progesterone plunge, dragging your mood down with it.
Tracking your menstrual cycle in the 20s and 30s is common because it’s often used as a way to either get pregnant or to avoid pregnancy. Traditionally tracking menstrual cycle in the 40s probably isn’t as common, however it can be beneficial for a number of reasons and is certainly becoming more popular as a result.
It can help to prepare and plan for when mood changes are likely to occur and spot patterns in this. It can also be helpful for exercise. For example the follicular phase change in hormone levels that often results in a boost of energy and can see mood improve. Some people find strength training more effective at this time of the month.
Tracking the menstrual cycle in the 40s is also an effective way of identifying changes in cycle lengths and regularity which may be indicators of the peri-menopause.’
Indicators for the Peri-menopause
At 41 I’ve already started to notice some slight irregularities thanks to tracking that may well be indicators for the peri-menopause. Dr Ghazala Aziz-Scott, specialist in integrative women’s health and bioidentical hormone balancing for the Marion Gluck Clinic highlights why this might be:
‘In our 40s, most women are going through the perimenopause, a period of several years leading up to the actual menopause (classified as an absence of periods for 12 months) and during this transition, women can experience a myriad of symptoms of hormonal imbalance. The perimenopause often results in anovulatory cycles, where the monthly egg is not released from the ovary and this results in a decrease in the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is our natural calming hormone, hence the happy mood of pregnancy where it is elevated, and leads to insomnia and heightened anxiety. Tracking your menstrual cycle will help you assess if your cycle pattern has changed and understand any symptoms you may be experiencing. There are many apps that can assist with this and in our busy lives, it is easy to lose track.
It is a time in life filled with other responsibilities, juggling careers and domestic life so insomnia and anxiety can often be attributed to life stressors when it is in fact hormonal imbalance. Other symptoms of the perimenopause include hot flushes, brain fog, memory changes and very heavy periods. The hormone estrogen can often be higher in perimenopause causing symptoms of estrogen dominance such as weight gain, migraines and breast tenderness.
If you notice any changes, seek appropriate medical advice as assessment- testing can be done and you can get the support you need. Too many women are put on conventional HRT which has both estrogen and progesterone and can therefore feel worse as it is only the progesterone they need. Progesterone support in perimenopause can make a great difference to quality of life through this change.
Don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruit, minimise stress, take regular exercise and get a good 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep – lifestyle also influences our hormone balance.’
Do you track your cycles? Let us know what you do by commenting below. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram here