Self-Care That Matches Your Menstrual Cycle
When you align self-care with where you are in your menstrual cycle, everything will feel much easier.
Your menstrual cycle can be a blessing or a curse. It might be a blessing when you get your period and you were afraid you might be pregnant. But severe cramps, bloating, and backaches can make it a curse. Tracking your periods can be a blessing that allows you to know when you ovulate so you can try to get pregnant when you’re ready.
If you pay enough attention to your cycle, you begin to notice many things. For example, your energy levels change throughout the month, rising and falling with the increase and decrease in estrogen and progesterone. You can realize certain times of the month are more conducive to work that requires mental focus, and some are better suited to having emotional discussions. You can even begin to track when PMS symptoms begin, making you aware that when a particular symptom arrives, your period is only hours or days away.
Aligning your self-care with the phases of your menstrual cycle can ease unpleasant symptoms, boost self-care benefits, and just make you feel better in general. But how do you do that?
It’s not as hard as you think.
What it is: This is (mostly) after your period, when your body is preparing for eventual ovulation
How long it lasts: 7–10 days
During this phase, as your body prepares for upcoming ovulation, estrogen levels are rising. This increases your energy levels. Both physically and emotionally, you’ll have plenty of energy and feel up to pretty much anything.
For most otherwise-healthy women, you won’t be experiencing any PMS or other unpleasant effects. You’ll feel good, healthy, active, outgoing and confident. Your brain will feel optimized for learning new things quickly, and you’ll have lots of creative energy as well as physical and emotional energy.
Self-care during this phase should be rejuvenating and active. This isn’t the time for bubble baths and cozy reading with tea. This is the time for getting up and getting out there.
Engage in activities like:
· Working out (this is the ideal time for harder, longer workouts)
· Going out with friends
· Exploring active hobbies like hiking, beachcombing, going to museums, etc.
· Healthcare appointments
· Engaging in creative outlets like painting, sculpting, writing, or taking online classes
What it is: Ovulation, aka the egg drop
How long it lasts: 3–4 days
During this phase, your hormone levels change, triggering your ovary to release an egg for fertilization. Estrogen levels are still rising. Some women experience some cramping when the egg is released. There’s usually a slight increase in body temperature, and some other signs you can look for to know when you’re in this phase.
Because estrogen levels are still rising, you’ll still have lots of energy. In fact, you may notice you have more energy than during the follicular phase. Many women also notice an increased libido during this phase, which makes sense.
Self-care during this phase is all about play, pleasure, and connection. It should be adventurous, tapping into an inclination for variety. Pretty much any self-care you engage in during this period will feel easy.
Engage in activities like:
· Adventure activities, such as rock climbing or skydiving
· Working out (still a great time for longer, harder workouts)
· Lots of safe sex (unless you are trying to get pregnant; then skip the safe part)
· Fun activities like seeing live music, plays, or color runs
· Girls’ night out
· Girls’ weekend away at the beach or a resort
What it is: This is the time after you ovulate but before your period begins
How long it lasts: 10–14 days
The luteal phase is that window after you ovulate but before your period starts. It can sometimes feel like a waiting period, a window of time during which you feel like Schrödinger’s cat. You might or might not be pregnant, and it’s too soon to test.
Initially, progesterone rises to keep the uterine lining intact while waiting to see if fertilization occurred. Estrogen levels are also still rising. If fertilization doesn’t occur, though, progesterone levels will drop. It will continue to drop until it stops completely, at which point your period begins.
As progesterone levels begin to fall, your energy levels will naturally decline with it. You’ll start to feel less energetic, more tired and more inclined to turn to more low-energy and relaxing activities while also still wanting to remain somewhat active. You may start noticing PMS symptoms such as cramping, bloating, headaches, irritability, etc.
Self-care during this period should be more low-energy and mildly active. Aligning self-care with your menstrual cycle means listening to what your body needs and then giving that to your body. So don’t beat yourself up for anything you feel the urge to do during this, or any other phase, of your cycle.
Engage in activities like:
· Taking a bubble bath
· Spending less time on your workout and working out less intensely
· Snuggle up with a good book
· Set up a one-on-one date with a good friend to have coffee or a couple of drinks
· Eat nourishing foods that ease PMS symptoms
· Practice yoga
What it is: Your period
How long it lasts: 3–7 days
The first thing to know about this phase is it’s not actually a phase of its own. It’s actually the beginning of the follicular phase, beginning with the first day of your period. But the way you feel on your period and the way you feel during the rest of the follicular phase are often dramatically different, which is why we’re giving it its own phase.
This phase is the one that we most commonly think of when we think of our menstrual cycle. This is when your progesterone levels have dropped to the stopping point and triggered your period. You are now on your period.
PMS symptoms you might have begun to feel a few days before may be more obvious and, in some cases, painful now. Your energy is probably at its lowest point in your cycle. Many women find, even if they have no other PMS symptoms, that this is the point in their cycle, where they most want to hibernate. Sleeping, staying home and resting are all common desires during this phase.
The loss of blood, for women with heavy periods, can lead to anemia, worsening this exhaustion and desire to do nothing but rest.
Self-care during this phase should be easy and geared more toward comforting. It should be about nurturing and even pampering yourself — without a whole lot of effort.
Engage in activities like:
· Before this week arrives, make sure you don’t overschedule it
· Cancel anything that you really don’t feel up to doing (including workouts)
· Get more sleep
· Drink plenty of water and eat foods that are rich in iron and zinc
· Wear comfortable clothing that isn’t restrictive
· Arrange to work from home, if possible
The key to all this is YOU
Each of us is unique, as is our cycle. While what I’ve outlined above is what’s typical, we all have our own variations. Your period might be shorter than three days or longer than seven. You might not ovulate every month if you only have one working ovary. Maybe you don’t have PMS symptoms at all (in which case, lots of us are jealous of you!).
The key to aligning your self-care with your menstrual cycle is listening to your body. Pay attention to your energy levels, what feels good to you, and what you want to do.
If being more active during your period is what feels good to you, you should do that. If you’re inclined to do something more restful during what’s suggested to be an active phase of your cycle, go for it.
Remember that aligning your self-care with your cycle is not judging what you want or feel, either. Let it be what it is. Enjoy it, embrace it, and flow with it.
Once you start paying more attention and aligning your self-care with the phases of your cycle, you’ll not only notice that you’re much more aware of where you are in your cycle, but that your self-care is much more effective.
And isn’t that pretty much the whole point of self-care — for it to actually work?