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How to look after yourself during your period cycle

Updated: Aug 9, 2020

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So yesterday appeared to be a normal day.

I woke up, I noted getting out of bed that my legs felt slightly heavy – I put that down to the squats from the day before.

I get myself ready and help myself to the toast that I fancy for breakfast -nothing too unusual there but most of the time I have oats.

I head out for a day of work.

Halfway to work it dawns on me that I have forgotten to take a batch-cooked lunch out from the freezer, this isn’t like me; I’m a creature of habit – I usually remember.

At 11 am I started feeling anxious- I put this down to the transference and stress of working with a very poorly client and wanting to help them (I’m not a robot – mental health workers do feel the suffering of others)

By 12.30 I had had a good sob then comfort ate my way through a microwave meal curry.

The afternoon was phone calls and paper work. I find myself darting between tasks and struggling to keep myself organised.

I’m getting more fatigued, I keep reaching for snacks to help power me through.

A few times I can’t remember the word for something and the spell check is going into overdrive with highlighting my errors.

I attribute all of this to the stress of the morning’s work.

6pm I head back to the gym for my own workout, I certainly am far too fatigued for my muscles to respond to my usual lifting so decide to adapt my plan and focus on cardio.

I can’t tell my left from my right, I get in a muddle with my coordination, but I stick it out and my head feels much clearer at the end of the session.

I’m on form for the last session of work for the day and then I head home for my dinner. I have all the ingredients for a veg and tofu stir fry that will take all of 5 minutes to heat up – this seems like effort. I open a bag of Doritos and a pot of hummus and wolf these down.

Unable to concentrate on the TV I head to bed early.

Given the title of the blog you can see where this is heading. Yesterday I didn’t. Yesterday I felt tired and weak and anxious and attributed it to a host of factors apart from MY HORMONES.

green and bubbles to represent hormones

Our endocrine system is the way we make hormones which send chemical messages to our body to regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood. It is a huge part of how our bodies function and how as a species we survive. During a healthy fertile women’s menstruation cycle there is a pattern of hormone changes that happen to protect the body and manage our reproduction.

The follicular phase is the name for the part of the menstruation cycle before the release of the egg. It starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation.

What happens:

Oestrogen and progesterone start low. Prompted by the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland releases follicle stimulating hormone. This hormone stimulates the growth of follicles that create eggs.

How you feel:

  • Testosterone can increase your sexdrive.

  • Oestrogen can change the appearance of your skin but will also activate emotional reward centres in the brain making you feel motivation

  • Oxytocin makes you feel affectionate

  • Serotonin – can make you feel happier

How you act:

  • Testosterone can drive you to take more risks or be more impulsive

  • The other hormones influence you to search out more social connections

  • You can be at your most confident

The Luteal phase

Between ovulation and menstruation, the Luteal phase kicks in. This is the part of the cycle after the egg release.

What happens:

The follicles that have been created in the follicular phase transforms into a structure known as the corpus luteum. This structure starts releasing progesterone, along with small amounts of oestrogen. This combination of hormones maintains the thickened lining of the uterus. Menstruation starts when the level of progesterone that are needed to maintain the thickened lining of the uterus drop.

How you feel

  • During the first half of the phase progesterone is a natural sleep aid and anti-anxiety hormone

  • Serotonin levels drop and during the second half anxiety increases

  • Your body wants to preserve and store energy so Leptin hormone which indicates that you are full decreases as it wants you to eat more.

How you act:

  • Pretty much like me yesterday!

  • Your hormones are instructing you to conserve energy resulting in making you want to EAT ALL THE FOOD and SIT VERY STILL

  • Oestrogen and progesterone are not just sex hormones that influence ovulation and reproduction; they also affect many cognitive functions and mild aphasia (Difficulty finding words)

  • Hormones will affect spacio-visual awareness resulting in clumsiness and difficulty with coordination become exacerbated – your body is prioritising fertility, it has no time to worry about what your arms and legs are doing.

  • And as I’ve discussed before anxiety is a safety mechanism to keep us safe. Increased anxiety levels are intended to reduce our risk taking. We may find ourselves being snappy or short tempered.

  • Fatigue and hormones may influence your food choices which means that you may not be making the most helpful of nutritional decisions.

So, what can you do about it?:

  1. Monitor. I use women’s log so that I can know symptom patterns (yesterday caught me off guard as my cycle was shorter than usual)

  2. Be compassionate to yourself. This is your body doing what it needs to be doing. Maybe lower your expectations as to what you can achieve on any days of the cycle in which you are most impacted. It is not a reflection of you or your abilities.

  3. Remind yourself this will pass – It does!

  4. Continue as much as you can with your wellbeing activities but know these might need to change slightly for a few days.

  5. If you are working out don’t give yourself a hard time at not getting a personal best. There aren’t any exercises to avoid during your period, but at different parts of your cycle you will perform differently.

  6. Ensure you keep hydrated

  7. If you are making unwise food choices, its OK to be unwise, just check in to think about who you can help yourself in future. (I went and did an online shop of snacks that are going to maintain my metabolism’s glucose levels – I am going to snack so let’s not have my snacking plunge my energy levels)

So no matter what you feel about your menstruation cycle or how you feel during it’s cycle: remember that it’s there because our species is amazing but is designed in a weird and wonderful way. You can’t control how our bodies have been designed to work but you can look after yourself and stop giving yourself a hard time for not being at your optimum all the time.

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