Cycle Syncing: Increasing Emotional Well Being During Your Menstrual Cycle

In school, we are taught what a period is. For many people, the education on the menstrual cycle stopped there. This education gap has caused not only an information deficiency for those who menstruate, it has also perpetuated a stigma that women are “just overly emotional” during certain points in their cycle. This has left many frustrated and confused about mental and physical shifts that occur throughout the month. Educating yourself about the four phases of the menstrual cycle and how to best sync up to these phases can empower you to feel more in control over the natural ebbs and flows that are experienced within the body. The idea of cycle syncing is a way to work with the flows of your body instead of against them.

Day One of the menstrual cycle begins the menstrual phase. The menstrual phase typically lasts around seven days and is characterized by lower estrogen levels and the shedding of the uterine lining which causes bleeding and loss of nutrients. The menstrual phase can be accompanied by lower energy levels and irritability which may mean this is a great time to prioritize rest and relaxation. You may want to avoid planning big social outings or engaging in activities that require high energy. It is also common for menstruating people to experience increased feelings of sadness and depression during their menstrual phase. Leaning into activities that create the opposite emotion, such as watching a funny TV show or engaging in a self compassion guided meditation, can help provide relief from these sometimes overwhelming emotions. This presence of strong emotions, along with increased risk of impairment in emotional processing (Handy, et al., 2022), means it is likely best to delay any serious discussions with your partner due to increased likelihood of interpersonal conflict during this time (Handy, et al., 2022). Instead, get introspective and try journaling how you are feeling so you can address any important issues later on. A final important cognitive characteristic of this phase is increased impulsivity, which means it may be beneficial to avoid activities where impulse control is important, such as shopping.

The menstrual phase also causes physical discomfort such as cramping, breast tenderness, joint pain, and headaches. Due to these physical shifts, pain management and prioritizing nutritional meals can help mitigate discomfort. Eating foods rich in iron, b-vitamins, and omega 3 fatty acids can help restore the body with nutrients lost during menses. This would also be a great time to prioritize light stretching and walks outside over strenuous exercise. The key words to help you remember the goal of your menstrual phase are RELAXATION & RESTORATION.

Following the menstrual phase is the follicular phase which lasts between 14 to 21 days (Cleveland Clinic, 2023). During the follicular phase, estrogen and testosterone rise which improves your concentration, energy, and mood. If you took the time to attune to your body during the menstrual phase and allowed space for relaxation and restoration, you are more likely to feel the benefits of this energizing phase. This phase is a great opportunity to lean into your creative side, enjoy a strength or cardio based workout, and/or kickstart a new personal project or endeavor. You are more likely to feel social during this time, so planning a get together with friends, date night, or important work meeting during this time will allow you to sync to the ebbs and flows of your cycle more effectively. During the follicular phase, researchers have found that our brains have higher reward responsivity, so engaging in goal-directed activities and using positive reinforcement are particularly effective during this time. (Handy, et al., 2022) The key words to help you remember the goal of your follicular phase are CREATE & EMBRACE.

After the follicular phase, we enter what is called the ovulatory phase which lasts up to three days (Cleveland Clinic, 2023). In the ovulatory phase, estrogen and testosterone continue to rise, and as a result, many menstruating people experience increased confidence, feelings of competency, and higher libido. The characteristics of this phase make it a great time to put yourself out there. This can include having difficult conversations, embracing your social side, trying out a group class/activity, and taking healthy risks. You can think of this phase as the opposite of the menstrual phase where you will likely feel less need for rest and relaxation. (Don’t forget a healthy amount of sleep is still important throughout the entire cycle!) Researchers have found increasing foods rich in vitamin c help balance hormones during this phase (Butner, L. 2020.) The key words to help you remember the goal of your ovulatory phase are APPLY & SOCIALIZE.

Lastly, we enter our luteal phase which lasts about 10 days (Cleveland Clinic, 2023). During the luteal phase, our hormones begin to drop to prepare for the menstrual phase. This is the final phase in the menstrual cycle which typically lasts anywhere from 28-35 days. You may notice yourself feeling less energized, more vulnerable, and having an increased presence of emotions. We may feel the urge to continue the high levels of engagement and productivity found in the ovulatory phase, but it is important that we embrace introspection and more solo, slower paced activities. This may be a good time to complete to-do items around the house or create a cozy set up for yourself with things that help boost your mood––think a warm meal and a fuzzy blanket! The use of affirmations may be particularly helpful when in the luteal phase to remind yourself of the impermanence of this particularly difficult phase. This too shall pass! The key word to help you remember the goal of your ovulatory phase is SELF-COMPASSION.

It can be helpful to use phone apps, such as Flo, or handwritten notes to help you track and determine where you are within your cycle and to gauge the variability of the changes you experience. It is important to keep in mind that although many of the shifts menstruating people experience during their menstrual cycle are normal, you should also feel empowered to advocate for yourself if you feel something is wrong. Abnormal changes during the menstrual cycle can indicate physical health concerns or the presence of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). PMDD is characterized by the presence of five or more of the following symptoms: mood swings, depressed mood, increased anxiety, decreased interest in activities, difficulty concentrating, lethargy, appetite changes, changes in sleep patterns, feeling overwhelmed or loss of control, and uncomfortable physical symptoms (American Psychiatric Association, 2022). The key difference between PMDD symptoms and normal premenstrual symptoms is the impact it has on quality of life. PMDD often causes debilitating symptoms that significantly alters one’s ability to function (Burnett, T., 2023). PMDD is attributed to the brain having increased sensitivity to hormonal changes. If you think that you may fit this criteria, it is important to talk with your medical provider and a mental health clinician. Engaging in therapy provides a safe space to discuss and better understand how your menstrual cycle influences your mood and behavior as well as learn coping skills and increase protective factors for your mental health.

Emotional and physical well being are the main focus of cycle syncing. By attuning to our natural hormonal shifts, we are creating a deeper connection between mind and body. When we cultivate an environment for the mind-body connection to occur, we experience less mood disruptions, feel more balanced, and enjoy deeper, more meaningful relationships