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Your period can actually make you more productive (you just need to know when)

IMAGE VIA @OVIRA/INSTAGRAM

WORDS BY SUNNY CHISHOLM

Aunt Flow has more of an impact on your day-to-day than you think. Here’s how to get on her good side.

I recently went for a walk with my best friend and realised that I didn’t want to be there. I felt weary for ‘no good reason’ (or at least that’s what I told myself at the time) and despite the fantastic discussion (thanks to her doing all the conversational heavy-lifting), I didn’t feel that I was very good company at all.

In fact, I didn’t feel like myself but lacked the language and tools to properly articulate this, let alone identify why this was. At the time I simply diagnosed myself with lockdown fatigue and dismissed it altogether. That was until I read Maisie Hill’s Period Power and considered whether my menstrual cycle had anything to do with this indifference of mine. Spoiler alert: it absolutely did.


Craving more personal essays? There’s an abundance in our Life section.


I now know that I was navigating the effects of a ‘transition day’, where my cycle was transitioning from one phase or ‘season’ to another. As women’s health practitioner and author Maisie describes it, these can be “Days where you feel too much, or not much, because sometimes they result in a sense of emptiness or numbness.”

Bingo! For me, that was my eureka moment. It had me questioning why on earth nobody had told me this sooner. Reading that was so validating because it changed my experience from being subjective to objective. It finally gave me a legitimate, indisputable reason why I feel like this from time to time.

If you experience this too, I want to assure you that you’re not highly depressive or crazy (and if you are, it’s not for no reason). This information was illuminating and allowed me to make sense of why some days feel chaotic, some combative and some cushy, despite there being no drastic, visible difference between them.

It explains why some days I have the energy to rise early, run errands and attend three parties in a single night, and why on others, getting out of bed feels like a task tantamount to climbing Everest. I’ve found great comfort in being able to attribute these discrepancies to my hormones and not cracks in my own sanity. I’m now far more invested in improving my body literacy (the ability to read my body) to redeem all the times I punished my body when it really needed peace, because I missed the cues it was sending me.

Further to this, Shannon Beard, menstrual cycle mentor and founder of Nourish Hub Co., believes that “When we consistently track our cycle and identify unique patterns, we are able to understand that feeling a certain way is not ‘inadequate’ or out of the blue’, it’s simply a part of our cyclical ebbs and flows.”

Cycle awareness helps you be the expert in you                          

Whether it’s welcome or unwanted, there’s no denying that our periods quite literally rule our lives. They are one of the oldest systems of measurement and should be tracked so that we can predict when our energy, appetite, productivity, creativity, ability to sleep and interest in socialising will fall victim to where we’re at in our cycle.

Maisie says that “Cycle awareness is the greatest untapped resource for improving the mental health of menstruating people” because it allows you to “look at your calendar and make adjustments to your work and social life to suit where you’re at in your cycle”, to a degree. Taking note of those especially precarious, prickly days will help you identify a pattern and flag warnings in your calendar for the months ahead, because to be forewarned is forearmed.

Tracking your cycle requires very little effort and the consequences can be life-changing. Shannon says that the simplest way to start is by identifying your last period. “Day one of your cycle is classified as the first day of full blood (not spotting). So, either look back and work out when your last ‘day one’ was or wait until the start of your next period.”

Shannon recommends spending five to 10 minutes describing how you feel (physically, emotionally and mentally) each day and jotting this in your ‘cycle diary’ which can be a notepad you keep on your nightstand or on your notes app.

“This way, you can look to the month ahead and as best as possible, sync your responsibilities and self-care to your menstrual cycle (by knowing which day you’re currently on or will be on).” Once you notice where your sunnier and darker days lie, you can be kinder to yourself when life doesn’t sync up with the menstrual phase you’re in.

A blessing and a curse

Shannon teaches the Four Seasons Framework as an analogy to explain the powers and vulnerabilities that each phase or ‘season’ in our cycle brings. Each season has its own set of characteristics assigned to it, depending on the dominant hormone produced at that time, making us better or worse at certain tasks as a result.

For instance, I know that I’m a real scatterbrain during my winter and this is when I’m most likely to want to cancel plans or miss deadlines, so I should be extra wary of spreading myself too thin during this season. Maisie also subscribes to this framework and says that “These phases can fluctuate in each cycle by a few days, and only you will know when they occur by tracking your period and identifying patterns in your cycle.”

While Shannon stresses that “Anything within the realm of menstrual cycle awareness is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach”, the Four Seasons Framework splits the menstrual cycle up like this:

Winter (menstruation): Days one to five (approx)

To survive winter, ease up on responsibilities where you can and ask for help when you need it. This is when you’ll be called to rest and will want to move gently and slowly. You may feel particularly fragile as the onset of your period brings emotional upheaval with it and often results in a collapse of your ego.

Consider what truly needs your time and energy and be mindful to not book yourself in for lots of mid-week dinners or commit to starting any big projects. Shannon also notes that you may be more in touch with your intuition during winter, and that making time to rest and look inwards allows us to receive insights, perspective and solutions that might not have previously occurred to us.

Spring (pre-ovulation): Days six to 12 (approx)

When spring arrives, you’ll feel energised by life and enthusiastic about its possibilities. You’ll be buzzing with ideas, increasingly resilient and self-assured. This is when you’ll develop a renewed interest in the world after winter’s hibernation (you’ll probably find that you’re a great friend during your spring) and you may even notice your “mental agility and memory improves as your estrogen levels increase”, according to Maisie.

This is when you’ll feel more creative, motivated and inclined to network (take advantage of these forces while you can, as they are fleeting!)

Summer (ovulation): Days 13-19 (approx)

Summer is typically when everything comes together and you feel like your best, most put-together self. As “your hormones climb rapidly towards their summit, life suddenly feels easier and more enjoyable” explains Maisie.

Here, our productivity levels soar (no missing deadlines during summer!) and we really hit our stride at work. Our communication skills are at their peak, as Shannon agrees that this is when we’re most expressive and articulate.

Autumn (pre-menstruum): Days 20 to 28 (approx)

Here you’ll notice yourself detaching and withdrawing as the creative energy you felt in spring and summer depletes. You’ll be sensitive to criticism and may be more defensive and irritable than normal.

Bloating, poor digestion and backaches kick in as we begin to miss the joys and nonchalance that estrogen brings. As estrogen declines, so does serotonin, causing a dip in mood and increase in appetite (so enjoy as many TimTams as you’d like – your body is quite literally begging for them).

Shannon explains that while we’re not feeling creatively charged, autumn is when we’re most detail-oriented and organised, so this is a good time to review or edit something you’ve been working on, or when you may be more likely to clear out your inbox or cull your wardrobe.

Maisie agrees with this, explaining that “Rising progesterone can produce a nesting feeling similar to what pregnant people often feel towards the end of their pregnancy, and the premenstrual urge to finish things literally and metaphorically is nature’s way of getting you ready to drop your responsibilities so you can go to ground when your period arrives.”

Cycle awareness is the greatest tool for self-acceptance

Imagine how much easier life could be if we leaned into our menstrual cycle to harness the powers each phase brings, rather than fighting against them. Despite what the world leads us to believe, having a period does not make us weak or less than.

Menstruating isn’t what makes us feel unsettled and scattered, it’s not responding to our body’s prompts and failing to recognise and express our feelings that does. Once we realise that our periods are the consequence of an evolutionary process that exists to serve and guide us, we can turn to our internal tides for help.

For more information as to how you can harness your cycle to get it working for you, Shannon can be reached via email or Instagram and is running an online cycle collective group-mentoring program launching in July.

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