When it comes to making healthy changes, cycle awareness has got to be the easiest habit to start, maintain, and implement. And it’ll give you massive rewards very quickly. If you’ve got one minute to spare a day (it can even be whilst you brush your teeth or stick the kettle on), then this is a practice that you can do because it involves the simple act of noticing how you feel and writing it down.
Our menstruating years are when we are figuring out who we are, working through our vulnerabilities, developing our strengths, and coming to feel more at home in ourselves. You are in a continuous loop of being worked by your menstrual cycle, and each one that you move through gives you a chance to grow a little, or a lot, and outgrow the shell of the previous cycle somehow. You’ll feel yourself growing outwards in the world, but also down into yourself more – gaining confidence about your right to be here on the planet as your true magnificent self. It isn’t always pleasant, in fact it can feel hugely frustrating at times. But it can also be deliciously sweet and friggin’ awesome to get to know yourself in this way.
Condensed into each and every menstrual cycle, is our experience from menarche (your first period) to menopause, so each cycle helps to prepare and refine you for menopause. It’s the inner work that comes with cycle tracking that’s vital if we want to make the psychological transition of menopause with ease, because landing in perimenopause and still not knowing what the hell is going on with your body makes for a rocky time. Cycle awareness helps you to feel and respond to your changing mood and energy, which creates an inner stability and flexibility that allows you to be kind towards yourself. It gives you a way to create a menstrual map of your month and a way to plan your diary. It gives you instruction on how to care for yourself and capitalise on each phase of your cycle.
As you chart your own feelings and experiences you’ll start to recognise your own strengths and struggles, adjusting The Cycle Strategy to suit your own patterns. With time you’ll find that there are moments in your cycle where you’re even able to predict your mood and energy down to the day.
You’ll get to know when you’ll want to socialise and be out there in the world, you’ll know when you need some time alone, and that predictability is good for relationships because it gives those close to you a blueprint for your unique rhythm. When you want to be on the couch with a takeaway and a box set on day 26, and your partner has booked a table at a nice restaurant, but you have no idea what to wear beyond sweatpants because you’re bloated as fuck and not feeling all that fantastic about yourself, that’s likely to lead to tension.
If, however, they are clued up on your menstrual map (in whatever way you want to share it), they’ll know that what you really want is a green chicken curry on the sofa and very little conversation, but some snuggling would feel good (as long as you don’t have to listen to them eating). Cycle tracking improves body literacy – your ability to read your body – which has tremendous knock-on effects in terms of self-esteem and mental health, so much so that I’m convinced that cycle awareness is the greatest untapped resource for improving the mental health of menstruating people. It allows you to recognise whether you feel depressed or anxious at certain points in your cycle, or most of the time, and if you do feel that way most of the time, whether your premenstruum intensifies these feelings – a phenomenon called premenstrual magnification.
But although the cycle can exacerbate mental health issues, it can also provide moments of relief, and tracking your cycle will allow you to make the most of them. Working with your cycle is a continual process of separating the wheat from the chaff, of saying, ‘That doesn’t feel good, neither does that, but this, this feels good, I want more of this!’ It is a mindfulness practice which keeps you grounded in yourself. And acquiring the habit of checking in with yourself means you’re better able to assess your own needs and desires and flex your muscles when it comes to boundaries and self-love. The cycle acts as a container; it’s a way to know where you are and who you are, with everything you need to grow and evolve into whomever you damn well please. It grows you and it grows with you, and it allows you to come to rest more and more in yourself.
Variations in appetite, energy, mood, sexual desire, and sleep, as well as your need for company and time alone, are all 100 per cent normal, and they’re usually pretty predictable too. Know that your menstrual cycle does not need to be medicalised and treated, unless of course you feel that it needs to be. Tracking your cycle will help you to realise when your symptoms hit you and identify any possible triggers, and it will give you data that you can share with healthcare professionals so that you can advocate for yourself and so that they can treat you appropriately. Always remember that you are the expert in you.
This is an edited extract from Period Power by Maisie Hill, published by Green Tree ($29.99). Out now!