Understanding the hormonal phases of your menstrual cycle
It’s day one of your menstrual cycle and you’re so tired that even the idea of getting out of bed has you hitting the snooze button. Only 2 weeks later, your mood has lifted and life doesn’t seem all that bad. Sound familiar? Welcome to the hectic world of hormones.
Before we delve into it all, why not do a little recap on menstrual cycle itself?
Menstrual cycles normally last anything from 21 to 40 days, counting from when your period starts to the day before your next one begins. (Pro tip: a period tracker can help do the counting for you!) There are many phases during your menstrual cycle when different things are happening inside of your body – everything from the lining of your uterus thickening to ovulation to the lining being shed as your menstrual flow. Hormones cause all this to happen, but what you might not know is how they can also affect your entire body... so let’s dive into it!
Why do hormonal changes make me feel like I’m on an emotional seesaw during my menstrual cycle?
It’s not just what happens at school or home that can affect our emotions. Even when our life is perfectly stable, we still might not feel just right. This is because inside our bodies, hormones are constantly shifting throughout our cycle, which can impact the way we feel.
Imagine hormones as people of different sizes and heights (there’s a whole bunch of them – oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone to name a few). Now think of them sitting on opposite ends of a seesaw. Sometimes the balance is easy to get right. Sometimes not so much. Other times, one jumps off the see-saw, catapulting the others into the air and causing mayhem. That's essentially what happens through our menstrual cycles: our bodies balancing hormones constantly! And these ups and downs end up being reflected by our moods.
Pesky as this may sound, it’s all perfectly normal! Our hormones are meant to change day-to-day. This is because they don’t only play a part in our emotions, but also in how hungry we get, how much energy we have, our concentration levels, and even our body strength.
Though hormone levels rise and fall, they tend to follow a pattern around our menstrual cycles. Here’s what to expect in each phase…
Phase 1: going with the flow from days 1-7
Hello period and bye oestrogen! The levels of this hormone are at their lowest on the day your menstrual flow starts (known as day 1 of your cycle), which means you may lack energy. Also, you could experience period pain in the first couple of days of bleeding and your boobs might feel super heavy and/or tender, so it’s normal to not be in the brightest of moods.
As the days go on, oestrogen will rise again, which can make you feel sharper and more focused – great news if you need to get important stuff done.
Try to be kind to yourself and go with the flow this week – when you’re tired, get some rest. When you’re hungry, grab a bite. And when you want to share something, why not talk (periods are normal, after all)? It might sound simple, but these are the things we can often forget and it’s important to keep in mind that our body has an impact on our mind, and vice versa.
Phase 2: Feeling perky between days 8-14
Energy to the max after your period? Thank your rising levels of oestrogen and progesterone for that boost! These hormones can also increase your libido (aka sex drive), which would explain why that classmate you didn’t notice before looks pretty hot all of a sudden.
Take advantage of this week to do something you didn’t think you have the confidence for –whether that’s talking to that classmate, signing up for a competition, or volunteering for a project. Just be mindful to go easy on yourself – the extra hormone buzz can also heighten anxiety, so surround yourself with people you trust, lay off the caffeine, and try some low impact exercise like swimming or yoga to keep worries at bay.
Phase 3: Taking it easy on days 15-21
You may have heard the phrase “everything that goes up must come down” and such is the case for oestrogen. As its levels dip, combined with rising progesterone, you might feel slightly deflated. This gives you the perfect excuse (not that you need any!) to be kind to yourself, take it easy, and relax tucked under your duvet as much as you can!
By the end of the week, your levels of progesterone and oestrogen will rise and level out, often bringing a sense of calm and wellbeing. In a nutshell, the see-saw is balanced once more.
Ovulation (your ovaries releasing an egg) is the big event this week, which means you’re most likely to get pregnant now if you have unprotected sex. If you’d rather not have a baby just yet, it’s a good idea to be extra careful by using contraception.
Phase 4: PMS-ing in through days 22-28
Also known as PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) week, during this time oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone levels take a sharp nosedive, often resulting in a bluer-than-usual mood.
Because of this hormone shift, we tend to experience mood swings– don’t be surprised if you’re suddenly irritated by something like the way a friend eats (even if it hasn’t bothered you before) or if you’re screaming because you missed your bus by a nanosecond.
The sudden dip in oestrogen might disrupt your sleep too, because this hormone contains sleep-regulating serotonin.
This may sound like a lot but when it happens, try to take a deep breath. You’re only human, and like for the rest of us, it’s natural to have highs and lows and many in-betweens. Sometimes taking a small break from the world can do you good, so why not take a bath, message a good friend or read a book?
What if the phases of my menstrual cycle don’t feel right?
Throughout our cycle, it’s completely normal to have ups and downs, especially with hormones interfering with our mood.
And while we’re not meant to control our bodies, there are ways to help ourselves feel better, like reserving “me time” to do your favourite activities. You can also call a friend or meet them in person to have a chat – sometimes getting something off our chest is enough to feel right again. Remember that however you feel is completely valid, whether you later realise it was affected by hormones or not. It’s all the ups and downs of being a human, and experiencing completely normal hormonal changes and emotional shifts.
If you really don’t feel that the things you’re experiencing are ‘normal’ (if your low moods continue for weeks, you often feel out of control, or your period pain is seriously intense) be sure to reach out to a friend, family member, teacher or doctor for help. After all, it’s completely natural to talk about our menstrual cycles and there's no reason to suffer in silence.
Finding out more about your body can help you to better understand what you’re going through and get you to feel more at ease. If you would like to continue learning, you might find it helpful to look into what is menstruation as well as how to handle puberty (and your period).
The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.