For everything, there is a season. Our bodies are no exception.
In recognition of this natural and beautiful truth, Embody is launching a series of blogs that discuss how each stage of our reproductive cycle mirrors a different phase of the year.
Menstruation: As Necessary as Winter
In nature, winter is a season of sleep: a vital part of the year that allows living things to rest and restore the energy they need to thrive in the fertile months to come. Indeed, for many flowers, crops and fruit trees, the colder the winter, the more bountiful the spring.
What is true for nature holds true for the bodies of the half of the world’s population who menstruate. As our fertility waxes and wanes, so too do our moods, energy levels and physical and mental strength.
Of the four phases of the menstrual cycle, the one that most closely aligns with winter is menstruation, the stretch of roughly five to seven days when the body expels the layer of blood, mucus and tissue that accumulates in the uterus each month in preparation for a possible pregnancy. In other words, your period.
A Necessary Reset
Just as winter acts as a necessary reset for nature, menstruation reboots our reproductive cycles. And just as winter brings biting winds, snow and slippery roads, menstruation comes with its share of inconveniences and discomforts.
When the body realizes the egg expelled during ovulation has not been fertilized, there is a sharp fall in progesterone and estrogen: two hormones that play leading roles in the implantation and nurturing of a fetus.
Declines in these powerful hormones can depress energy levels and prompt mood swings, irritability, anxiety or even depression.
The expulsion of the uterine lining, meanwhile, can cause physical discomforts, including cramping, lower back pain, bloating and tenderness in the breast area.
The winters of our menstrual cycles are tougher for some than for others.
For those with hormone-linked conditions such as premenstrual disorder (PMS), or the more acute premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), the emotional and physical symptoms before and during the menstrual phase can be debilitating.
If you find your symptoms interfering with day-to-day life, or if your downs are becoming increasingly hard to bear, it may be time to seek medical advice.
The Season for Self-Care
For everything there is a season, and even if you suffer only moderate physical or emotional discomfort when it arrives, the menstrual phase is the season for extra rest, relaxation and self-care.
This is the body’s winter, remember, so warmth can do a world of good. Don some cozy layers to ease cramping, or apply a heating pad across the abdomen. Warm baths and warm drinks can also help ease symptoms and relax the mind and body.
While research shows that the time is always right to move your body, you might consider easing off on the intensity when energy levels bottom out. So instead of running marathons, try some lighter cardio or yin yoga.
As in all things, be guided by your body and do whatever feels good on the day.
As always, what you don’t eat can be as important as what you do. Keeping a lid on salt can help reduce bloating and swelling, while cutting caffeine intake can help with the sleep issues that plague some of us during menstruation.
Above all, be kind to yourself. If you feel grumpy or sad or want to withdraw from the world, give yourself permission to curl up with a good book instead of hitting a club. Don't be afraid to communicate your needs and feelings with others during this season. When you bring those around you into your reality, you can prevent misunderstandings and allow supportive relationships to grow.
If you allow yourself time to rest and reset during your short reproductive winter, you will be in a better position to emerge strong, upbeat, and ready to take on the world.