In the last blog post we talked about the basics of the menstrual cycle. I walked you through the 4 menstrual cycle phases, and we spoke about how they can affect your moods and your energy. If you didn’t catch that episode, go check it out – because that’s really the foundation of your menstrual cycle.
So today I want to talk about charting your cycle. What I mean by that, is basically just writing down how you feel each day, and seeing how that relates to where you are in your cycle. It’s really cool once you start doing this, to notice the things that crop up for you over and over again at the same point in your cycle. They might be things you didn’t even think your cycle would have any effect on. It’s really interesting.
Cycle Charting Does Not Have To Be Complex
One thing about cycle tracking though, it does not have to be complex. If you do a quick google search of cycle tracking, you’ll get tonnes of hits from apps you can use to track your period. Note that this is the primary function for a lot of these cycle tracking apps, to predict your period.
This is grand, wonderful, brilliant! But what about when you want to track more than just your bleed? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, your menstrual cycle is about more than blood, sex and babies.
Tracking your period is actually a really great practice, and if you’re new to cycle tracking, I definitely recommend you start there. It’s absolutely useful to know when to expect your period. But tracking your whole cycle can give you so much more insight than just “my period is due in 5 days”.
Another type of cycle tracking you’ll probably see come up more commonly is ovulation tracking. Most often people use this when they’re trying to conceive, or if they’re using the fertility awareness method as a means of contraception. The FAM is a method where you either abstain from sex on the days you’re going to be most fertile, or you use a barrier method on these days such as a condom or diaphragm. This method can be up to 99% effective, but you have to follow it to the letter!! It involves taking your temperature daily, first thing in the morning before you get out of bed and taking note of your cervical fluid.
Now that sounds like it could be quite complex. But the type of cycle tracking I’m talking about doesn’t have to be that way. The type of cycle tracking I’m talking about has nothing to do with TTC and it’s not a contraceptive method. It’s about finding out who you are as a person as your cycle progresses.
Again, in the last episode we discussed how the 4 phases of the cycle affect not only your body physically, but your moods and energy too. This is what we’re trying to get a fuller picture of when we track our cycles.
the four menstrual cycle seasons
Another way to think of these 4 phases is as seasons. Just like the seasons of the year. We can notice similarities between our menstrual cycle phases and Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. This is a really easy way to think of the menstrual cycle in that more holistic way.
So let’s dive into this real quick. First up you have menstruation or your period. This is your inner winter. So think of a typical winter’s day. It’s cold outside, you probably wanna be snuggled up inside somewhere warm. On the couch with a blanket watching Christmas films and drinking hot cocoa. Right?
Now if you could take that overall feeling, can you relate that to your period? I know for me, all I want to do when I’m bleeding is snuggle up with a hot water bottle and a blanket and binge watch my favourite true crime documentaries on Netflix.
But if we think about the winter season in nature, what’s happening? The leaves are falling off the trees, plants become dormant and animals hibernate. This kinda gives you a clue as to what you could be doing in your inner winter.
If you remember from the last episode we talked about this energy dip you get when you bleed. I notice this, especially in the first 2 days of my period. You’re probably gonna feel really, really tired. And while you can just crack on and push through that tiredness, I would suggest that you don’t.
Get to bed early. Or, if you can, just do nothing at all. Remember, this is your inner winter. Take a little bit of time to hibernate.
Obviously animals don’t hibernate all year long. Once spring comes around nature comes back to life. Shoots start appearing on the ground. Trees start to grow new leaves. And everything just starts to feel a bit more alive.
This is you once you get to pre-ovulation. You’re coming out of that period cave. You’re ready to put the blankets away and start doing things again.
You’re like a tender little lamb, emerging into the world. And you might feel like you have a tonne of energy, like you’re raring to go. But remember last time, we talked about how your oestrogen rises during the pre-ovulation phase, and reaches a peak at ovulation.
With that in mind, remember you’re not quite at the top of your game just yet. So if you feel a little sluggish coming out of your period, or you get worn out more easily than you’d like – be patient with yourself. If you think about it in terms of spring and new life, think about how a toddler would have all this energy, but still need a nap in the day. I don’t mean that literally, although I do love a nap. But just be aware while you might feel like you have all the energy in the world in comparison to your period, you could still burn out if you do too much too soon. It’s really all about listening to your body and understanding it’s limits.
Of course, ovulation will soon come around. This is where that oestrogen and your energy hits a peak. This is your inner summer. I love to liken oestrogen to summertime because there are so many similarities.
You know how the summertime just feels alive? Like, the whole world is in bloom, everything is so much more beautiful with the sun shining down, and also it’s hot enough to take your clothes off. That. That is your inner summer.
You’re feeling super happy thanks to that oestrogen/serotonin link we talked about last time. This also means less negative self talk, and more positivity in general. You’ve got a load of extra energy and your libido is increased thanks to a little surge in testosterone. So taking your clothes off might just feel really bloody good around ovulation. In the same way we think of the summer as being hot, everything else in your life might just feel a bit hotter too.
Of course summer doesn’t last forever, but lucky for you, you only have to wait until your next cycle to start feeling that inner summer again. Before we get back to summer though, we move on to autumn.
The premenstrual phase is your inner autumn. Autumn is the season of change. Although that doesn’t really make all that much sense because each season comes with change, but I guess in autumn we see this big shift.
The leaves are changing colour on the trees, the weather is cooling down too. So your inner autumn kinda reflects this. You go from being super hot and turned on in the summer, to requiring a change of pace in the inner autumn.
This season is all about slowing down and finding your chill. Your oestrogen production slows down here which means that serotonin also takes a drop. So you’re a bit more vulnerable to moodiness and anxiety. Couple this with that rising progesterone, which makes you want to slow down more, and you’ll be craving a bit more me time.
I like to think of the inner autumn as a winding down phase. Your energy is decreased here, so it feels like a good time to get things wrapped up, ready for the inner winter. You know how animals build their nests in autumn? Well, you body is kinda doing the same thing. Preparing the nest (your womb). So get loose ends tied up in the inner autumn, ready to take a little bit of rest when the inner winter comes back around.
I love this way of thinking about our cycle phases as inner seasons, because I find some kind of comfort almost, in making sense of the way my body works and seeing how it relates to the wider world too. Now obviously, every body is slightly different. I mean, we all have different cycle lengths, which means the seasons are going to vary in length for each of us. But also you might not feel exactly the same way as someone else does, even if you’re in the same cycle season. This is why charting your cycle is really important.
Charting your cycle isn’t about trying to fit into this ideal of what your cycle could or should look like. It’s about finding out what the cycle DOES look like for you. It’s about noticing the patterns that crop up for you each cycle, and learning to use those to your advantage.
using your cycle strategically
I’ll run through a real quick, rough overview of my cycle and how I use it to my advantage so you can get an idea. So first up menstruation. I’m shattered as I start to bleed. I take rest as much as I can which can feel frustrating when you just want to “get up and do”, but i know that taking the rest means I am able to come up with some really great ideas. Therefore I’m using my period to my advantage to be able to think better.
I know that in my inner spring phase, I’m really good at starting to work on some of those period ideas I’ve had. I use this time to plan and research. Also I like to learn in my inner spring because I remember things better during this phase. Again, using it to my advantage.
Inner summer is all about the energy. This is when I find it easiest to get things done. To see plans come to life. In fact, I wrote the script for this podcast in my inner summer. I actually wrote almost the whole pilot series in my inner summer because that’s the time when I’ve got a lot of energy to make it happen.
Inner autumn for me is about taking a step back. Not pushing myself too hard, and doing what I can to prepare for my inner winter. That looks like a lot of bubble baths and reminding the people around me that I require a little more space than usual. It’s literally telling my husband “I don’t wanna hang out with you tonight”. It’s fine, he totally understands. For me, the inner autumn is all about looking a bit more inward.
I sometimes think that the inner autumn is the one people have the most trouble finding the advantages of. Because on the surface it can just look like a really shit time. But I find I’m less likely to put up with any shit in the inner autumn. And yes, sometimes I can act like a bit of a dickhead (although I try my best not to), but it’s actually really useful for working out where the pain points are in your life right now. If you’re paying attention, you might be able to stop and go “no, actually this is a real big issue in my life”.
You're already doing the work
So, when it comes to charting your cycle, it can actually be really, really simple. In fact, I’m gonna say that you’re probably doing about 80% of the work already. The only thing you’re not doing is writing this stuff down and relating it to your cycle.
Let me explain. Do you ever get to the end of a day and just think “man I was tired today”? You’ve noticed that your overall feeling of the whole day is that you’ve felt tired. Or what about thinking things like “wow, I’ve been so hungry today”. Or perhaps you’re noticing you’re craving more human interaction today. Whatever it is, I bet you’ve already noticed it.
The trick is, to actually keep note of this stuff. Because although you’re already doing most of the work, if I was to ask you how you felt 2 Thursdays ago on day 9 of your cycle, you’d probably just stare blankly into the abyss.
The great thing about cycle tracking, is that it doesn’t have to be hard. It’s actually really low effort. So, even if you only write down one word for each day, eventually you will start to create a picture of what your whole cycle feels like.
Once you’ve done a couple of cycles, you’ll probably start to notice things. If you compare two cycles you might notice that day one says “tired” for both cycles. Or maybe a theme that comes up on day 6 is “more energy”. Maybe day 14 you’re writing “party animal”, or day 25 you’re writing “moody AF”.
There are plenty of ways you can record this information. All you have to do is notice how you feel and write it down.. Remember day one of your cycle is always the first day of your period, so you can use this to work out which cycle day you’re on. So, you could use your diary, or a journal, there are some free apps out there that allow you to add your own symptoms or notes for each day, or I have some free cycle charting sheets on my website too.
So there are plenty of ways to make note of how you feel through your cycle. But the main thing is that you actually take a few seconds out of your day to actually record it somewhere. If you don’t jot it down, you won’t be able to compare one cycle to the next. And the whole point of doing this is so you can start to notice the patterns that come up in your cycle and use them to your advantage.
I know you think cycle tracking is time-consuming and complicated, which is why I have a workshop for you! It’s a self-paced, pre-recorded workshop, which gives you the tools you need to chart your cycle and pick out the patterns that come up for you. I break it down into the simplest cycle tracking method known to man, or woman – so that you can do the work in less than 2 minutes per day. It’s the first stepping stone into having a better menstrual experience and using your cycle to your advantage. Check out the workshop here.