From ads that portray our periods as a vengeful Mother Nature to tampon wrappers designed to open with as little noise as possible, we live in a culture that treats menstruation like a shameful dirty secret at worst, and an annoying inevitability at best. But what if I told you the menstrual cycle is actually a power source and an incredibly helpful tool that can help you live your life fully and with ease? If this sounds strange, I hear you. I used to have heavy, painful periods that had me popping Ibuprofen like it was candy. But this past year, I’ve revolutionized my relationship to my menstrual cycle. I rarely have cramps, and I actually look forward to my period. A huge part of what’s allowed me to do this has been learning about and appreciating the different phases of my cycle. That’s right—the average menstrual cycle has four distinct phases, and each phase has a set of gifts you can use to your advantage.
Women are often stereotyped as unpredictable and unreliable because of our periods, when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. If your cycle is regular, you’re going to be going through similar physical and emotional changes month after month, and with each set of changes, you’ll have a different set of strengths. This makes you not only predictable but multi-powerful. Just as each season in nature serves a purpose, so does each phase of our cycle. In the Western world, our culture is linear, but our bodies, like everything from the seasons to the phases of the moon, are cyclical. The tension between our linear culture, not to mention the cyclical realities of how we actually are, sets us up to hate ourselves and be disconnected and numbed-out from our bodies. That’s why it’s so important to understand the power that comes from connecting to the four phases of our cycle.
Keep in mind that the overview I’m giving is general, and your body and cycle might work differently. I invite you to take what resonates or interests you and leave the rest. No matter what, know that your body and its specific cycles are beautiful.
The Four Phases of the Menstrual Cycle
One: The Menstrual Phase
When it comes to your cycle, the day you start bleeding is officially day one of week one. The levels of the hormone progesterone plummet, telling your body it’s time to release your uterine lining. If you think about the phases of your cycle like the seasons of the year, menstruation corresponds to winter. This is the time of your cycle when your energy will be at its lowest point. You may feel tired, drained, and withdrawn. We’re taught that this makes us weak, but, in fact, there are gifts to feeling more slow and introverted. You may find that if you allow yourself some quiet time and rest, you’re able to tune into insight, wisdom, and big-picture thinking in a way you just can’t access at other times of the month. Since honoring the menstrual part of my cycle by taking extra time to be still with my thoughts, I’ve found that solutions to problems I’ve had all month suddenly come to me loudly, clearly, and easily. I also have greater insight into both where I want to be going and what’s no longer working for me. If you have a repeated worry or problem that keeps coming up every time you’re on your period, it could mean it’s ready to be healed and released. Sometimes I imagine myself bleeding out past relationships, thought patterns, and habits that no longer serve me. In an ideal world, we’d all be able to take the whole day off on our first day of our cycle in order to really benefit from this enhanced insight and wisdom; but even taking an extra 15 minutes to sit with your thoughts and journal before you go to bed can be effective in helping you tap into your bleeding powers! So make yourself a hot cup of tea, take out your journal, and thank your uterus for its wisdom!
Two: The Pre-Ovulation or Follicular Phase
You know that feeling you get when winter’s finally over, the flowers start blooming, and the days get longer and sunnier? That’s pre-ovulation for you. The follicles in your ovaries start to swell (or should I say, bloom?), and as estrogen and testosterone rise in this second week of your cycle, so do your energy levels and mood. You may find that you’re especially good at making social plans, trying new things, and building and implementing all kinds of projects and ideas. If you want to start a new habit, the pre-ovulation phase is a good time to do so! You may find you feel energized by experimenting with things you’ve never done before, so take a risk! Apply for that job you’re intimidated by. Wear something bold. Try a new workout. Things that seem scary and overwhelming during the premenstrual and menstrual phases of your cycle might feel exciting for you now; so take advantage of the surge in your confidence, and let yourself go for it.
Three: The Ovulatory Phase
Imagine one of those hot, mid-summer days that never seems to end. You’re dancing for hours on a sunny beach, and everyone and everything is beautiful. Welcome to ovulation! As we release an egg that then makes its way through our fallopian tubes and into our uterus, we have a surge of energy. Whatever your actual desires may be when it comes to parenting, when you’re ovulating your body is at its peak levels of fertility. Not surprisingly, your communication (and flirtation!) skills are at an all-time high. It’s a good time to plan a sexy date with yourself or a partner. Since you’ll have increased communication and social skills, it’s also an ideal time to have a meeting, pitch a project, and even work longer hours if you need to. While the premenstrual and menstrual phases are all about directing your energy inward, the follicular and ovulatory phases have you wanting to be out in the world. You can work hard, flirt hard, and take care of those around you. Is it any wonder this is the stage most valued by society? While ovulation feels so sexy, it’s important to remember that each phase has its time and its purpose, and if you try to live like you’re ovulating all month long, you run a high risk of burning yourself out.
Four: The Premenstrual or Luteal Phase
This is the week before your period when increased progesterone levels can cause your energy levels to drop. Your bullshit detection system is at an all-time high in this third week of your cycle, which means you’re acutely aware of the aspects of your life that just aren’t working. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just like the trees in October, we need to let things fall away in order to make room for the new. Respect the feelings that come up during this time, and take note of what needs to change. Because you’re so aware of what’s not working, the premenstrual phase is a great time for editing, organizing, and cleaning. You have a keen eye for detail and a strong desire to get things in order. During this phase, I find that my social energy is low, but I have a lot of energy for bureaucratic paperwork, organizing my inbox, and scrubbing tiny specs of dirt off my cupboards. These are all tasks I absolutely hate at any other time of the month. Our society is not set up to honor the premenstrual phases of our cycles, and so we’re deeply shamed for the very natural desires and emotions that emerge before we bleed. This is why it’s especially important to treat yourself with extra care and attention during this week: Take time to rest, and try not to judge yourself for strong emotions.
Embracing your cyclical nature as a menstruating person is a rebellion against our linear, cultural programming which encourages us to constantly be on the move, power through any discomforts, and disconnect from our feelings. Ignoring the natural cyclical order of things leads to anxiety, pain, a broken economy, and a feverish planet. A butterfly wouldn’t emerge vibrant and flying if it didn’t first allow itself to be a gooey mess isolated in its cocoon. Spring wouldn’t be so beautiful and bloom so brightly if it weren’t preceded by the death of winter. You have the best of every season right there inside your body, ready to help you with everything from optimizing your work schedule to letting go of what you no longer need. How powerful is that?
Malaika is a bleeding queer feminist and the creator of an upcoming creative writing class inspired by the menstrual cycle, which you can find out more about here. For the occasional bloody e-blast on everything she’s done to get rid of her period cramps, sign up here. You can find her brand new period-inspired Instagram account here.