What are the fundamentals of a healthy lifestyle? Is it ditching bad habits or, perhaps, taking a regular morning jog? Movement, a good diet and quality 8-hour sleep are truly the pillars of wellness. But there is more to it. Namely, our underlying biorhythms.
Every single organ and system in our body is subjected to its own internal rhythm. If you are already observing your biological circadian rhythm and sticking to a schedule that suits your chronotype, you are off to a good start. However, have you ever considered rhythms that operate on a different kind of frequency? Some of them, like breath or heartbeats, last just a few seconds, while others can go on for weeks or even months.
As difficult as it can be to trace their exact influence on our wellbeing, these cycles exist. Take the influence of seasonal changes on our mood, with the weariness that winter brings and the newly found energy that comes with spring. For the purposes of this article, we would like to focus on the rhythms specific to women. The monthly female infradian rhythm, otherwise known as the menstrual cycle, typically last 28-30 days.
A brief overview of chronobiology
Unlike men, who are mostly governed by the one and only circadian rhythm, women are blessed with two biological clocks. A whole series of rhythmical changes take place over the course of our menstrual cycle. Our metabolism oscillates, while the concentrations of hormones fluctuate.
Yet, as women we pay so little attention to this other clock, that we barely understand what our bodies are truly going through as part of each phase. We tend to overwork our bodies when they clearly needs rest, heading off to the gym or a loud party instead. As a result, when our physiologically productive phase is finally here, we are all too exhausted and burnt out to channel our best selves.
Bodily needs that are ignored for too long will inevitably resurface, be it in the form of extra weight, irritability or major cramps on the first day of your cycle. On the contrary, by understanding the patterns of our infradian rhythm and consciously tracing the changes that take place in our body, we can move a step closer to achieving our inner balance. Now, this is the key to a good health and achieving our full potential.
Female infradian rhythm: key phases
On the first day progesterone hormone levels rapidly drop, causing a heightened emotional lability. It is not unusual to lose your temper, feel irritable or ready to burst into tears at any point at this time. Estrogen levels are also going down, resulting in low energy and possibly tiredness and weakness throughout your body.
What a week! With all that in mind, it is by no means a luxury to set aside some extra time for rest and sleep, rather than mute our needs with caffeine and pain killers. Dieting restrictions are also not recommended during this time.
A low carbohydrate diet such as the popular keto reduce the levels of the leptin hormone in the body, which, in addition to stress, can lead to a disruption in your cycle and hormone production. Be patient and reduce your expectations of yourself. The time for great achievements will come, while some peace and quiet are really key here.
Things to focus on:
- Spend more time with yourself. This is the best time to tune into your journaling practices, read that big tome you have been putting aside and taking the time for some much needed DIY spa sessions.
- Limit exercise to make sure you substitute any strength training with gentle pilates or a long walk.
- Start meditating to help you deal with any difficult emotions that arise and restore balance.
The follicular stage comes right after menstruation and gets its name from the follicle stimulating hormone synthesized by your pituitary gland during this time. It controls the ripening of the egg and stimulates the production of oestradiol, a major female hormone associated with beauty and good mood.
You will likely feel refreshed with a sudden flood of energy during this week. Another hormone that really comes into play at this point is testosterone, increasing your libido and confidence. This makes it an easier time to take risks, be decisive and active.
Things to focus on:
- Plan to start new projects, focusing on any important decision making and conversations. Testosterone will boost your confidence in public speaking.
- This is a good time to rethink your diet and say no to those sweet treats. Your body is full of energy as it is and will likely not need any additional stimulation.
Ovulation is the culmination of all the hard work that your body has been going through the past two weeks. Estrogen and testosterone reach their peaks, adding to your feeling of calm and confidence. Have you been delaying a complicated project at work or an important conversation, a half-marathon or an online course? This is the time when your body is fully prepared to spring into action, so make the most of this seven day window.
The anti-stress hormone progesterone takes full responsibility for your mood this week. As its concentration goes up, the urge to rule the world gives in to calm and slowing down. This is a good time for any monotonous tasks and planning. However, in the last few days of this phase PMS symptoms will likely take over making you feel irritable, cranky and likely prone to a few tantrums.
The two to three days of this emotional rollercoaster is where many of those persistent stereotypical ideas about women’s changing nature come from. Avoiding any rushed decision-making and paying more attention to mindful practices during this time will help nip such misperceptions in the bud. Then, once the hormones have settled, you will likely not think much of what might have seemed like an utter disaster.
Genius is simple. Seeing as bio hackers are a light years away from inventing a magic pill that would transform us into our healthiest and forever young selves, living in tune with our nature is the best approach. Meanwhile, osur nature is strictly regulated by our bio rhythms.
Much like the stages of day and night or a tide, an active phase in our bodies inevitably alternates with rest. No superfoods, gadgets or expensive beauty treatments can substitute intense attention to our inner needs. By dismissing natural changes that happen to our bodies throughout the cycle, you only exacerbate the pressure on your nervous system and deplete your resources, while most likely making your PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps worse.
Give it a go and trace your wellbeing and mood over the course of 28 days. This should hopefully help you see your cycle in a new light and make the necessary adjustments to your diet and exercise. Before launching any new projects or planning your meetings, do pay attention to your inner body clock. Is this really a good time to be active or would you benefit from slowing down and dedicating more time to yourself? Your body has all the answers.