A period health expert has told how she wants to see more women tapping into their true potential – by understanding their monthly cycle and using it to their advantage.
Menstrual health educator Mayella Almazan, who is originally from Mexico but lives in Hillsborough in Northern Ireland, explains that women’s natural cycles – when unaffected by hormone contraceptives – can be broken down into four distinct phases: Menstruation, pre-ovulation, ovulation and pre-menstruation.
She claims each phase lasts between three to seven days, although this varies widely from woman to woman, and that an average 28-day cycle, with four phases of seven days, can be a starting point to think about.
‘If you want to give a top presentation at work, score a personal best at your next 10K, spend a weekend enjoying batch-cooking or map out your goals on a vision board – the key to success could be doing it at the right time of the month,’ she explained.
‘So many women don’t understand their bodies and it’s such a shame. Most of us expect to feel tired or fragile on our periods, and we know about PMS, but that’s where it ends.
Mayella Almazan, who is originally from Mexico but lives in Hillsborough in Northern Ireland, explains that women’s natural cycles can be broken down into four distinct phases: Menstruation, pre-ovulation, ovulation and pre-menstruation (pictured)
She continued: ‘Instead of seeing our periods as a barrier to our success, I’d love to see more women feeling empowered to use their monthly fluctuations to their advantage.
‘I organise my life around my menstrual cycle and it really works. I know when to take on a new project and push myself, and when to give myself a break. I even know the perfect day to fill out my tax return!’
And it’s not just women who need a greater knowledge of their monthly cycles – men can benefit too.
‘Don’t keep the information to yourself!’ said Mayella. ‘Share it with your husband or partner to help him understand the changes in your mood and behaviour.
‘I like to create a monthly chart and pin it to the wall. That way everyone in my house knows what to expect!’
UNDERSTANDING THE FOUR DISTINCT PHASES OF A WOMAN’S NATURAL CYCLE
As the hormones estrogen and progesterone rise and fall throughout the month they affect our moods, energy levels, appetite, libido, sociability, sleep, emotions and ability to cope with stress.
‘Understanding which part of the month you will be at your strongest and most energetic is so helpful,’ said Mayella. ‘If you plan in advance how to utilise this time each month – it’s incredibly powerful.
‘When you’ve made the best of your most productive days it also makes it easier to give yourself a guilt-free break on the days you need more rest. As women we’re not always great at giving ourselves a break, but we need to learn to do that. Recharging is vitally important.’
It’s not just your ‘strong’ days that can be useful. Mayella says the hormonal and emotional changes commonly associated with PMS can also be helpful too.
‘The body is getting ready to have a clear out with menstruation; so it’s a good time for you to have a think about what needs to be cleaned out or what things need to be got rid of,’ she said.
‘It can also be a great time to do some journalling and write down any emotional or negative feelings. Then you can revisit them when you feel calmer and see how they can be useful.
‘Behind those emotions could be real beneficial changes to be made. If you make your period a more restful time, you could use it to read and take stock, or make plans. Then you’re ready to hit the ground running again as your cycle begins again.’
Mayella advises all her clients to keep track of their cycles on a simple menstrual cycle tracking chart, which can be found online, for at least three months, making a note of how they feel each day. Patterns should start to emerge.
Here’s her guide to what to expect throughout your cycle:
DAYS 1-7: MENSTRUATION
What’s happening? Most women experience a period that lasts from three to seven days; with the first day of menstruation being the first day of a new monthly cycle. During this time levels of both estrogen and progesterone are low.
How do you feel? Many women experience pain or discomfort, including cramps, headache, back pain and nausea. In addition, the majority of women will feel their energy levels slump and may suffer disturbed sleep.
Mayella’s advice: ‘Day one or two of your period will be your lowest physically energetic days of the month, so give yourself a break and don’t feel guilty. You may also be feeling fuzzy or finding it hard to focus. You need lots of rest and self-care.
‘But it can be active rest; it’s a great time for quiet reflection. You could bring those reports home from work to read, do some brainstorming and prepare for the month ahead so that when you enter the next phase, which is very productive, you’re all set to make the most of it.
‘It could also be an opportunity to enjoy quality downtime with your family; snuggled up on the sofa reading or watching movies with your partner and kids.
‘Go easy on yourself wherever possible. Eat well; I batch cook during my more productive times of the month so I have healthy homemade food waiting in the freezer for period time.’
DAYS 7-14: PRE-OVULATION
What’s happening? Your period has finished and your estrogen and testosterone levels starts to increase, signalling to your body to prepare for the release of a new egg.
How do you feel? For most women this is the time of the month when they are strongest – both emotionally and physically. The tired, flat feelings associated with menstruation quickly disappear and you feel energised. You may also feel an increase in your libido.
Mayella’s advice: ‘This is the time of the month to go for it! If you’re an athlete, you will be at your peak.
‘In an ideal world this is the time to run your marathon, but of course we can’t always plan things that way. It’s certainly the time to begin or step up a training regime though.
Mayella Almazan, who lives in Hillsborough in Northern Ireland wants more women to understand their monthly cycle and use it to their advantage
‘The number one issue women who come to me complaining of is exhaustion, so I tell them to make the most of this pre-ovulation time.
‘If you can control your diary, this is the time to schedule your busiest or most demanding days. Your mental focus and analytical skills will be strong.
‘It’s also the time you’ll be feeling most capable; so tackle things you find difficult now. For me, that’s my tax return.’
‘But it could also be an awkward meeting at work or discussion at home, or kick-starting a new project. Understanding the power of this time you have each month could change your whole life.’
DAYS 14-21: OVULATION
What’s happening? Some women experience a pain in their side or changes to their discharge around ovulation. Estrogen and testosterone rise to peak levels and there is a surge in Luteinizing Hormone (LH) which triggers ovulation. Then estrogen begins to drop away and progesterone begins to rise.
How do you feel? You may experience a spike in your libido and you will also be at your most sociable; keen to feel connected to your partner, friends and community. You may feel a dip in energy around the time you ovulate, and some women experience acne breakouts or breast tenderness during this time.
Mayella’s advice: ‘Nature and evolution make you feel sociable; to ensure you mate and have a strong community in which to bring up your offspring. But you can use these feelings to your advantage in every day life too. This is the time to do teambuilding or networking exercises at work, hold mentoring sessions or take a more listening, supportive role.
‘You may find you have a softer, warmer approach during this time, so it could be a great opportunity to try to solve problems and solve conflicts.
‘It’s also a great time to socialise and cook for friends. Or you could batch-cook and freeze portions so you have home-cooked food on hand when you are trying to rest during your period. I find myself cooking for eight instead of four during this time!
‘If you have a partner, schedule a date night or two. If you’re single, socialize and strengthen your connections with friends.’
Mayella says the key to success is doing certain things at the right time of the month. Pictured, stock image
DAYS 21-28: PRE-MENSTRUAL
What’s happening? Progesterone rises to peak level and then begins to fall away. Estrogen rises again briefly around day 21, then drops. This imbalance of estrogen and progesterone causes PMS symptoms, and can even raise the body’s temperature fractionally.
How do you feel? Common PMS symptoms include irritability, anxiety, depression and mood swings. Many women say they feel tense, fragile or emotional during this time of the month. Others may suffer bloating.
Mayella’s advice: ‘We all know the negatives associated with PMS, but don’t write off this time completely. As your body prepares to shed the uterus lining, you may also find your observation skills are heightened and perceptions are more acute.
‘You can utilise these skills at work; now might be a great time to tackle the reading of a tricky report or something that requires discerning skills. Or at home you could make a list of things you would like to throw out or change.
‘If you find yourself getting emotional, angry or frustrated, don’t dismiss these feelings. Pay attention to your thoughts and write down things that are upsetting you.
‘Once you’re feeling calmer these journals can offer real insight. Some of your thoughts and feelings may have been overreactions, but others could be really useful, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
You can use your down time during your period to take stock of any issues thrown up during this pre-menstrual period and think of ways to tackle them. Then you’re ready to begin the cycle again.’
For more information on Mayella’s work visit: www.yosoygaia.com