Your menstrual cycle is a natural process that occurs every month in a woman's body. A typical cycle lasts between 24-38 days and begins with the start of your period and ends when the next period begins. However, there is a lot more happening inside your body during the time in-between periods.
Understanding the four phases of your menstrual cycle can help you to understand what's going on with your body, and how best to take care of yourself during each stage. Here’s an in-depth look into each phase and how they can impact you both physically and mentally. Don’t worry - you’re not alone!
The first day of your menstrual cycle marks the beginning of your period. During this phase, the egg from your previous cycle has not been fertilised, leading to a decrease in oestrogen and progesterone levels. This decrease causes the uterine lining to ‘shed’, resulting in the start of your period.
Physically: During menstruation, some people may experience breast tenderness, cramps, headaches, increased acne, and digestive changes. On the bright side, research has shown that strength levels often increase during menstruation as the body has lower amounts of oestrogen during this time.
Mentally: Mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and depression are common mental symptoms during menstruation. While these symptoms may decrease as your period progresses, fatigue is often a companion during this phase. It's important to listen to your body and take it easy during this time.
The follicular phase begins with the start of your period and ends with ovulation. During this phase, the pituitary gland produces FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), which stimulates the ovary to produce follicles containing immature eggs. One egg typically matures during the follicular phase, usually around day 10-28 of your cycle.
Physically: The two-week follicular phase is often the best time for energy levels. It's recommended to make the most of this phase by engaging in regular exercise.
Mentally: Brain fog is often lifted during the follicular phase, as it is accompanied by improved mental clarity and increased creativity. Now’s a good time to schedule some brainstorming sessions at work and impress the socks off your boss!
Ovulation occurs when the mature egg released from the ovary during the follicular phase is released. This usually happens around two weeks before your next period is due. The mature egg has a lifespan of 24 hours after ovulation, referred to as the ‘fertile window’. During ovulation, the uterus lining thickens to prepare for a potential pregnancy.
Physically: Ovulation discomfort is a common physical symptom, but it may not affect everyone. Ovulation may also cause breast tenderness, bloating, appetite changes, and an increase in cervical mucus.
Mentally: Mood changes during ovulation are common due to changing hormone levels. On the positive side, ovulation often leads to increased energy levels and some women may feel their best during this phase.
The ruptured follicle from ovulation forms the corpus luteum, which is a group of cells that produce progesterone. The corpus luteum maintains the thickened uterus lining, effectively waiting to see if the egg will be fertilised or not. If the egg isn't fertilised, the corpus luteum withers, usually around day 22-28 of your cycle. The resulting drop of progesterone causes the uterine lining to shed, and the menstrual cycle starts again with day 1.
Physically: During the luteal phase, oestrogen levels are high, which can cause symptoms like those during your period such as acne, headaches, and breast tenderness.
Mentally: Hello, PMS. Thanks to a drop in serotonin levels (aka your brain’s happy chemical) during this phase, it’s common to feel irritable, sad, sluggish, absent-minded, and moody. Remember it’s completely normal to feel this way and just be kind to yourself while you ride out the wave over the next 4-10 day.