Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Menstrual Cycle - A Visual Guide

It never ceases to amaze me how many women don't really know what is going in inside their bodies during the menstrual cycle, or how to chart their cycle.  I don't mean that in an unkind way, it's just an observation.  Knowledge is the best tool you can have, and if you suffer with PMDD you need to do a bit of reading and get some of that valuable knowledge under you belt.  It will help as you try and figure out what happens at what point of your cycle, and having an idea of the physical changes inside you can really help.

Over the years I have come across videos and charts which have helped me to understand the changes my body goes through.  That understanding, in turn, led me to look for ways to support the changes rather than fight against them.  Timing and planning things around the different energies is now second nature.  Knowing my limits at each point of the cycle has really helped me live with PMDD.  I have the odd breakdown, but I am much more in control on a regular basis during all points of my cyclical changes.  That to me is like winning the lottery.

I decided to create a chart just for PMDD/PMS sufferers to refer to.  It shows the fluctuations in hormones, the physical changes, and the energetic/emotional changes.  Hopefully it will give you a good idea as to what is happening in side you when all hell breaks loose!  It also has key words to give you a feel for the natural energy of each phase..

I will go into the seasonal correspondences in another post, but it's quite easy to connect with.  Our energy grows after our period, peaks at ovulation and then slowly wanes until we bleed again. You can see this cycle happen in nature every year.  We have like a mini years worth of seasons in one month!  I have blogged about these theories before, you can find some of them here and here.  I also created a poster about these energies which you can find here -  http://naturalshaman.blogspot.co.uk/p/energy-cycle-poster.html.

We get all stressed out about feeling low, tired or crabby, but if we are pre menstrual or hitting ovulation there is a simple explanation!  Hormonal changes!  If you are still having trouble during the times when the hormones level out and are not finding yourself feeling better, then maybe there are other issues at play.  PMDD will drag you down during pre menstruation and in some cases, at ovulation too.  You should always feel better at each point between to two, but if you are not, you may need to look at whether your unhappiness/frustration is coming from a depression, an unsuitable job, an unhappy relationship, a past trauma or issue that hasn't been resolved.  PMDD plays a huge part in our emotional wellbeing, but it's not the only factor.  Stress and unresolved issues can add to the pressure and make an uncontrollable outburst more likely.

Here is the chart.  It clearly shows the fluctuations and changes the body goes through.  I have added where the PMDD crisis points are, along with the seasons of the year and key words that can give you an idea of the energies present during each phase.  Hopefully it is simple enough to understand, and below, is a written explanation.  Again, I hope I have written it in such a way that it is easy to understand.  I have read many a medical site that uses such technical words that it gets too complicated to understand!


To chart your periods, you start counting on the first day of bleeding.  That is day 1.  You keep counting until you bleed again and the again, the first day of bleeding becomes day 1.  Mark it on a calendar or use an app to keep track of your period.  This helps you to plan around your period by not taking on too much during the times that could be challenging.  I often count forward and also mark day 7, 14, 21 and 28.   That then gives me a quick view of where I will be emotionally and physically throughout the month.  Lots of cycles are longer or shorter, and that is normal.  28 days is just the average.  Ovulation always occurs around 14 days before your period, so if you have a short cycle, say, 21 days, you will ovulate on day 7.. if it is a longer cycle, say 32 days, you will ovulate around day 18.  It IS possible to ovulate twice in a month and to not ovulate at all.

The menstrual cycle is split into 3 phases, follicular, ovulation and luteal. The first phase is the follicular phase and corresponds to when the FSH (follicle stimulating hormone, produced in the brain) sends signals to the ovary to ripen and produce and egg.. This then produces more estrogen from the ovaries to enable the egg to ripen.. At ovulation, increasing estrogen levels from the maturing follicles cause the LH, luteinizing hormone, to surge, which releases the egg. The corpus luteum (a solid body of cells) is left behind at ovulation. The corpus luteum excretes progesterone and small amounts of estrogen and causes the womb lining to thicken in preparation for the egg. This is called the luteal phase. It prepares the body for pregnancy. During the luteal phase, estrogen drops quite rapidly and will fluctuate until your period. At the same time, progesterone is rising. It spikes around day 21, and then drops off rapidly. When the egg is not fertilised, the corpus luteum dies and stops producing progesterone and estrogen, this allows the womb to shed it's lining and cleanse the uterus.

The other hormones involved are those that are produced in the brain that send signals to the ovaries.  Gonadotropic hormones come from the pituitary glad in the brain.  They are controlled by GnRH frequencies that send out pulses to regulate the production of gonadotropic hormones.  In men, this pulse is contstant and steady.  In women, the frequencies change throughout the cycle which is what gives us a cycle that changes and fluctuates.  The change in frequency is what sends out the right amount of gonadotropic hormones to our ovaries to trigger the stages of the menstrual cycle.

The basal body temperature can help clearly indicate ovulation and is important for those trying to conceive or who use the fertility awareness method of contraception.  By orally taking your temperature every morning as soon as you wake (before even getting out of bed) and keeping a record, you will see a drop in temperature at ovulation and then it will rise from around 36.4°F to 36.7°F.  Other signs of ovulation is the consistency of cervical mucus.  At ovulation, this mucus will be fluid and watery.  Some women can tell they are ovulating just by how wet or moist they get.  This fluid helps sperm to swim more easily into the womb.  After ovulation, the cervical mucus will get thicker and more sticky.  This is much harder for the sperm to swim through, which helps with contraception.  For more info on the fertility awareness method and charting temperature, take a look at TCOYF.  Some women do also experience pain at ovulation.  Stabbing sharp pains on either the left or right side can signify which ovary you are ovulating from!  They are known as mittelschmerz.

By having even a basic understanding of the physiology of the menstrual cycle, you can get to grips with why we experience these changes in mind and body.  This is the physical process, but we all know that these changes DO have a significant effect on our mental health, moods and wellbeing. 
When you really learn and come to terms with the fact that our bodily processes are pretty much out of our hands.. meaning, we cannot stop them, (unless we control them with birth control/hormone therapy or hysterectomy) but we can start to look at ways of how to live and work WITH them.  Of course, we can influence our bodily functions.  By eating and sleeping right, exercising and staying away from stress we can encourage a healthier system... 
Never underestimate stress.  Stress can knock out these physical rhythms, causing the cycle to become off balance.  This can lead to irregular periods, changes in cycle length, missing or late periods and all manner of emotional symptoms.

I have produced an alternate version of this chart to share on Facebook, and may look at getting some printed for those who would like a hard copy to stick up at home...  If you are interested in buying a copy, please message me via my Facebook page or use my Kontactr box. 

Chart is for illustrative purposes only and includes the main factors responsible for the menstrual cycle.  There are obviously other smaller players on the menstrual stage, but for the purposes of PMDD education, I have focused on the star performers!
If you choose to download and share, please link back to me and do not remove my copyright from the image.  Please contact me if you wish to re blog, so I can give you a shout out in return!  Thank you. xx

© Cat Hawkins 2012 - Art and design by chaoticat.com.

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