Do you track your menstrual cycle and energy levels throughout your cycle? In the past, I’ve tracked my period, but haven’t recorded other information related to my cycle. Then I read The Lazy Genius Kendra Adachi’s newsletter a while back, in which she raved about the benefits of tracking her cycle. Kendra referenced Do Less by Kate Northrup.
The Book: Do Less
To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the book. It wasn’t particularly well-written, Northrup appears out of touch with most women’s lives, and she got into some astrological signs that I would describe as “woo-woo.” But. She does outline how to track your menstrual cycle and the benefits of doing so, and that information has been incredibly valuable to me.
Your Menstrual Cycle
A woman’s menstrual cycle is roughly 28 days (with “normal” ranging from 24-38 days), and there are four phases of the cycle: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase.
Menstruation is the three to seven days when you’re bleeding (your period). Your cycle begins on the first day of your period. Many women feel more tired or moody during menstruation (or in the days leading up to it—commonly known as PMS).
The Follicular Phase actually encompasses the first half of your cycle, from Day One (the start of your period) until ovulation. However, for tracking purposes, I consider roughly the second week of my cycle (post menstruation) the “Follicular Phase.” During this phase, it’s common to feel an increase in energy and overall positive feelings. You may feel more willing to take risks and experience an increased sense of self-sufficiency.
Ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovaries) technically occurs on just one day (around Day 14 or the middle of your cycle). However, your fertile period begins a day or two before ovulation and lasts up to three days after ovulation. During the ovulation phase (including those days leading up to and following it), you may feel very energetic and even more outgoing or outward-focused. Some women feel more beautiful. (Your sex drive is typically higher around this time, too.)
The Luteal Phase is the second half of your cycle, from Ovulation to the start of your next period. (Again, for tracking purposes, I focus on the Luteal Phase as the week before my period.) Some women may notice a dip in energy during this phase, as well as a desire to focus inward.
The Menstrual Cycle and the Four Seasons
According to Northrup, each of these phases of the cycle corresponds with one of the seasons.
- Menstruation = Winter
- Follicular = Spring
- Ovulation = Summer
- Luteal = Fall
In different seasons, we focus on different things, don’t we? You’re more likely to stay inside and snuggle under a blanket by the fire—book and warm beverage near at hand—in the winter than in the summer, right? On the flip side, you’re more likely to socialize at the neighborhood cookout in the summer or plan a long hike for the spring or fall. We change our activities according to the seasons.
Similarly, the different phases of our cycle call for different actions. Northrup suggests the following:
- During the menstrual phase (“winter”), focus on rest, evaluation, and research. Our bodies are primed for these activities that allow inward reflection and solo time.
- During the follicular phase (“spring,” or approximately the second week of our cycles), focus on beginning new things, brainstorming, and planning.
- In ovulation (“summer,” including a couple of days leading up to ovulation and a few days following it), your body and mind are hormonally primed for connection, collaboration, and communication.
- During the luteal phase (“fall”), focus on detail-oriented work and bringing projects to completion. Your body is preparing for its “winter” season (menstruation), so tying up loose ends will allow you to rest when you most need it.
How to Track Your Menstrual Cycle
For many years, I’ve used the Clue app to track my period. However, since beginning to track my menstrual cycle a couple of months ago, I’ve been using pen and paper. I keep a small notebook on my bedside table, and at the end of the day, I make note of these items (based on a worksheet included in Do Less):
- Day of Cycle
- Phase of Cycle (As best I can tell—sometimes I’m not entirely sure, especially when transitioning from one phase to another.)
- How did I sleep last night? (I give this a 1-10 rating so that I have a somewhat objective measure.)
- How are my emotions today? (I make note of whether I was feeling generally happy, or crabby, or overwhelmed. If there was an outside circumstance, like a child’s negative behavior, that I know influenced my mood, I might make note of that, too.)
- What did I work on today? (Over time, this will help me to notice if certain work activities flow better during certain parts of my cycle.)
- What went well today?
- What didn’t go well today?
- How was my energy today? (I also use a 1-10 rating scale here, so noting this gives me an objective measurement of my daily energy.)
It might seem like a lot to track, but it takes me less than three minutes before bedtime to jot down my notes. I like having it in a notebook because it’s easy to page through and see patterns emerge.
What I’ve Learned from Tracking My Menstrual Cycle
I was very skeptical that my cycle would match the common patterns of other women’s cycles. I felt sure that if there were patterns related to my mood or energy, I would have noticed them on my own.
Well, I was wrong. Within two months of tracking my cycle, I noticed patterns emerging that matched what Northrup described in Do Less. It turns out I am exhausted and often extremely crabby a couple of days before my period and for the first couple days of menstruation. Rather than feeling frustrated with myself for not getting as much done as usual, I’ve extended myself grace and allowed myself to rest without berating myself or feeling guilty.
I also noticed that my energy (which probably averages about a 7) is consistently at 9-10 during the ovulation phase—and I get a ton of stuff done—which more than makes up for the rest I allowed myself during menstruation.
Moving forward, I’m going to try to plan more rest and a slower pace during menstruation, as well as more outward-focused activities during ovulation.
How to Plan Self-Care Based on Tracking Your Menstrual Cycle
After a couple months of tracking your menstrual cycle, you will likely start to see patterns emerge. How can we engage in self-care in a way that’s compatible with the phase of our cycle?
- Take a nap.
- Plan an hour (or more) alone to read or rest.
- Take a bath.
- Spend time journaling and reflecting on the previous month.
- Focus on gentle movement, like yoga or a walk.
- Cancel nonessential plans. (After you’ve been tracking your cycle a while, you can avoid making unnecessary plans during this phase.)
- Make plans that excite you.
- Have dinner with friends.
- Dream about the future.
- Put your energy toward solving a problem that’s been bothering you.
- Engage in more strenuous exercise or attend a group fitness class.
- Attend a social event.
- Get out of the house—with friends, if possible!
- Focus on activities that bring you peace and joy.
- Wrap up lingering projects so that you can prepare to rest.
Tracking my cycle has helped me to notice my moods (and remember that everything I feel isn’t fact) and my energy. Noticing how my energy waxes and wanes over the course of my cycle has been so helpful to permit myself to rest and to engage in more demanding work at the appropriate times.
Do you track your cycle? If you do, what have you noticed about your mood and energy? Do you plan your life and activities around your cycle?