Take your cycle in stride and (literally) go with the flow.

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Illustrations by Wenzdai Figueroa

Most women learn pretty quick in adolescence that their menstrual cycle comes with both physical and emotional symptoms.

Many of us are familiar with PMS, usually associated with the telltale aches and pains of period cramps and the all too familiar mood changes that tend to come with them.

While many of us are aware of the changes in our bodies in the infamous PMS week, few of us pay much attention to the ways our cycles can affect us throughout the rest of the month.

Take productivity, for example.

Have you ever noticed that you get random bursts of motivation followed by stretches of lethargy and low energy?

It turns out these changes in productivity levels may have something to do with your menstrual cycle and the hormonal changes that come with it.

The menstrual cycle can affect your productivity levels, but there are plenty of ways to find a healthy productivity flow by working with your period rather than fighting against it.

Let’s begin by clearing up some of the misconceptions about how periods affect our bodies.

When most of us think of our periods, we think of two or three distinct phases. We probably think of our cycle in terms of the menstruating part and the nonmenstruating part. We’re also likely to be aware of the ovulation phase occurring at some point during the nonmenstruating phase.

However, this type of thinking is somewhat flawed.

As it turns out, there are actually four distinct phases caused by hormonal changes. We’ll talk about these four phases in more detail below.

Another common misconception about periods is that they naturally come with a hellish PMS week. Most assume that PMS is naturally filled with dramatic mood changes and low energy levels.

For many, it’s thought of as a bit of a write-off.

It turns out that the infamous PMS week doesn’t have to be a bad thing if we learn to work with it rather than against it.

It might sound too good to be true, but read on.

Why is our understanding of the menstrual cycle so flawed?

Dr. Allison Devine is an OB-GYN at the Austin Diagnostic Clinic and faculty at Texas A&M Medical School. She says that most research has focused on how female hormonal imbalances are a negative aspect of the menstrual cycle.

Instead, Devine says, we should be looking at how hormonal changes can support us.

“The reality is that our current medical standard is to suppress a women’s natural cycle at the first sign of an imbalance, using powerful synthetic hormones, rather than educating women on the importance of diet, exercise, and stress management to help promote improved hormonal balance,” Devine told Forbes.

By embracing the hormonal changes in our cycle rather than trying to suppress them, we can take advantage of what they offer us.

And when it comes to productivity, the hormonal changes can actually make a big difference.

Three hormones fluctuate throughout the cycle, changing your brain’s energy levels and functionality. Two of the main female sex hormones are progesterone and estrogen.

Testosterone is the somewhat surprising third, but it plays a significant role.

Let’s examine what happens to the brain during the four phases of the cycle. We’ll look at the three main hormones that can fluctuate throughout the cycle: progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone.

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Source: http://yubad.org/women-s-hormone-chart/

Menstruation phase

This phase lasts from the first day of bleeding to the last day of bleeding. It usually lasts for 3 to 7 days.

Hormones

During this phase, the levels of all hormones are low. There’s a slight rise in estrogen and a slight dip in progesterone.

What this means for productivity

Your energy, focus, and productivity levels are at their lowest during menstruation.

How to work in this phase

  • Cut back on work tasks if possible — give yourself time to rejuvenate.
  • Get lots of sleep and rest.
  • Reduce social commitments.
  • Cut yourself some slack if you work at a slower pace.
Healthline

Follicular phase

The second phase, or follicular phase, begins as bleeding stops. The uterus is beginning to prepare for a potential pregnancy. This phase can last for 11 to 27 days, and averages 16 days.

Hormones

This phase sees a sharp rise in progesterone and estrogen. Testosterone stays at a steady level, but it may rise toward the end of this phase.

What this means for productivity

You have heightened energy during this phase thanks to rising estrogen levels. It’s a good time to learn and drive to succeed may be higher.

How to work in this phase

  • It’s a good time to be proactive and get creative work done.
  • Your mind is up for difficult, complex tasks.
  • Time to tackle those tricky projects!
Healthline

Ovulation phase

This phase occurs in the middle of your cycle and is the point at which an egg is released.

It usually lasts for only 24 hours, but the high levels of estrogen and testosterone can make this a noticeable part of your cycle for 3 to 4 days.

Don’t be surprised if you feel a little different for a few days on either end of ovulation day.

Hormones

Both estrogen and testosterone peak in this phase. Progesterone takes a dip then begins to rise slowly at the end of ovulation.

What this means for productivity

The hormonal peak of testosterone gives you an outward focused energy, while the estrogen peak makes you feel energetic and proactive.

How to work in this phase

  • This is a great time to schedule important meetings and tough chats.
  • It’s an extroverted time for most women, making it ideal for working in groups and team environments.
  • Got a stretch project? Time to be a go-getter!
Healthline

Luteal phase

The luteal phase occurs when the egg isn’t fertilized. The uterus is preparing to shed its lining with an upcoming period.

This phase tends to last anywhere from 12 to 14 days in most folks.

Hormones

Both estrogen and progesterone rise (especially progesterone, which reaches its highest peak) before falling dramatically at the end of this phase.

Progesterone has a calming effect, meaning that your mind will probably be a little slower than it was in the previous weeks.

What this means for productivity

Productivity levels are low. It’s a natural winding-down time. The end of this phase is associated with PMS. You might feel like cocooning in your room, reaching for comfort foods, and tearing up at a rom-com.

You can take advantage of this phase’s reflective, intuitive nature with the tips below.

How to work in this phase

  • Prioritize self-care.
  • Lighten your workload if possible.
  • Try to limit face time at work — focus instead on solo tasks.
  • Use this time for simpler work tasks that require less active brain power, such as editing your work or catching up on admin.
Healthline

Certain apps can help you track your cycle.

Because the phases can vary in length from month to month, these apps can help you predict and plan your life according to your own unique menstrual patterns.

Apps like Clue, Flo, and Maya are especially useful. They allow you to make notes in your tracker about how you feel each month. In a few months, a pattern may emerge.

These days, we’re becoming more and more open about our menstrual cycles. More research is being conducted on how it affects us.

When we learn about our cycles, we can take each phase in stride and (literally) go with the flow.

When you embrace your own body’s natural schedule, you can thrive in all facets of your life.


Meg Walters is a writer and actor from London. She is interested in exploring topics such as fitness, meditation, and healthy lifestyles in her writing. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, yoga, and the occasional glass of wine.