What if you can’t schedule your life around your cycle–what can you do?

My Hormonology

What if you can’t schedule your life around your cycle–what can you do?

Soon after I wrote yesterday’s Hormonology Tip about the benefits of planning future events according to the cycle week on which the event will fall, I received an email from a Hormonology newsletter subscriber. Turns out, she’s new to Hormonology and had already planned her Vegas wedding–and now she realizes it falls in her premenstrual Week 4, which tends to be emotionally intense for her. It’s too late to change the date–so she wanted to know what she could do about it.

This soon-to-be-wedded reader brings up a good point: What if you don’t have the ability to plan events around your hormone cycle either because it’s out of your hands, you pegged the date before looking at your cycle calendar or your cycle changed in length, throwing off your best effort to pick the perfect date?

Not to worry! Sure, scheduling your life around your hormone cycle is optimal because you can match activities to your hormone-related moods, energy levels and interests. But, if you can’t sync up an event with your cycle, that’s okay. Because when you know what to expect from each week in your cycle–your Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4–you can use this information to overcome hormonal challenges you know you might be facing.

To make this a bit easier for you, below I’ve listed the common hormone-fueled challenges you might encounter during each week of your monthly cycle and easy ways to overcome them. You might have unique challenges that are specific to your cycle–and if you do, then you may want to add your own tips to this list to help you make an event better when it doesn’t sync up perfectly with your cycle.

Okay, ready to find out how to make an out-of-sync activity a success? Start with your….

Week 1: Head cramps off at the pass
Day 1 (first day of period) to Day 7

Week 1 starts off with your period–and if you tend to get painful menstrual cramps that threaten to put a damper on whatever activity you’ll be doing, don’t wait for cramps to kick in to get pain control started. Research shows that waiting for pain to begin before initiating a pain relief therapy actually makes it less effective. So, put on the heat patch, rub in the aromatherapy oil or sip the chamomile tea at the first sign of your period. Or, even better, there’s a super-easy premenstrual trick to reducing or even altogether blocking menstrual cramp pain: It involves taking ibuprofen or omega-3s during your premenstrual week. I wrote about this technique here.

Another hormonal obstacle you could face in your Week 1 is fatigue due to low iron as you bleed combined with just-getting-off-the-ground-floor low estrogen. To overcome it and get energized: Load up on iron-rich foods (such as fortified cereal, beans and lean beef) or take a multivitamin with iron (15 mg. for ages 14 to 18; 18 mg. for ages 19 to 50) to replenish low iron. Then, do what you can to conserve the little energy you’ll have during the event, such as cutting out non-essential activities, trimming your to-do list, recruiting help and/or taking breaks. And boost your energy level by exercising, listening to up-tempo music or drinking a little caffeine throughout the day. (Just as an fyi, small, frequent sips of caffeine work better at keeping you alert than drinking a mugful all at once, research shows.)

Week 2: Nix anxiety with proven tension-tamers
Day 8 to ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)

Many women might be thinking there couldn’t possibly be an obstacle you face during your Week 2 when high estrogen is boosting your mood, energy, extroversion, derring-do, brain skills, dexterity and on and on.

However, there is one key way high estrogen can put the kibosh on certain events, making you wish you could have avoided this week of your cycle: It can amp up stress and anxiety. So, if you’re giving a speech to a room full of strangers and you hate public speaking, you’re taking your first driving exam and you’re worried about passing or you’ve got a major dental procedure, this probably wouldn’t be the week you’d want it to fall because your tension would likely be exacerbated by elevated hormones.

But, what can you do if these types of activities do fall during this high-stress week in your cycle? Be prepared to use calming techniques that you know work for you, such as yoga, meditation, prayer, chanting, t’ai chi, chamomile tea, exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, talking with a trusted friend, family member or therapist or even taking anti-anxiety medication prescribed by your doctor and in the right circumstances (for instance, not during that driving exam). The key here is to know what soothes you before this event arrives–don’t try new relaxation methods on the day of the event. Part of the stress-reduction power comes from simply knowing the technique works for you.

Week 3: Rev pep and fill your tummy
Begins day after ovulation and lasts 8 days

There are two key obstacles you could face when an activity falls during your Week 3. The first is fatigue. As progesterone rises higher and higher during this phase of your cycle, this sedating hormone drags down your mental and physical pep, making you feel sluggish. So, use the same fatigue-fighting techniques you’d use in your Week 1, such as conserving your energy by cutting out non-essential activities, trimming your to-do list, recruiting help and/or taking breaks. Then, boost your energy level by exercising, listening to up-tempo music or drinking a little caffeine throughout the day.

The second major obstacle you could face in your Week 3 is the hunger crankies. Due to progesterone, many women get more sensitive to blood sugar dips between meals in this cycle phase, which can cause sudden flashes of anger, irritation, frustration and sadness. By eating regularly throughout the day and having healthy snacks on hand (such as granola bars, nuts, whole grain crackers, yogurt and string cheese) and eating them at the first sign of hunger, you can sidestep this problem and keep your mood stable.

Week 4: Be premenstrually proactive
Final 6 days of your cycle

It’s no secret that your plunging estrogen can make you less patient and more easily irritated by problems. So, the trick to enjoying an event during your premenstrual week is to be as proactive as possible. Have backup plans for everything about the event–how you’ll be traveling there, how you’ll be paying for it, how you’ll be wearing your hair. Just pretend everything that can go wrong will. But, because you have backup plans already in place and are ready to switch to your pre-approved Plan B, your premenstrual hormones won’t get you riled.

Ditto goes with people. Be proactive about folks–you know people are going to work your last nerve. They don’t mean to, but they’re human. So, think of what you’d say or do to de-escalate a situation, like when your honey says something that was a bit insensitive or your two-year-old won’t give you a free moment to put on your makeup. Have plans in place for dealing with each of them in a way that you know will make you feel better, whether that means changing the subject, walking away or giving your tot a toy.

Then, fit in as many stress-busting and mood-boosting activities as you can. Plan these ahead of time, too. Whether it’s going for a five-minute walk by yourself, treating yourself to a gift at a store, eating a cookie, taking a bath. Whatever it is that makes you feel good. The less stress you have, the less premenstrual mood issues you have. That’s a study-proven fact, so don’t feel guilty about taking some me-time or enjoying an indulgence.

Also key: Avoid too much caffeine–especially on an empty stomach–because it worsens premenstrual irritability. And, as during your Week 3, remember to eat regularly and snack if you feel hungry since progesterone can still impact blood sugar on these cycle days.

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[Photo: Doug Zwick]

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