Navigating the changes of hormone cycles and menopause
The reproductive years for women is a time of cyclical flow through the follicular, ovulatory, luteal and menstrual phases of the hormone cycle.
In the follicular phase, the hormonal milieu is such that a woman is most open to new ideas. This is a wonderful time for clarity, setting intentions and planning.
The ovulatory phase of the cycle with it’s stark spike in estrogen and testosterone is the phase women most tend to enjoy with it’s rise in labido and optimism. It is a wonderful time for self expression.
The luteal phase begins with the energizing effects of progesterone coming on board. Women report a sense of effortlessness in getting things done, and this is a wonderful time for action. The second half of the luteal phase can be more challenging with estrogen/testosterone/progesterone dropping off, and energy levels following suit. This is the time to bring tasks to completion and not to engage in strenuous activity beyond 30 minutes. This is a wonderful time for introspection and reflection.
During the menstrual phase, although hormone levels are at their lowest, it is the time of maximal communication between the left and right side of the brain making it a wonderful time for synthesizing, auditing and evaluating.
Starting the in early 40s, the ovaries start skipping ovulations, setting up a situation of more estrogen relative to progesterone in the system, along with declining testosterone. The loss of the warming and calming progesterone, combined with excess estrogen that is potentially metabolized into additional stress hormone, can set off a myriad of psychological and physical symptoms. Hot flashes, palpitations and night sweats, increased anxiety, mood swings and brain fog, are just a few examples. This perimenopausal state can be a similar experience to what the end of the luteal phase can feel like for some women, other wise known as PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Eventually, once a woman reaches menopause somewhere around age 52 and there are no menstrual cycles for a year, estrogen levels also fall off, which can impact the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin and norepinephrine. Many potentially alarming things can happen during this time - stirring up old memories perhaps never previously recalled, changes in labido and the questioning of priorities and certainties as the self-sacrificing veil of the family trance is lifted.
A diet high in leafy greens , protein and healthy fats, and low in sugar, along with regular exercise and strong relationships can be very helpful for coping during this potentially tumultuous time. Sometimes supplements and hormone replacement can also be helpful for easing transitions. However what is equally important is to consider the influence of cultural messaging around emotions, aging, and menopause particularly, as a degenerative disease. Can we instead honour our cycles and the transition into menopause as a portal to transformation, a wake-up call for the soul, an opportunity for rebirth and renewal?
Menopause, perimenopause and the premenstrual phase of the menstrual cycle are an invitation into feeling, into getting real, into self possession. They are wonderful times to explore:
what may be out of balance?
what may require further attention?
what needs room to be? to exist?
Although embracing the cyclic nature of womanhood can be challenging at times, it is state of being rich with wisdom and power.