A little health class refresher: The menstrual cycle encompasses more than just your period. It actually has four distinct phases: menstruation, follicular, ovulation, and luteal. During each phase, your body experiences different changes (here’s looking at you, PMS!). Therefore, what you need in terms of self-care changes for each menstrual cycle phase.
Berrion Berry, a menstrual health educator and board-certified integrative health practitioner, refers to the menstrual cycle as a blueprint informing you when to focus on internal or external self-care. “Start by viewing each phase as week-long,” Berry says. “From there honor the two weeks of high energy (follicular and ovulation) and the two weeks of low energy (luteal and menstruation).” In other words, understanding your cycle is like a cheat sheet of sorts for optimizing your whole life. It’s also helpful in that it helps you understand and be aware of what your body needs. Sometimes you’ll need to rest and hop in a bubble bath. And then, there will be times when you need to take advantage of your body’s high-energy state.
Read ahead for everything you need to know about each menstrual cycle phase and what specific self-care and wellness rituals will nourish you best during these times.
How To Practice Self-Care During The Menstruation phase
Menstruation is the first phase of the menstrual cycle which lasts four to seven days. During this phase, “the hormone progesterone drops sharply causing the uterine lining to shed and bleed, which is known as your period,” says Sherry Ross, MD, OBGYN and co-founder of sexual wellness line URJA Intimates. This can cause you to feel tired and fatigued, so self-care during this phase is important.
While on your period, Berry recommends nourishing your body with lots of water and unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods that will help keep your energy and sugar levels steady. Think lean proteins, healthy fats, and carbs that are low on the glycemic index like root vegetables and whole grains. Working out is also great during your period, but Berry advises slowing it down and focusing on lower intensity activities that are easier on the body and cultivate relaxation. At night, Dr. Ross recommends taking warm baths while sipping a cup of chamomile or peppermint tea.
How To Practice Self-Care During The Follicular Phase
Once your period is all done, you move into the follicular phase. “The follicular phase causes the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) to be released, which stimulates the ovarian follicles located in the ovaries to grow and mature,” Dr. Ross says. The best part? Thanks to an increase in estrogen and testosterone, you’ll also experience an increase in energy during this phase.
Since your energy will be high, Berry says it’s an excellent time to take your workouts up a notch by adding more intensity and strength training. Maybe you increase your time on the Pilates reformer or on your spin bike or go for an extra-long run in the morning. To help your body process the increased estrogen, she also recommends eating fermented and high-fiber foods. The increase in energy also makes this a good time to be more social and focus on external self-care, too, like getting a haircut or your nails done.
How To Practice Self-Care During The Ovulation Phase
Next up is the ovulation phase, which Dr. Ross explains is when an egg is released and is available for fertilization for a 24-hour period. This is also referred to as the fertile phase. If you’re not actively trying to get pregnant, Berry says this is the time to be cautious and use protection. Dr. Ross adds that estrogen and testosterone continue to rise during the ovulation phase which will make you feel good, energized, and increase your sex drive too.
The ovulation phase is when Berry encourages you to live your best life. “There’s no telling how you’re going to want to move and groove during this phase, so go with whatever feels best for you during that time because that’s going to be the self-care that you actually need,” she explains. The higher testosterone makes it a good time for strength and resistance training, says Berry. She also points to liver-friendly foods like kale, broccoli, onions, garlic, and radishes to help your liver process the increased estrogen.
How To Practice Self-Care During The Luteal Phase
The fourth and final phase of the menstrual cycle is the luteal phase, but Berry notes, most of us know this as the PMS phase. During this stage, Dr. Ross says estrogen and testosterone decrease while progesterone increases to prepare for your next period. PMS symptoms like anxiety, mood changes, breast tenderness, bloating, weight gain, and an increase in appetite can happen during this phase.
To help prevent common PMS symptoms, Dr. Ross recommends making a few dietary tweaks, such as eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates to help prevent bloating. Calcium-rich foods, she adds, can also help with cramping. That said, Berry advises honoring your cravings as well without going overboard. For example, if you’re craving chocolate, reach for cacao instead of a candy bar. Fitness-wise, Berry recommends replacing strenuous workouts with long walks or hikes to cultivate an optimal, chill environment for your body to prepare for your next period.