As you will find out, your menstrual cycle is split into four distinct phases. It can be really difficult to remember each phase and what is happening in your body, especially because much of it is invisible and requires you to be tuned into how you are feeling and your energy levels. A good way to keep track is to compare the four phases of your menstrual cycle to the four seasons. This is a good comparison because the cycles happen like clockwork, every single year, similarly to the phases of your menstrual cycle. Both we and the planet are cyclical beings.
Comparing the phases to the seasons also helps us remember what might happen to our bodies, our hormones and our feelings with each phase. It also reminds us to let ourselves off the hook a bit, how you feel on the lead up to and during your period (during your autumn and winter) might greatly differ to how you feel when you are ovulating or on the lead up to it (your spring and summer). We can see this energy in our planet also and how it changes during the seasons. With winter, not much grows and our planet is cold. With spring, we see the beginnings of new life and the warmer days begin. With summer, that life is flourishing and with autumn, everything begins to slow down again.
Technically your period is part of the Follicular phase, but for the purposes of the analogy with the seasons, we are going to treat it as its own separate phase. The first phase of the menstrual cycle is your period, when you actively bleed. This is when your body releases blood from your uterus through your vagina. The cue for this happening is your body not being pregnant. This signals day 1 of your cycle and it might end around days 4-7.
Why is it compared to winter?
If you think of what the world looks like on a cold winters day – dark, cold, icy, this might also be what you and your body feel like when you’re on your period. You are often not feeling your best. This is because your hormones are at their lowest levels. This can make you feel tired, heavy and sluggish, as well as causing some low mood. It may also because you experience heavy blood loss or period pain.
These might be the days you don’t feel like going to work or school and instead just having a duvet day, or chilling under a blanket, like you would on a cold winters day. It is important to remember, especially if this phase is difficult for you – that the average period lasts 3-6 days, sometimes more or less and you will likely feel much better as you enter into the next phase.
The Follicular phase is the phase when oestrogen and follicle stimulating hormone begin to rise. These prepare your body to build up lining called your endometrium and prepare one of your ovaries to release an egg at ovulation (the next phase). Your follicular phase can properly begin when your bleed is over, this may be as early as day 4 or a bit later like day 5-7. Typically, it lasts about a week and will end on day 11-14 of your cycle.
Why is it compared to spring?
Since levels of some hormones are increasing, you might begin to feel a bit more human and on top of your game. If you think about what the world looks like during spring, you will often see new flowers and buds growing, new life such as lambs and frogspawn around and the days are generally beginning to feel much brighter and lighter. You might notice that you feel better in yourself, your breasts might feel a bit bigger and if you have any skin problems associated with your period, these might also clear up. You might also feel encouraged to learn new things or start a new workout program at the gym.
The third stage of the menstrual cycle is the ovulatory phase, or ovulation. This is the shortest phase and normally begins around day 12 or 14 of your cycle, but can also be a couple of days later. This is when oestrogen is at its highest and your body has another surge in a hormone known as luteinising hormone. This hormone causes the egg to burst out of the ovary and travel and implant in your uterus. For some people, they are not aware when this happens, but others can feel a little bit of pain in their pelvis known as mittelschmerz, which means "middle pain" and refers to the pain during ovulation.
Why is it compared to summer?
As oestrogen plays a role in your mood – it can be compared to summer – the sun is in the sky and you will likely continue to feel good in yourself and at your most confident. Something that might stress you out during your period at school or work might not bother you when you're in this phase. You might notice tenderness in your breasts and abdomen and clear, sticky liquid (cervical fluid or discharge) in your pants or pad. This is nothing to worry about (unless it is an atypical colour or smell) and signals that everything is working as it should.
The last stage of the menstrual cycle is the luteal phase. This can begin as early as day 15 for some, or a bit later around day 17 for others. It will last until your period comes again and you are back into winter. This is when levels of oestrogen drop and another hormone progesterone rises and falls again to signal the thickening of the lining in your womb (this becomes the blood you see during your period) when the luteal phase ends.
Why is it compared to autumn?
This is when the hormones such as oestrogen begin to appear in the body at lower levels. You might compare it to when the leaves begin to fall off the trees. As progesterone increases, you might feel yourself winding down and your energy might feel a bit lower – think of animals that are preparing to hibernate in the winter. As you get closer to your period (around day 25-28) of your cycle, you may experience PMS (feeling angry, sad, irritable or otherwise emotional). You might find yourself sleeping longer or craving your favourite comfort food. This is a good time to make sure those last items are ticked off your to do list and you are ready to listen to your body during your bleed.