Does talking about the menstrual cycle make you uncomfortable?
It’s, in many ways, still a taboo topic. Women still speak about it in code (“shark week,” “that time of the month”), hide tampons on the way to the restroom, and many of the women I meet in my practice were taught little to nothing about this part of their lives.
As a Fertility Awareness Educator and Women’s Health Coach, one of the things I do almost daily is teach about the menstrual cycle from a holistic, empowering perspective. Understanding and optimizing it becomes a life hack that my clients are excited to pass down to their daughters, nieces, and other girls in their life.
Here are my top three tips for having empowering conversations about the menstrual cycle with your pre-teen or teen:
START WITH HER HEALTH
Conversations about menstruation do not always have to be conversations about sex or reproduction. Although age-appropriate sex education is important, and reproduction is one part of menstrual health, that’s not the only benefit of the menstrual cycle.
The sex hormones produced during the menstrual cycle are used by every system of health in her body. Tell her about how her menstrual cycle means that she’s making hormones (messengers) that help her grow, support the health of her brain, keep her bones strong, and support her health, and that this won’t only happen during puberty but for years to come. Her period is like a report card saying that all of these systems of health are being taken care of.
Teaching girls to view menstruation as part of their own personal health FIRST, rather than only a part of sexuality or reproduction, can empower them to become their own health advocates.
TALK ABOUT THE WHOLE CYCLE (NOT JUST HER PERIOD)
The feelings and changes that take place in the cycle can be compared to the seasons.
Menstruation is an inner winter. During this time, sex hormones are low, which may lead to feeling more introverted, tired, or hungry.
After menstruation, the follicular phase is like an inner spring. The pituitary gland releases follicle-stimulating hormone to stimulate the ovaries’ follicles, causing estrogen to slowly rise. Estrogen may increase her energy levels and is also a growth hormone.
Ovulation is the inner summer. Hormones like estrogen and testosterone are at peak levels. In the same way you see her grow and change each summer, she’s going through many rapid changes in this brief yet important part of her cycle. Ovulation is the main event of a menstrual cycle and is a sign of health because it requires adequate endocrine and gonadal function. She may feel more social and motivated around this time, too!
Finally, after ovulation, she enters the luteal phase. The luteal phase is inner autumn. During this time, progesterone levels rise. This changes her brain chemistry and is also designed to balance out and maintain the growth effects that estrogen had previously in the cycle. This is a time to let things go and cultivate healthy coping skills for challenging emotions that may arise, and she might feel hungrier due to changes in metabolism.
IT’S JUST A PHASE (REALLY)
During these four phases, levels of estrogen and progesterone change, which influences brain chemistry. Most notably, serotonin and dopamine levels are higher in the follicular and ovulatory phases and lower in the luteal and menstrual phases.
For some girls, this change can feel especially jarring. It can cause mood swings, difficulty focusing in school, and behavior change.
Try to avoid expressions like “raging hormones” or “you’re just hormonal” when mood swings occur. Although it can be difficult, these expressions leave the impression that hormones are something negative. Instead, try:
The world was not designed to accommodate the changes menstruating brains and bodies experience.
Speaking about these changes with compassion sheds the stigma, which leads to better communication and choices.
BUILDING A TOOLBOX FOR PMS MIGHT INCLUDE ACTIVITIES LIKE:
- Doing a mental wellness check-in
- Gently reminding her that it’s normal if she feels differently than she did last week
- Physical exercise
- Spending time in nature
- Making sure that some days are free from extracurricular plans
- Talking to a counselor about the challenges she’s experiencing (i.e., troubles in school or learning to set boundaries with friends)
Audrey S. Geyer is a High-Performance Women’s Health Coach and Fertility Awareness Educator who empowers women to live in alignment with their hormones & their higher purpose. Leaving nothing unintentional or uninspired, she helps women make sense of their health in a holistic, functional way and prove that they can achieve their most meaningful goals without putting themselves on the back burner.