It’s no news the menstrual cycle is designed to create life. Perhaps more revelatory though is the idea that there’s more to this internal rhythm than making babies. If you’ve ever stuffed a tampon up the sleeve of your jumper on your way to the office bathroom, cursed your premenstrual moods while curled up with Netflix or wished you simply didn’t have a period at all (believe me, you’re not alone), then please know this: your menstrual cycle is a gift.
By tuning in and paying a little attention to your natural rhythm, you might find an intrinsic connection between your monthly flow and creative flow.
If you’re someone who menstruates, then you are at this very moment in time (and at every minute of every day) experiencing one of the four phases of the menstrual cycle.
These four phases vary hormonally, which might explain why you can feel like a different person week-to-week. The rise and fall of female sex hormones - oestrogen and progesterone - can affect mood, motivation, focus, energy levels, memory retention, cognition, confidence and how the body responds to stress.
Gratefully, as a collective, we’re abandoning the outdated idea that the menstrual cycle is a burden. Cycle-tracking apps and period-literate folk help us to recognize the fluctuations of the menstrual cycle are actually quite predictable.
With this understanding we can work with our internal rhythm, rather than against it. This is called cycle-syncing. With a little awareness of the female hormonal journey, you can use this information to schedule your life, work and creative projects accordingly.
Cycle-syncing can be used to birth books, blogs, films, entrepreneurial ventures or yield more effective results in the workplace. Yes, your period could have everything to do with your productivity.
As someone who has been menstruating for 17 years, I can say with earnest enthusiasm my cycle has schooled me in the ingredients required for sustainable and fruitful creativity. The often elusive, but inherent creative process is mirrored in the rise and fall of the menstrual cycle. It holds the inhale and exhale of creative expression; the birth, death and rebirth cycle is literally coded into the female body.
I like to use the seasons of the year to explain the four phases of the menstrual cycle, as they mirror those perfectly.
Let’s start with menstruation, the beginning and end of the menstrual cycle. This is the winter phase and hormones are at their lowest levels. It’s a time for resting, reflecting and re-filling the tank; the pitstop of the menstrual cycle.
Creativity requires space and time to potter about, exhale and take a break. Menstruation is the natural point in the cycle to do this. Just as the juiciest creative ideas appear mid-shower or after taking a nap, menstruation is the phase of the cycle best geared towards creative visioning and insight. I always keep a notepad handy in my winter — I’ve had book titles, marketing plans and workshop structures land effortlessly when I have my period.
Spring heralds the emergence from the period cave and a relaunch back out into the world. Now’s the time to take action on those brilliant ideas that came during menstruation and get the wheels in motion on creative projects. Focus, experiment and play with that rising pre-ovulatory energy.
Too much too soon can result in overwhelm though, so syncing up with the gradual rise in oestrogen and energy levels here is key. Be discerning when it comes to your creative projects and intentionally choose which ones will receive your focus at this time.
The summer phase is characterized by ovulation, the peak of the cycle. This is the moment to birth those creative projects into the world. Let your work be seen by others, network your butt off and flex those social muscles.
I’m a card-carrying introvert, but when I’m ovulating I’ll back a dinner party up with a group breakfast meeting and release a new project that afternoon — social nerves and creative anxieties be gone. Longer days at my desk are no problem either.
The week before your period starts, hormone levels decline and the transition back towards menstruation begins. Like leaves falling from autumnal trees, this is a time for editing, reflection and honing a project towards completion.
Self-critical thoughts can take up more space than necessary here though, so negotiating a fair deal with your inner critic is essential self-care. For example, my inner critic’s opinion saying I’m an unworthy imposter because I get distracted by Instagram in the pre-menstruum is not helpful. The tiny grain of truth here is that I could benefit from some boundaries around social media, so maybe I’ll delete my social apps for a day or two.
As I type this, I’m on day 25 of my menstrual cycle, nearing the end of my autumn phase. Weeks ago I scheduled “write article on the menstrual cycle and creativity” into my calendar for this exact date. I’ve got a keen eye for detail in the days leading up to my period and I feel more connected to an emotive depth within me. For me, this combination lends itself to better writing.
It doesn’t lend itself to focus, which is more my strength around days six to 12. The wifi in my house is switched off today and my Pomodoro timer is ticking away. I also wouldn’t dream of launching a new project into the world just before my period starts, because the other side to that emotive depth is a tender sensitivity. But ten days ago, when I was ovulating and riding the resilience sitting alongside the hormonal high of my cycle? Bring on the critical feedback!
In a world that has glorified hustling and exhaustion in pursuit of creative production for far too long, my cycle has shown me sustainable creativity is not only possible, but wildly effective. This is a lesson our planet and its inhabitants (uterus or no uterus) all desperately need right now. The menstrual cycle, just like the natural seasons of the year, is a perfect model of how we might create beyond linear modes of productivity.
Naturally, the influence of hormones on the brain is complex. There is still much for us to learn about how exactly hormones affect the brain. There’s no perfect formula here; it’s about listening to your own body, experimenting and identifying where your creative strengths and vulnerabilities lie.