Understanding the Monthly Phases of your menstrual cycle calendar
It’s day one, the beginning of your period, and it’s possible you’re so tired that the idea of making toast has you hitting the snooze button. By day 15, your mood has lifted and life doesn’t seem all that bad.
Familiar? Welcome to the exciting world of hormones. We take a look at how their levels change during your cycle, and how this affects what you do and how you feel.
How long is a menstrual cycle?
You count the length of your cycle from when your period starts to the day before your next one begins. So, you’ll have an average of 450 cycles in your lifetime. The average cycle lasts 28 days, but anything from 21-40 days is normal. You may find it helpful to use a period calendar to keep track.
What changes can I expect during my cycle?
It’s not just what happens at school or home that can affect our emotions. Those things can seem perfectly stable and we still might not feel right. This is because hormones are constantly shifting throughout our cycle, and these impact the way we feel.
Imagine hormones as people (there’s a whole bunch of them – Oestrogen, Testosterone and Progesterone to name a few). Now think of them sitting on opposite ends of a see-saw. Sometimes the balance is easy to get right. Sometimes not so much. Now picture Oestrogen jumping off the see-saw, catapulting the others into the air, instantly taking with them that walking-on-sunshine feeling you had been enjoying.
Of course, being unpredictable so-and-sos, hormones don’t only affect how you feel – they play a big part in how hungry you are, how much energy you have, your concentration levels and, amazingly, your body strength. So it’s totally normal for all of these things to change throughout your cycle as the hormones come and go.
Week 1 (days 1-7)
Hey, period! Our oestrogen levels are at their lowest on day one, so don’t be surprised if you lack energy. You might get period pain in the first couple of days of bleeding, or feel a bit tired, achy or grouchy. Oh, and your boobs might feel super-heavy and/or tender.
As the days go on, your oestrogen will rise, which can make you sharper and more focused – great news if you need to get important stuff done.
Remember to go with the flow this week – when you’re tired, rest. When you’re hungry, eat. And when you want to share something, talk. It might sound like really simple stuff, but these are the things we can often forget. It’s important to remember that our body has an impact on our mind, and vice versa.
Week 2 (days 8-14)
Feeling bouncy? Thank your rising oestrogen and progesterone levels. Now the bleeding’s over (periods can last anything from 3-8 days) and your oestrogen and testosterone levels continue to rise, you’re probably full of energy.
Your libido (aka sex drive) may have increased. Which could mean the person who sits in front of you in class – the one you didn’t notice before – looks pretty hot all of a sudden.
If you’ve been telling yourself you can’t do something, now’s the time you might be feeling like you actually can. But go easy – the extra hormone buzz can heighten anxiety so surround yourself with people you trust, lay off the caffeine (no more energy drinks, sob) and try some low impact exercise (swimming, yoga etc) to keep that at bay.
Week 3 (days 15-21)
As your oestrogen levels dip you might feel slightly deflated, so this, and the rising progesterone that can drain your energy, give you the perfect excuse to veg under the covers.
By the end of the week your hormone levels rise and level out, often bringing a sense of calm and wellbeing. In a nutshell, the seesaw is balanced once more.
Ovulation is the big event this week, which means you’re most likely to get pregnant now if you have unprotected sex.
Week 4 (days 22-28)
Some call this PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) week, because oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone take a sharp nosedive, often resulting in a bluer-than-usual mood.
Because of the hormone shift, your moods might be erratic – don’t be surprised if you’re suddenly irritated by something like the way a friend eats (even if it hasn’t bothered you before) or you’re screaming because you missed your bus by a nanosecond.
The sudden dip in oestrogen might disrupt your sleep, too (yup, this hormone contains sleep-regulating serotonin). But try not to worry. You’re only human, and like everyone else you’ll have highs and lows and a thousand in-betweens. Sometimes shutting out the world can do you good, so take a bath, message a good mate or just binge-watch TV. That should tip your mood see-saw back into balance.
How long does a period last?
Typically your period will last around 5 days, but you may bleed for anywhere between 3 and 8 days. Heaviest bleeding usually occurs in the first two days of your period.
How many days between periods?
The typical cycle lasts 28 days, although anything from 21-40 days is considered normal. This is counted from day 1 of your period starting. To find out how many days you can expect to have between your periods, simply minus the average number of days you bleed for from the average length of your cycle. Too complicated? You can always use our period tracker.
What should my period look like?
On your heaviest days, your period blood will be red, but on lighter days it may be pink, brown or black. The consistency can vary from very thick to quite thin or runny. If you’re concerned about your period, please consult a doctor.
How much blood will I lose on my period?
Whilst it can look like a lot of blood, the average amount is just two to three tablespoons! This is equivalent to 30 to 45ml.
Which period products should I use?
The products you use on your period are personal and entirely up to you! All that matters is that you feel comfortable, confident and aren’t worrying about leaking. There are lots of options, from ultra pads and tampons to mooncups and reusable pants.
What do I do if I’m worried about my period?
If you have any concerns, talk to someone you trust. This could be your mum, a sister, friend or colleague. They might be able to put your mind at rest, advise you on the best course of action and offer some support. When in doubt, make an appointment to talk things over with a health practitioner.
And if something doesn’t feel right?
Try chatting with someone, whether face-to-face, or over the phone. We know how hard it can be to open up, but the positives of sharing your problems with someone you trust are the support and help you’ll receive. We give you some straightforward talk tips here.
Most of the time, you’ll get the reassurance that everything you’re experiencing is normal – from irregular periods (stress can do strange things to our cycles) to feeling blue.
If you really don’t feel that the things you’re experiencing are ‘normal’ (if your low moods continue for weeks, or you often feel out of control, or your period pain is seriously intense) be sure to tell someone. A friend, family member, teacher or helpline are good calls. Remember, there are always people who can help you, and you should never have to deal with these worries on your own.