Using your Female Hormones to Biohack your Mental Health – Part 2

By: Ashley Carter Youngblood March 6, 2024 no comments

Using your Female Hormones to Biohack your Mental Health – Part 2

This article series was written for Southwest’s Michigan “Moxie Magazine” (formerly Women’s Lifestyle Magazine). You can read Part 1 of this 4-part series here.

Author’s Note: I reference “femaleness” and gender in this article series. There is a diverse interpretation of how to understand what a “female body” is. If you feel “female,” rock it! Regardless of sex assigned at birth, gender, gender expression, or anything similar, we all have the sex hormones of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone and inputs from other related glands (e.g. Thyroid). Admittedly, this article will be most helpful to those whose bodies are menstruating. However, even for bodies who have not, cannot, or are done menstruating, you can still learn about how the different phases affect a female body to help support other loved ones or help you better understand the behavior of others. Even if you are not, cannot, or are done menstruating, some women find it empowering to use other cycles, like phases of the moon, to unleash their inner fierce cyclical female goddess. Do what works for you!

Starting Again

You learned from my last article that you, as a woman, are a complex creature. Not only are you affected by the universal cycle of Circadian Rhythm that regulates sleep-wake behaviors, but you have four phases of your hormonal cycle that you cycle through monthly, depending on how long* your menstrual cycle is.

*While the average monthly female hormone cycle is between 28-32 days, there is great variety in what is “normal” but hormone dysfunction is common. So, as I mentioned in my first article, make sure you are working with your healthcare provider if you suspect something is “off” with your cycle, like having long gaps in between bleeding.

Let me first start by clarifying one thing: this does not mean that you now understand why you are “crazy” at certain times of the month or seasons of your life. This understanding is also not inherently anti-female given that understanding one’s body is the key to appreciating and working successfully with it. So, we are not asking for accommodations from others given that we are “weak” or “crazy.” We are simply working to act, move, play, rest, and work in ways that are in line with being able to show up as our best selves.

This level of understanding and attunement with our cyclical rhythms can also explain our present well-being or lack thereof. Our well-being is dependent on our chemical health, which has everything to do with what we do with our bodies and minds. If we push ourselves when our bodies need rest, we do more harm than good. For instance, pushing intense exercise during the Luteal and Menstrual Phases – which, according to the Journal of Psychoeuroendocrinology (2013), is a time when our bodies naturally create more of the stress hormone cortisol – we cause even more of a stress response in our bodies. This can promote burn-out, increase fatigue, and causes us to actually have a counterproductive reduced athletic output. So, rest when you need to. You are not lazy. You are just working to be in tune with what your body is trying to tell you.

This is just one example. The implications are endless in every aspect of our lives. So, while this article series is a brief consolidation of the concepts every woman should know that are summarized in Alisa Vitti’s books WomanCode and In the Flo, this will only scratch the surface of better a understanding the female experience. Such education does not even consider hormonal complexities** like those missing periods or having miscarriages. This is why listening to your specific body and keeping your healthcare providers in the loop remains essential for your health, no matter what phase you are in.

**An important note: Hormones are simply chemical messengers in the body. And, unfortunately, hormone dysfunction, whether related to sex hormones or organs like the thyroid, is very common. So, while knowing more about your natural cycle patterns and being in sync with your body’s needs and changes can help, if you suspect your hormones are out of balance, it is important for you to work with your healthcare professional.

In the meantime, let us get into the specifics of how a normally-cycling female body functions in each phase and tips for what you can do to best support yourself during this time.

Phase 1: Menstruation – Hormones are at their lowest

  • Food tips: Our body temperature drops in this phase. So, warming foods that are high in nutrients (e.g. sea kelp, organ meat) to restore nutritional essentials during blood loss and promote estrogen metabolism can be helpful here.
  • Movement tips: SLOW DOWN! You may even find that your body is craving slower movement, such as yoga or a long walk. Any high-intensity exercise during this phase actually is counter-productive if fat-loss is a goal as the higher cortisol during this phase causes both muscle wasting and fat-storage. Napping may be your workout on these days.
  • Creativity tips: This is the phase of rest and reflection. You are naturally more intuitive during this phase. So, use this time, when your hormones are at their lowest, to evaluate.
  • Work tips: Because of the ability to have the strongest sense of intuition and your body’s need for rest, which gives rise to the ability to reflect well, now is the time to review your past month. Analyze projects. Take breaks. Reevaluate goals.
  • Sex tips: For some, sex during menstruation can be a turn-on. For others, thinking about this makes them uncomfortable. So, while you may need time to rest even from sexual intimacy during this phase, if you decide to engage in sexual play, your body is naturally less lubricated (the majority of blood is water) so you may need some help in this department. Or, if you prefer solo play, the chemical rush of an orgasm can help soothe menstrual cramps.
  • Parenting tips: As hard as it may be, this is the phase when it is essential for you to get time away with your kids. Don’t feel guilty about seeing if you can find a loved one to care for any children while you focus on your own individual Self, who you are, and what you need, especially if you have any physical symptoms of discomfort during your period. Don’t let your period be the only time you have an “excuse” to provide extra care for yourself. Make this time alone a norm for your family if you can.
  • Mental health tips: You are likely going to need some extra support here emotionally. Given that your the energy-giving social butterfly of Estrogen and the anxiety-reducing Progesterone are at their lowest, hibernation may not be a bad option.  

Phase 2: Follicular – Estrogen rises

  • Food tips: Your appetite will be naturally lower during this time of your cycle because your metabolism is higher. Trust your body’s cues.
  • Movement tips: Because your metabolism is more efficient and your energy is gently rising during this phase, capitalize on your ability to burn fat and your natural interest in doing new things and being social by trying a new exercise class or doing some fun at home cardio. But, remember that exercise is technically “stress” to the body (although it can be good “stress” that helps us to develop greater abilities). So, be mindful about the impact of adrenaline on your mood and keep workouts less than one hour so that you do not over-stress the body.
  • Creativity tips: As your Estrogen rises, your creativity will be at its peak. Dreaming big and brainstorming will be natural tendencies you can lean into.
  • Work tips: Follow that creative edge you have during this phase by starting new projects, brainstorming with colleagues, and problem-solve challenges that have stumped you.
  • Sex tips: Follow your creativity and try a new position or play experience. You also may benefit from a larger amount of foreplay or lubrication as this remains a more “dry” phase of your cycle.
  • Parenting tips: Embrace the newness of the month by creating the schedule, meal-prepping, or scheduling something new with the kiddos.
  • Mental health tips: Since your hormones are making your brain open to new things, consider what you want most in life and set your intentions to make those a reality.

Phase 3: Ovulatory – Estrogen at highest

  • Food tips: Your body temperature rises during ovulation. So “cooling” foods like raw foods can be extra supportive during this time. Loading up on cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower can also help detoxify*** your body of excess Estrogen.
***Hormone health is not just about the level of hormones. Our hormone levels (e.g. progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, TSH, etc.) fluctuate during the month. So, part of what keeps us hormonally healthy and emotionally and physically balanced is how well we can detoxify our body from hormones that are not needed in certain levels. Female health experts, such as Alisa Vitti, reminds us that PMS symptoms are actually indicators that you have a hormonal imbalance. So, hormonal health and the implications for your mind and body have just as much to do with what you are taking in and doing with your body as how you are supporting what needs to go out during certain phases of your cycle.
  • Movement tips: Given that your estrogen and testosterone are at peak levels during this phase, now is the time to crush that high-intensity workout. You may feel during this time that you cannot get enough cardio and could even do your usually-taxing workout for days!
  • Creativity tips: Research shows that during Ovulation, a woman becomes more attractive and has a better vocabulary than any other phase. We also tend to be more naturally inclined for connection. So, collaborate with others to do a project you have always wanted to try.
  • Work tips: This is the phase during which you are going to be best at presentations, negotiating, and having people feel drawn to your magnetism. Capitalize on this by being social and using the communication skills you are wired for in this phase. Make those sales!
  • Sex tips: This is the time of the month when you are most likely to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Since you are also more social, this is a time when a date night on the town will be exciting for you! You will also be naturally lubricated, as well, to promote fertilization. So, if you are trying to avoid pregnancy, remember to use birth control.
  • Parenting tips: Lean into your playfulness and interest in socialization by making play dates or cultivating community activities with your family and their community (e.g. spiritual, academic, athletic).
  • Mental health tips: Now is the time to get social. Build a community of like-minded people who can support you through your cycles. Because of your brain’s increased vocabulary, have important conversations that may, at other times in your cycle, feel daunting. Capitalize on your brain’s skills now.

Phase 4: Luteal – Progesterone highest, longest phase

  • Food tips: Your body naturally needs more calories during this phase and your blood sugar tends to be less stable. So, now is the time to focus on nutrient-dense goodies with enough protein and fat to feed your brain and body and enough complex-carbohydrates to keep you stable. You may also find yourself cravings magnesium-rich foods like lettuce or chocolate. Listen to your body’s extra nutritional needs for this time but be cautious you are not merely following a craving that could negatively impact you during the next phase (e.g. chocolate contains sugar and caffeine, both of which can trigger menstrual cramps).
  • Movement tips: While your body may still have some gas left in the tank before the energy expense of menstruation, it is not unusual for women to feel that they have two separate phases within this phase. For the first half of this phase, your body is shifting from a focus on reproductive hormones and can build muscle. Weight-lifting and intense yoga may feel most supportive during this time. While, during the second half of this phase, flexibility can become a natural focus with positive outcomes that last throughout the rest of the month.
  • Creativity tips: This is the phase where the rubber of all of your hard work and collective change during your phase meets the road. This is when you crank things out and are productive. You may even feel unstoppable! Work. Complete. Get organized.
  • Work tips: You will thrive with administrative tasks of organization, paperwork, and completion here. Wrap up what needs to be completed.
  • Sex tips: Sex is not all about the physical act. Use time in your Luteal Phase to connect with a partner by perhaps staying home on date night to promote the hibernation your body tends to find most appealing right now.
  • Parenting tips: Keep the momentum with your administrative skills going by organizing or completing projects within your home. Teach kids their own independence by allowing them to help with these tasks or following up with necessary school to dos.

Mental health tips: Your brain is optimized for attention to detail at this time. In the first half of this often this phase, your energy to connect with others will likely be high. But, in the second half, don’t be hesitant to quiet your environment and turn inwards, setting firm boundaries to help your self-care as you prepare for the symbolism of renewal in the next phase.

Read the next part of this 4-part series here.

~Ashley Carter Youngblood, LMSW, LMFT, CIMHP, CNRC, ADS, NNP

Ashley Carter Youngblood is a licensed Clinical Social Worker, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Integrative Mental Health Professional, Certified Nutrition Recovery Coach, Acupuncture Detoxification Specialist, and a Nutrition Network who has been in the field since 2007. She offers counseling at her woman-owned and -operated business, Inner Peace Counseling, PLC, for those in Kalamazoo, Portage, Mattawan, Battle Creek, Paw Paw, and the surrounding areas of Southwest Michigan. She is passionate about her work with clients, whether it’s providing traditional individual counseling, life coaching, acupuncture, or Amino Acid Therapy for mental health symptoms. Her specialties include holistic healing, counseling for women, anxiety, nutritional interventions for mental health, and support for Highly Sensitive People/Empaths.

I welcome you to contact me or leave any questions or feedback you have about this post. Please keep in mind that the above information is the opinion of an individual, should not be considered medical advice/treatment, and is for entertainment/educational purposes only. I write these blogs as an expression of my passion for wellness and with the hope to be able to help as many people as possible. So, for more information about how to safely navigate this website and to what terms you are agreeing upon use, visit my Disclaimer page. And, as always, if you are experiencing an emergency, contact 911 or present yourself to your nearest emergency room.

Thanks for reading.

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