5 Tips For Your Mental & Menstrual HealthNov 20, 2021
What can we do about our Mental & Menstrual Health?
Well, we can do quite a lot. The problem is that we tend to over-complicate things or we don’t give ourselves the time and space to care for our menstrual and mental health. I get it, I’ve been there - working the crazy long hours, worrying about money, trying to get in the demanding training sessions to achieve x, y or z or just because we feel we should and if you have kids, well that is a whole other kettle of fish.
Do we ever take a moment to step back and come back to basics? I believe that many of us could benefit from this.
Big Rocks Before The Sand
In my Women’s Wellbeing Workshops and in my 1:1 Menstrual Coaching, I talk a LOT about focusing on the basics. Regardless of your goals, these are going to give you the solid foundation that you need.
I use the analogy of filling your jar (time/money/energy) with the big rocks (priorities) before you throw in the pebbles (good to haves) or the sand (nice to haves). If we fill our jar with the shiny golden sand FIRST, then we leave no room for the big rocks. However, if we put the big rocks in first then we have space for some of the pebbles and then the sand miraculously fills up all the tiny spaces that are left. MAGIC!
So what are the big rocks when it comes to our menstrual and mental health? Here are my top 5 tips to support your mental health and menstrual health.
1 | Eat Regular Meals & Stay Hydrated
It is important that we look to nourish ourselves through our meals. So often I see women skipping breakfast, having soup for lunch and then a low calorie processed snack in the afternoon in a bid to “keep calories down”. Food is there to nourish us. We are hungry because our body needs energy to function, let alone lift weights, run around after kids or stay on top of a fast-paced job.
One simple way to do this is to aim for 3 meals a day plus snacks when needed. In your meals aim to get a mix of the three main macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates & fats.
Ideally we are using nutrient-dense foods and whole-foods for the majority of these meals and snacks (think minimally processed proteins, complex carbohydrates and ‘healthy’ fats) but remember to approach this with moderation. We need to have flexibility around the food we eat, such as enjoying the fun foods to keep things interesting and embrace the other benefits of eating: pleasure, sociability & occasion.
Staying hydrated is equally important as about 45% to 50% of body weight in females is water. Water does a whole host of functions like flushing waste from our body, improving digestion and supporting hormone function.
It is recommended that we drink around 30-40ml of fluid per KG of weight and we get about 20% of our water consumption from food. So this roughly equates to 2.5 liters of water per day.
Top Tip: Fill up a 1litre water bottle and keep it beside your desk, sipping regularly throughout the day. Can’t stomach water? Try some non-caffeinated herbal teas or make your own infused water. Slice up lemon, cucumber or some fresh herbs and leave in a jug of water to drink from during the day.
2 | Prioritise Your Sleep
Sleep is so important. It is the queen for restoring and rebuilding our body. It reduces inflammation markers, repairs muscles and bones, it downloads all of the information during the day and stores it to long-term memory.
Getting a decent amount of sleep improves your memory, reduces stress levels, improves energy levels, improves our appetite regulation and so much more! Just think how good you feel after a full, uninterrupted night's sleep and how crappy you feel after a disturbed, broken or short sleep.
Trying to have a regular sleep/wake schedule is important but it can be hard. I like to set a wind-down reminder on my phone to encourage me to go to bed in and around the same time each night. Once you are up in the morning, try to get outside in the sunlight. The morning light naturally raises cortisol (which is what we want in the morning) and helps to set our circadian rhythm.
Top Tip: Give yourself a bigger sleep window - Looking to get 8 hours sleep? Then give yourself a 9 hour sleep window. The bigger ‘sleep window’ we give ourselves, the better likelihood we have of hitting our sleep needs. It is rare that we fall asleep straight away, so give yourself some lead time for falling asleep.
3 | Move to Feel Good
One of the common trends that I see is women exercising to look a certain way or lose weight. I will never criticise anyone for the choices they make around exercise, but I would invite you to consider the other benefits that exercise gives us:
Helps to maintain a healthy heart and blood sugar levels
Decrease anxiety & depression.
Improves mood, fitness & overall health
Builds strong bones and muscle
It is completely ok to have goals, in fact goals can be motivating, but remember that moving to feel good or to improve your health is a legitimate goal. We can’t go 110% every single session every single day, nor should we; we put ourselves at risk of injury, illness, decreased performance and menstrual health disturbances.
Movement is all about having fun and feeling good. We don't always have to be 'flogging' ourselves in the gym or at home. So why not try a different type of movement? One that is new to you. Mix it up with a pole dancing or aerial hoop class, a swimming lesson or a group hike. Or you could simply dance around the house to your favourite song.
Top Tip: Getting outside, especially out into nature, is great for both body & mind. Going for a walk or a sea swim are gentle forms of aerobic & low-impact exercise that are free.
4 | Track Your Cycle
I truly believe that all women, regardless of your age, should track their menstrual cycle (psst. Tracking the moon cycles is a great alternative if you aren’t menstruating). It really is our monthly report card as well as a gate into getting to know our bodies better.
Becoming aware of our menstrual cycle rhythms can help us to:
Plan for our period - carve out time to look after yourself and make you bleed a sacred & special time
Know our bodies - a monthly report card that gives us insights into our overall healthy
Empowers us to advocate for our health - investigate what is causing changes or irregular symptoms we are experience
Tap into your unique rhythms - look for patterns in our training, work, creativity, emotional or spiritual bodies
Try to conceive or avoid pregnancy - knowing when we are fertile or infertile can really
Top Tip: Don’t know where to start? Start by adding emojis to your calendar, marking days bleeding, bleeding amount and any mood changes/symptoms you notice over your cycle.
5 | Ask For Help & Set Boundaries
Asking for help is incredibly powerful and can take on many forms. It can be as simple as communicating to your partner about when you are bleeding and how you would like some alone time or for them to pick up your share of the household chores. It could be communicating to friends that you are feeling premenstrual and will be sitting out this week’s social event. It could be talking to a therapist about your inner critic or any distress you are feeling around food and/or exercise. Or, from a work-perspective, it could be making sure that we turn off our notifications outside of work-hours.
As women, we can be conditioned to please others and to put others needs before our own. Until we reclaim our right to rest and fully embrace the idea that we deserve self-care, we will be on the back foot. Start small and build it up over time, ok so you may rock a few boats, but surely those boats were needing to be rocked?
Setting boundaries is healthy and doesn’t have to be a rude or unfriendly action. It is simply recognising that your time and energy are precious and cannot be used willy-nilly by others who do not value it. It could look like you choosing to use your ‘no-client meetings’ time when you are bleeding. It could look like you blocking off your calendar during lunch time to get outside and get fresh air. Why not divvy up the evening duties between you and your partner so that you can attend that new gym/yoga/painting class that you have always wanted to do? The opportunities are endless.
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