living cyclically even when the winter blues got you down
Oof, December. With the stresses of the festive period piling up, work engagements and social engagements fighting the instinct to hibernate away from the cold, and the promise of a shiny new year dangling just over the horizon, the last few weeks of the year can feel at once like an endless drag and an overwhelming whirlwind of activity I can’t keep up with.
I know we’re all supposed to be too evolved for the ‘new year, new me’ rhetoric these days, but I have to admit that I can’t entirely shake it. I unintentionally completely buy into the idea of the new year heralding new beginnings, both because I’m really into cyclical living in general and because I do view it as a good opportunity to set new goals and intentions, regardless of what the naysayers will tell you about resolutions being a crock of crap.
Cyclical living is pretty much what it says on the tin – being aware of the natural world and it’s cycles as well as our own menstrual cycles and living our lives accordingly. It means being aware of the way the shifts in hormones, seasons, and environment affect you physically, mentally, and socially; accepting these shifts and working with them. It means being intuitive about what you and your body need at different moments and not expecting every day to be the same as the last. And, crucially, it means learning not to value one phase of the cycle over another, whether that’s a disdain for Winter or a hatred of your period.
Cyclical living is great for helping you to understand your body and setting intentions and expectations for yourself that are reasonable and adaptable to internal and external forces. It’s great for accepting that change is natural and adaptation is key to survival. But cyclical living is also frustrating because, if you’re like me (prone to restlessness, daydreaming, and impatience), the part about not valuing one part of the cycle over another can be really hard to achieve.
I love the start of a new season, because change of any kind has always been exciting to me. I’m better at Mondays than I am at Fridays, because I think Fridays are just getting in the way of the weekend but view Mondays like a fresh leaf of blank white paper. And I love the start of a new menstrual cycle – not because I particularly relish the cramps and bleeding business, but because I know that my body and mind are about to feel totally renewed as my oestrogen levels rise, my body feels stronger, and the cloud of pre-period moodiness and brainfog starts to lift.
This will be familiar to those of you who cycle track: once you get a handle on the pattern of your hormones, mood, and physical symptoms, it’s pretty easy to start seeing the start of a new cycle as a tiny new beginning each month (or, for me, every 24 days). The downside? Wishing my life away. When I know my period is due, my hormones are plummeting, and I’ve had a few days of incredibly low mood and motivation levels, I start itching for the new cycle phase to start and give up on trying to make anything of the final few days of my cycle.
It can be a pretty toxic mentality to have because I essentially write off entire days of my life, every 3 weeks. I want a new beginning (day, month, year, whatever) to inspire me to be a better me. Rather than just picking myself up and trying to get on with it, whatever ‘it’ might be in the moment, I get impatient with today’s mess, this month’s moods, this years unfinished tasks and projects and I just want to wipe it all off the proverbial white board and start again.
Unfortunately, life refuses to cooperate with this vision. Life doesn’t care that I’m already bored of this year’s projects, waltzing around my flat exclusively in lounge wear, mentally checking out of my responsibilities like the holidays have begun early. Life doesn’t care that I have decided that Winter is too bleak and Spring should hurry up and get here already. Life knows that when I step into the new year, my social life, job, personal projects, and assorted mental baggage steps right in with me.
That’s not what cyclical living should be about. I shouldn’t just be throwing up my hands when I’m in the pits of PMS and saying ‘wake me up when my cycle starts again’, just like I shouldn’t be wishing for it to be New Year already because I’ve not yet learnt to embrace the end of cycles in the same way as I’ve fully embraced the start of them in all their shiny newness.
At ohne, we’ve always encouraged you to go with the flow (pun intended) when it comes to your menstrual cycle. This means accepting the natural fluctuations of your hormones and learning what it’s reasonable to expect of yourself at different stages of your menstrual cycle. I know from experience how bloody hard it can be not to berate yourself for ‘not doing enough’ during your luteal phase (the final 10 or so days of your cycle) because you’re comparing it to your energy and motivation levels during the first half of your cycle. Just as it can be so frustrating to find yourself listless mid-November because you’re suddenly unable to keep up with your social, personal, and work calendars in the same way you could in the Summer months.
But we all need to be gentler on ourselves, okay? And it starts now. Not next year, not tomorrow, now. Whether you’re battling some fierce pre-period blues, struggling against the lack of vitamin D and warm, happy-making weather, or have a more long-term mental health problem that’s making it hard for you to perform at the speed or capacity you’d like (or some unholy combination of the three), be gentle with yourself. Respect your body’s limits, learn your mental boundaries, and work with them, not against them.
This might mean asking your friends or family to help you any way they can (whether that’s taking on some of the burden of your responsibilities or simply talking things through with you). It might mean giving yourself longer to work on a project that you’d otherwise zip through in no time or planning self-care activities to look forward to as a reward for completing daily tasks that feel insurmountable. It might mean ordering in your favourite comfort food because it’s perfectly okay to admit you don’t have the energy to cook tonight. It might mean not going to the gym for two months or it might mean wrenching yourself out of bed to go every damn day because you know, deep down, it’ll make you feel a million bucks once you’re there. Only you know what will help you through your rough times and how much energy you have. But I can promise you one thing – fighting yourself isn’t going to do you any good.
I’m not writing this from a place of perfected self-compassion and exquisite life management skills. I’m literally writing this from a late-night cafe, long past acceptable working hours, after a day of cleaning up yesterday’s unfinished business and beating myself up for being a so-called ‘failure’. I needed to write this because I needed to hear it. Life is comprised of cycles and fluctuations and changes and this doesn’t mean we have to ‘wait out’ the harder times. It means learning that what works for us in the middle of Spring when we’re ovulating, and mercury isn’t in retrograde (you there, rolling your eyes, I see you) isn’t the best way to approach our lives in the bleak mid-winter when we’re cold and cramping and everyone wants us to be in a jolly festive spirit. It’s perfectly natural and healthy to not perform like a bloody machine at exactly the same pace every day of our lives, because we’re not bloody machines.
I can’t profess to be a champion of cyclical living then let it morph into a club I beat myself over the head with. If I believe in the benefits of acknowledging life’s cycles, phases, and periods of renewal, then I need to start holding myself to those beliefs. And I want you to join me. Learn to recognise when to push yourself or harness your energy levels (and if they’re after 9pm, so be it!). Learn when to rest – and really rest. Catch yourself in the middle of self-deprecating thoughts and remind yourself that your ‘best’ looks different every day. Be gentle on yourself, always.