I want to introduce you all to my new love: cycle tracking. If you don’t know what that is, I assure you it’s got absolutely nothing to do with how many miles I ‘cycled’ in spin class (that would be a big fat zero because I do not go to spin class and until recently thought it was some kind of dance involving… spinning?). It’s about keeping a log of my menstrual cycle. My period. The ol’ time of the month.
I do not love cycle tracking for any of the reasons we have been encouraged to track our menstrual cycles, however. I do not care about baby-making – not avoiding it, not planning for it, nada. I don’t want to know when I’m fertile and I don’t even care about pinpointing the exact day my period is due to arrive because I have irregular cycles and an accurate prediction is near impossible. But I bloody love cycle tracking. Why? Because I think it is the most underrated way to get in touch with your body, make healthy choices relative to your hormones, and practise self-care. Yep, I’m about to try to convince you that you should be tracking your periods as part of your wellness plan. Cycle tracking has helped me to understand my body better than any number of downward dogs or hours of meditation ever has.
Knowing what’s happening to your hormones at different points in your cycle and how this usually affects you, specifically, can help you manage the less-fun parts of being a menstruating human as well as really capitalise on the times when you’re going to be the best version of yourself.
Obligatory side-note: hormones are chemicals which act like little messengers inside us telling various parts of our body and mind how to behave at various times. They change a LOT throughout your menstrual cycle and understanding them can make life easier. If you haven’t already, go check out this article we published at the beginning of the month. There’s not much point tracking your cycle until you’ve got a good grip on what the hell a cycle even is in the first place.
As a teenager, I resented any and every suggestion that being a human who had periods affected my life at all beyond the days when I actually had blood coming out of my vagina. If someone suggested that something I was feeling or the way I was behaving could be due to my hormones, I’d be furious. There were times when I would even try to keep quiet about the fact that my period had arrived, because I thought that my mum, who’s been a fan of talking about hormones since long before period feminism was in vogue, would suddenly wag her finger at me and yell triumphantly, AHA! I knew our argument three days ago was because you were PMS-ing!
It seemed to me that acknowledging that my behaviour might be influenced by my – inherently female – biological functions was admitting weakness or a failure to control myself. I’m not going to unpack that spaghetti nightmare of patriarchal conditioning right now because we don’t have time/you are not my therapist.
So we’ve had a wild ride, internalised shame and I. But now, I write about periods for a living and one of my favourite topics of conversation is taking anything anyone ever says or does and attributing it to their hormones. You know those people who take this whole astrology craze (don’t @ me for calling it a craze if you’re one of them) just a bit too far? I’m the hormone equivalent of that. Catch me popping up out of nowhere the next time you say you’re feeling down in the dumps to inform you that your estrogen is in retrograde, or something.
I want to encourage you, too, to shake off any residual resentment you may have towards talking about and thinking about your hormones. It’s not a sign of weakness to acknowledge that you’re probably feeling exhausted because your progesterone is spiking and it’s not invalidating your emotions to note that your feelings of sadness (for example) might be exacerbated if you are premenstrual. If you familiarise yourself with your cycle patterns you might actually learn ways to avoid or reduce some of the crappier emotions our biology has to offer.
I’ve learnt so much from tracking my period recently it’s surprised me. I can’t believe I’ve been having periods for over a decade and only just realised that post-ovulation, like clockwork, I get exhausted and find it really hard to concentrate. Now that I’m able to predict the sudden hormone change, I feel more prepared for it each month and know how to compensate. For me, this looks like watching my alcohol intake more, giving myself more time to work on tasks I’d otherwise barrell through easily, and trying not to drink as much coffee as my body is insisting it wants… though I’m still working on that last one.
So, now it’s time for you to get to know your own cycle. First, figure out how you want to track your period: an app, paper and pen, excel spreadsheet, voice notes on your phone… I’m reaching now, I know. Getting into the habit of logging your physical state and moods on the daily is likely going to be the biggest hurdle.
If you’re not using an app, I’d suggest setting an alarm on your phone, keeping your tracking diary near your bed or your spreadsheet open in a tab on your computer. But who are we kidding, you’re probably going to use an app. In which case, just make sure the notification settings on the app are turned on and you’ll get regular reminders to log your data.
There are an overwhelming number of period-tracking apps out there and I’m not going to review them all here. Because I would bore myself just writing it, yes, but mostly because I don’t actually like any of them so far. Sorry. I very quickly got sick of being asked what my contraceptive methods are (um… lesbianism?) and getting recommended threads on how to give ‘my man’ mind-blowing orgasms. Exactly what that has got to do with menstruation in the first place, I really couldn’t tell you, but some apps just seem to love this shit.
Anyway. If you do want to use them, you’ve got a plethora to choose from.
If you are interested in your fertility, whether it be to avoid pregnancy or plan for it, there are a number of apps you can go to. Apps such as Clue and Glow (among the most popular out there at the moment) will help you track your ovulation days, your chosen method of birth control, and plan for pregnancy.
As someone very much disinterested in the state of my fertility, I went looking for apps which don’t focus on either the planning or avoidance of pregnancy. The one I ended up using is Eve, the younger sister app to Glow. While Eve will highlight your projected days of ovulation in green, it doesn’t focus on it. You can log your physical symptoms, emotions, exercise habits, and sex life in and it will handily show cycle ‘trends’ for symptoms you log – the sophistication and accuracy of which of course depends on how much data you input and how regularly you’re logging symptoms. But the only time it acknowledges the potential queerness of its users is in the option to log ‘banana-free sex.’ Really. Banana. So I am morally opposed to recommending it to you.
In my hunt for a more inclusive app, I came across Groove, which apparently allows you to customise your in-app experience with whether or not you’re interested in fertility, if you identify as queer, and if you have irregular cycles. Unfortunately for me, it’s only available on iPhone. If any Android users out there know of an equivalent app, let me know on social media or in the comments below!
So what are the alternatives for those of us who don’t get along with the apps? Well, I know someone who tracks their period in an excel spreadsheet, which I imagine is an appealing app-alternative to to the left-brained among you. But to me it sounds about as fun a lifetime’s supply of maths homework, so I’ve gone for something a little more slap-dash. I’m now tracking my period in my daily diary. Since I use it every single day for both work and my social life, I’m finding it a lot easier to seamlessly integrate my period tracking into my day to day life.
Ooof, well I think that’s all the wisdom I have to share with you, folks. Obviously my negative experience with apps is entirely biased and my study of them in no way scientific. I’d still recommend trying them out and if you have found one that you like I am stoked for you – go ahead and recommend it to me in the comments.
Remember: tracking your hormones and your menstrual cycle is not just for people who are trying to get pregnant and it certainly shouldn’t only be thought of as a tool for predicting your period ‘due date’. Learning about and getting in touch with your body is great however you chose to do it – I just happen to think that period-tracking tends to get tragically overlooked in our conversations about wellness.
Acknowledging the ways in which your hormones affect you at different points in your cycle can be an amazing tool for harnessing your motivation, productivity, and sociability. It also encourages you to practise self-care and be easier on yourself on the days when your hormonal imbalances are making it hard to concentrate, especially irritable, or want to take three naps in a row.
Now go forth on your period-tracking adventures, grasshopper, and be sure to pop back and let me know what fascinating things you discover about yourself along the way.
Image credit @softparisian