Harness your menstrual cycle to get ahead at work

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For menstruating people, certain phases are better suited to different types of work. Here, women’s health expert Le’Nise Brothers explains the menstrual phases and what you’ll be best (and worst) at during each of them…

Words: Le’Nise Brothers

Picture this: you’re at your desk, frantically trying to come up with some new creative ideas for a project, but you’re drawing a blank. You’re frustrated because only one week ago the ideas were flowing, and you felt so excited about all the possibilities ahead. Now, all you want to do is finish the projects you’ve already started and get through your to-do list. You’re scratching your head, wondering why you don’t feel the same way every day. 

If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ll know that our working days tend to have a familiar rhythm – there’s an expectation that we’ll bring high levels of energy across the entire day and we’ll be able to work in the same way, day in and day out. 

But the dramatic changes in the working landscape over the last two years have challenged this thinking, with working from home forcing companies to acknowledge that a different way of working is possible.

For those of us with periods and a menstrual cycle, though, we’re still working with the expectation that we have a 24-hour rhythm and that we’ll feel the same way every day. 

We have an energetic, physical, and cognitive cycle that matches with our menstrual cycle, or the time from day 1 of our period until the day before our next period starts. This cycle can be anywhere from 21 to 35 days (remember: it’s completely normal not to have a 28-day menstrual cycle).

Within this cycle, we have a number of physical, cognitive, biological and hormone changes that guide us, rather than control us. Once we understand these changes, we can tap into a power that gives us a competitive advantage at work, whether we have a 9–6 or work for ourselves.

This power changes our expectations for ourselves, allows us to plan our working day and week differently and enables us to give ourselves a little grace when things don’t go to plan or we’re simply struggling to focus. 

If we think of our menstrual cycle as having four phases, analogous to the four seasons, this knowledge can help anchor the way we plan our working lives. 

Let’s start with the first phase, menstruation, or our inner winter.

This is a time when we’ll want to go a little bit slower. Our energy is at its lowest point (but crucially, not completely depleted), alongside two of the major hormones that guide our menstrual cycle: estrogen and progesterone.

Low energy means that we’ll naturally turn inward and become more introspective and intuitive.

This is a time to focus on tasks and projects that require evaluation skills, such as preparing for an appraisal or spending time working on your business, assessing what’s working and what isn’t and planning for the future. You might use this time of deeper insight to set new goals or intentions for the month ahead. 

Once we finish our periods, we move on to the next phase, the follicular or our inner spring.

Similarly to April and May, this is a time when we start to feel a bit more like our true selves, coming alive with ideas and hatching plans for new adventures in our work lives. Estrogen, our feminising hormone, is rising and this leads to rising energy, as well as an increase in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine lead to a greater sense of wellbeing and creativity.

Testosterone, the sex hormone associated with greater bone and muscle strength in women, also leads to increased risk-taking. We’re more likely to want to start a new project, look for a new job or feel better about joining a new team during this time.

Then we reach the peak of our menstrual cycle, ovulation, or our inner summer.

Our estrogen levels have peaked and we’re starting to ride the wave of progesterone, the sex hormone that’s released when we ovulate. We’ll feel like our best selves during this time, with bags of confidence and strong communication and negotiation skills.

This is the best time to pitch for a new piece of business, negotiate a salary increase or have the appraisal you prepared for during your inner winter.

This confidence will also mean that we’ll feel more social and collaborative, even those of us who are introverted.

It’s tempting to try to do as much as possible during this time of peak energy. It’s important to remember that our energy is akin to a bank account – we make deposits and withdrawals. If we’re doing too much without allowing for corresponding times of rest, this can lead to us feeling depleted (or in an energetic ‘overdraft’) right before and during our periods. 

Finally, we get to the last phase, the luteal, or inner winter.

Most of us associate this time with PMS, however with reframing, we can harness the cyclical changes to our advantage.

Firstly, we can split this phase into two parts: early and late luteal, similarly to the way early autumn (September to mid-October) feels differently to late autumn (mid-October to November).

During the early luteal phase, we’re still feeling the highs of the second smaller peak of estrogen and the peak of progesterone. This means we’ll have sustained energy, and we’ll want to be focused on current projects, rather than starting anything new.

As we move toward the end of our menstrual cycle into our late luteal phase, naturally declining estrogen and progesterone means that we’ll start to move into what I call ‘get shit done’ energy: a need to complete what’s on our to-do lists and wrap things up so we can do less during our periods and feel okay with that. 

Looking at our menstrual cycle as a whole, we see that everything is connected. What we do in one part influences the next. We can use this knowledge to our advantage, allowing us to move away from a masculine 24-hour structure to one that incorporates all the powerful changes that happens through our entire menstrual cycle. 

Le’Nise Brothers is a yoga teacher and registered nutritionist, mBANT, mCNHC, specialising in women’s health, hormones, and the menstrual cycle. She is also the host of the Period Story podcast, which aims to break taboos around menstrual health and hormones. Her first book You Can Have a Better Period was published in March 2022.

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Author: Contributing writer