Feel empowered in your body by learning about our menstrual phases.
Q&A with Lisa de Jong, a Menstruality Coach, Educator, Speaker and Facilitator, helping women understand and work with the cyclical nature of their menstrual cycle for physical and emotional wellbeing.
Can you tell us about your journey of how you have become a Menstruality Coach?
It’s a great question! It certainly wasn’t something I had planned in school or that the career guidance counsellor suggested. One of my first jobs after university was with Google. There I learned some big lessons: how it felt to be a woman in a stressful corporate environment, and, that if you have a great creative idea and there is a need, then go for it!
I had always struggled with severe period pain and it had a very negative impact on my quality of life. I’d often have to take time off work. Long story short, I went from doctor to doctor and from contraceptive pill to contraceptive pill; a concoction of painkillers in the mix too. I became disheartened with the limited support and options available and it was really affecting my mental health. I decided to take matters into my own hands and embarked on a journey of self-education and holistic healing.
I became particularly interested in the mind body connection and did a few different trainings in movement work, and Menstruality Coaching with an organisation in the UK called Red School. I’ve got a few different certs and backgrounds under my belt at this stage, so I bring quite a varied and integrative approach, depending on the needs of the individual or group.
Could you briefly explain the science behind the menstrual cycle and the endocrine system, what our hormones do and their implications on our bodies and our lives?
So, the menstrual cycle, in simple terms, has four key hormones: two trigger hormones and two key players. Day 1 is considered the first day of menstruation. When menstruation begins, the pituitary gland in the brain releases the trigger hormone Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) to initiate the growth of the follicle in the ovary for the coming cycle. Oestrogen is then released and rises in the first half of the cycle. Oestrogen peaks at ovulation, which is the midpoint of the cycle.
Then, the next trigger hormone is released called Luteinising Hormone (LH), which plays a role in the release of the egg from the ovary at ovulation. Once the egg is released into the fallopian tube, the second key hormone known as progesterone is released and rises in the second half of the cycle and declines prior to menstruation.
The role of oestrogen in the first half of the cycle is to thicken the lining of the womb, prepare for conception amongst other things. It is an energy boosting hormone, which is why when it is low during menstruation, it is normal to feel tired until it rises a few days after.
Progesterone in the second half of the cycle has the role of calming the nervous system, preparing for pregnancy and thinning the lining of the womb. If we have enough of it, it’s a lovely soothing hormone, great for our mental health. However, most hormonal imbalances lead to low levels of progesterone which has implications on the menstrual cycle and can cause PMS.
Another important point about hormones is that the endocrine system is an entire system where everything will have an impact. If there is a lot of stress, cortisol and adrenaline will be high and those hormones can have a negative impact on the menstrual cycle. Stress is actually important to have as we need both hormones to get things done, but if they are elevated too high for too long, then it can cause harm.
How do certain chemical compounds in mainstream skincare products, household cleaning detergents and environmental toxins influence our hormonal balance?
This is a great question and an important thing we all need to become aware of. Along my healing journey, I learned that most mainstream household products and cosmetics contain chemicals known as endocrine disruptors or parabens. When we take these into the body via our skin, ingestion or breathing they produce something called xenoestrogens in the body. It’s a bit like the body responds by creating extra “false” oestrogen. This then leads to something called oestrogen dominance and that can lead to hormonal imbalance. It will impact the liver, the gut and the skin as they put pressure on all those excretory organs. It’s a really good idea to avoid such chemicals if anyone is on a journey of balancing their hormones and living healthily from within.
I would definitely encourage treating yourself to Sana Naturals natural skincare products for this reason! It’s an investment in your health and a gorgeous self-care gift.
What are the common hormonal system disorders that your clients struggle with, that the Menstrual Cycle Awareness can help with?
Most people will struggle with severe period pain or bad PMS. This can come in forms such as endometriosis, primary dysmenorrhea, PCOS, fibroids or PMDD. Menstrual Cycle Awareness helps a lot as it allows us to understand where we are in our menstrual cycle on any given day and for that to be relevant. Menstruation doesn’t come as a surprise, we can practice self-care and prepare for it. We can take it more gently in the week before menstruation and carve out some time to rest if we can.
It also allows women to be more self-compassionate, empowering them in their bodies by understanding their cycle and hormones. Our physical, mental and emotional health are all linked to the menstrual cycle, so it makes sense to have a relationship with the whole cycle.
I often see women have issues that appear to not be linked to the menstrual cycle such as burnout, mental health, skin issues, communications and even in relationships but when they begin to track their cycle, they see links to the body and hormones. It’s a special thing to uncover and own in oneself!
How can understanding of our menstrual cycle phases and having a healthy hormonal balance positively influence the quality of our life?
Finally, we are not crazy, haha! There is a reason for mood swings and we can feel empowered in our bodies that are cyclical in nature. We learn to manage our energy levels, our selfcare and therefore many areas of our life improve: health, energy, mood, creativity, relationship with self, confidence, relationships, etc.
Can you explain how Menstrual Cycle Awareness is beneficial for all women, even those who don’t menstruate?
Yes, this is a good question. It really is for anyone who is interested for themselves, or not. But it’s important to acknowledge that a huge percentage of the population are menstruators and therefore it will impact everyone indirectly too: family, friends, colleagues, subordinates, clients and so on. Menstrual Cycle Awareness helps us be more inclusive and gets rid of the shame and stigma around menstruation.
It’s also a good preparation for menopause. Then, some women notice energy changes with the moon. They like to track the waxing and waning energies of the moon with their mood and body.
Can you briefly explain each phase of the menstrual cycle and how we can support ourselves and our mental health during these different phases?
I use the archetypes of the seasons to explain the different phases of the cycle.
Inner Winter is menstruation. This is a low energy time as hormones are at their lowest. We are physically more vulnerable or tender and our psychology tends to be more inward focused. Rest, downtime and self-care is important here, especially for those who suffer.
Inner Spring is pre-ovulation. Oestrogen begins to pick up here and energy rises slowly. It’s still a tender time. If we push through menstruation, this can be a difficult time and we can be more susceptible to anxiety or burnout. It’s important to move gently throughout the day and be kind to the self. We can still do all the same things and tend to responsibilities, but rather, it’s more about the energetic approach and pacing.
Inner Summer is ovulation. This is the high energy, super woman time. Typically, we are more emotionally resilient here and things are wonderful. We have more sexual energy and relational capacity for others. It’s a good time for more exercise, socialising, work and creativity.
Inner Autumn is pre-menstruation. This is typically spoken about in derogatory terms for women as emotions and irritability can run high but under that, there is a lot of truth and needs to be met for women. It’s her “no nonsense, let’s get things done” time. This is a time to begin the energetic descent to menstruation and start to slow down a bit, ticking tasks of the list, clean the house, prepare the nest.
What are the ways to support the menstrual cycle to alleviate physical pain and emotional challenges to prevent burnout?
Definitely starting with Menstrual Cycle Awareness, tracking the cycle, becoming aware of who you are and what your needs are as you journey around the cycle. Then some other good places to start would be to make sure the diet is healthy. Lots of fresh fruit and veg and food that is anti-inflammatory.
Some supplements like magnesium, zinc and vitamin B6 are great too. Making sure blood sugar levels are stable too and not letting yourself go hungry. Lots of weight loss diets compromise the endocrine system, so it’s best to not even go there.
Then with emotional health, allowing feelings to come up, spend some time with a journal, getting support from friends, a therapist or a coach like myself can really help. It’s not really a journey one can do alone if there is suffering.
Working with you: what types of Menstrual Cycle Awareness support and coaching is available?
I have a free guide on Menstrual Cycle Awareness and the inner seasons on my website over at www.yourcyclematters.com.
I have a Menstrual Cycle Tracking Journal available at www.yourcyclematters.com/shop.
I will soon launch an 8-week online course called “Self-care and the Menstrual Cycle,” which is due in August this year and will repeat again. I work relationally with individuals and groups, so it’s a lot more than a list of action items and the experience can be quite therapeutic. I get professional supervision for my coaching practice to support this.
I am also soon launching workshops for parents, teachers, guardians and coaches of young girls and teenagers to support them in how they educate girls.
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