Menstrual wellbeing at work
With special thanks to Megan Downing.
This article was written to align with National Women’s Health and Fitness day. However, at Snowplow we acknowledge that not all women have menstrual cycles and not only women have menstrual cycles.
Megan has been with us for a little under a year and is one of our Marketing Communications Managers at Snowplow. Before working at Snowplow, Meg was a yoga teacher with a special interest in yoga and movement for women. Whilst Meg is not medically trained (and this blog post is not a substitute for medical advice), she has facilitated training in menstrual cycle awareness and has a lot of lived experience of her own. She is now on a mission to change the world’s perspectives on menstrual cycles, whether we experience them or not.
Credit for the concepts discussed in this piece goes largely to Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer. Their book, Wild Power, is one of many that goes into greater depth on this topic.
Why is it important that we’re talking about this?
A proportion of any given workplace is made up of people who experience menstrual cycles, but it’s still not a topic we often feel comfortable talking about at work. It can affect so many parts of our daily working lives, from mood to motivation to creativity to the social interactions we have, so why aren’t we talking about it?
Not being educated on the menstrual cycle has the potential to leave us feeling disempowered by our bodies. At Snowplow, we want to normalize this topic and empower anyone who experiences a menstrual cycle to shed the shame that can be associated with this. There are so many things that can affect our working day/week/month and your menstrual cycle is one of them. With a deeper understanding, your menstrual cycle can actually be your greatest ally.
How can a person with a 9 to 5 job benefit from their cycle?
For the sake of simplicity, we are largely referring to a regular cycle with no hormonal or chemical intervention. If you are on hormonal or chemical intervention, such as contraception, or if your cycle is irregular, your experience may differ from the following. We hope that this piece is still of value in allowing you to uncover the unique patterns present in your own cycle.
In any case, it is crucial to note that your own experience is your number one teacher. The model discussed below is just a guide, and not everyone will feel the same way – it is essential that you listen to your own body first. We can’t stress this enough!
There are four phases to a regular menstrual cycle:
- Pre-ovulatory phase
- Ovulatory phase
- Pre-menstrual phase
- Menstrual phase
At each phase, hormone levels are different, which can affect the way we think and the way we do things. Once we realise this, we can start to organise our lives around our cycles. When we start to see our cycle in phases, we’ll soon learn when the best time to exercise is, when the best time to be sociable is and even when the best time to have difficult conversations is.
The four phases can be likened to the four seasons of the year.
Spring / Pre-ovulatory phase
Spring has sprung and everything is new, fresh and exciting. There is so much potential, but you can also feel incredibly tender and delicate.
The pre-ovulatory phase is a great time for planning your month, coming up with fresh ideas and daring to dream big. Try things out and get experimental. As this is the optimal time for visionary thinking, you might find it best to save tasks that require a more zoomed-in lens for later in the month if possible.
Without adequate time for self-care, the pre-ovulatory phase can be anxiety-inducing for some. During this time of vulnerability, shallow roots make it harder to stand your ground than other phases of your cycle, so you might find it best to avoid difficult conversations at this time. That being said, not all will feel the same way.
Summer / Ovulatory phase
The sun is out and it’s time to have fun! Most people find they are at their most extroverted during the ovulatory phase, and full of energy. This makes it the best time for meetings, presentations and anything you require endless confidence for. You’ll likely find yourself ticking everything off of your to-do list and output will be high.
You may feel invincible at this time but that can be both a curse and a blessing. Try not to over-exert yourself, and remember to keep some of the summer energy for yourself to enjoy.
Autumn / Pre-menstrual phase
The pre-menstrual phase has a bad rep, and can indeed be a difficult time for many. However, this can also be the time that you feel most rooted in your truth, which when skillfully executed upon, can make you a force to be reckoned with.
It’s a potent energy for having difficult conversations, and for getting your point across. Making sure your intentions are constructive, and not destructive, is key here. Your pre-menstrual self is just one part of the picture, and letting it completely take over can leave you with regret once you enter other phases of the cycle. Have those difficult conversations, but find ways to channel the strong emotions you may be feeling at this time.
You are likely to be naturally detail-oriented, which lends itself well to projects that require sustained focus. You may also find you have the urge to organize. Clear up your desk, clear out your emails; go with your instincts when you have them. Following these impulses and then starting to slow down where you can will prepare you well for entering the menstrual phase.
Winter / Menstrual phase
The snow has settled and there’s a sense of stillness in your world. You are hibernating, which makes this the hardest time to be living in a corporate 9-to-5 world. Your body craves rest and it’s important to respect its wishes as much as you can.
Keep your activities gentle and do not exert yourself. Avoid conflict where possible, as well as anything which may induce anxiety. A more embodied way of being is taking precedence; respect this process by lightening your load where you can, and making rest your priority.
The more you can fill yourself up at this time, the better you will feel across the rest of your cycle. Likewise, the more you are able to pace yourself throughout the rest of your cycle, the easier your menstrual phase will be.
If you’re ever having one of those days where nothing seems to be going right, it might be a transition day. These are days in between each phase where hormones are shifting gears, and chaos can therefore ensue. As with the rest of the cycle, being aware of what is happening on these days allows us to validate our experience and have self-compassion. By understanding our cycles, we can understand that how we are feeling won’t last forever – which is incredibly reassuring.
Working with your cycle
There is a lot to learn from a cyclical approach to life. The cycle teaches us about balance, and about listening to our own bodies to learn what is right for us.
The beauty of this work is that you need not take anyone’s word for it, you only need to be open to experiencing it for yourself. Scepticism is important and expected, especially as this perspective is so radically different to what many of us have been taught.
Where do I start?
The best place to start is by tracking your cycle. Take day 1 to be the first day of your period, and track from there. Tracking can look different for everyone – an easy way to start is by picking three words every day that best describe how you feel. As you go on, you might also want to track things like sleep patterns, dreams, insights, exercise, diet, energy levels, and so on. Avoid making this into another task on your to-do list – keep it light and stick to what works for you.
Once you have tracked multiple cycles, you can start to see the similarities between them, allowing you to build out your own map of what your cycle looks like for you, and what your needs are in the different phases.
The 1% rule
Perhaps in an ideal world, you would spend the first day of your period tucked up in bed, but in reality, you’ve got two kids and a job to go to – none of whom will wait until your period is over to need you. What is 1% of your ideal world situation, and can you give it to yourself? It could be as simple as opting for an oven pizza for dinner over a meal that requires prep, or working from home if your job allows it.
Some of us are certainly more privileged than others when it comes to time. But before you toss this aside as another ill-fitting self-help piece written by a millennial with no children and infinite time, the 1% rule may be worth considering.
Even if you come away from reading this and don’t change a single thing about your life, an awareness of your menstrual cycle alone will help you to see the bigger picture, promoting compassion on those days when you need it most.
How we can support each other in the workplace
Whether you have a menstrual cycle or work with people who do, respect and open-mindedness are key to unlocking the potential that menstrual cycles have to help us live our lives.
- At Snowplow, we have a supportive culture where we can talk openly about these topics regardless of gender, sex, age or disability and we have a respect and an awareness for those who may need adjustments made due to the phase of their cycle.
- We have multiple wellbeing-related Slack channels with the purpose of learning from each other and being open and honest about our health and wellbeing.
- Snowplow has a pragmatic and fair sick leave policy, which includes physical and mental health and anything which might fall outside of these. Menstrual health is equally important.
- We are a remote-first company, allowing our employees to work from home when it best suits their needs.