This week I’ve really struggled with consistency.1 I’ve moved into my luteal phase and as a consequence my head is all over the place. Writing has become hard work. Seriously, I just can’t seem to think straight. Hence I decided that I wouldn’t publish a newsletter this week.
And then my inner critic started whispering in my ear that if I didn’t publish (like I said I was going to do) then I was failing. I was not good enough, that it’s too hard to stay consistent and that I might as well quit my goals.
How ironic. Because this is exactly what I have been writing about as I updated my article on exercise and the luteal phase part of the menstrual cycle. 2
You see, some researchers suggest that women may drop out of exercise during and/or because of the luteal phase. After all, our menstrual cycle is frequently related to a negative change in our psychological status, mainly, again, during the luteal phase. And research shows this, it’s not just in our head.
It’s also been demonstrated that, as women we also have a greater response to extrinsic stress as well as negative emotions during the luteal phase. You know this and I know this. We don’t need research to tell us that we’re more stressed and more negative in the second half of our cycle especially in the week before we are due on.
But the thing is that once we feel stressed, this can then negatively impact our interest in exercise. We just don’t want to do it.
Another related factor in all of this is that when we exercise during this phase we are more likely to perceive it as fatiguing. We experience a decrease of psychological tolerance during exercise. This then results in reduced exercise capacity when compared to the exercise we do during the first half of our cycle.
What this means is that we could do exactly the same workout in the luteal phase as we did in the follicular phase, but we will experience it differently. Basically a workout that felt easy in the first half now feels really difficult to do. We perceive it as being higher in exertion.
Research also suggests that as women we are motivated by exercise that produce pleasant feelings. Unlike men. And this is important for us given the fact that our moods are linked to our menstrual cycle.
This is especially important given the fact that it has been suggested that physical inactivity and women’s exercise dropout are due in part to pleasure being impaired during this phase.
So we’re in a bit of trap. Because if you think about it, our moods drop during this phase and we just don’t get as much pleasure from exercise right now as we did. And if we don’t get pleasure from it then we’re less likely to do it. And if we don’t do it our moods drop further because exercise lifts our mood.
Again there is so much research that explains that exercise adherence is related to psychological responses to exercise.
Basically, if we enjoy it, we’re more likely to stick at it. But again during this phase pleasure is already impaired which means that we really need to figure out how to make this work for us. Because we are less likely to just get on with it (like we did in the first half of our cycle).
Holy shit right?
Obviously when I realised that writing this newsletter was not fun right now (which it usually is for me), that it was so much more difficult than it is during my follicular phase I could see how the same factors that affect our adherence to exercise could also affect our adherence to any other goals that we have set for ourselves.
Because again, our moods often drop during this phase and so we don’t get as much pleasure from our goals right now as we did. And if we don’t get pleasure from them then we’re less likely to do them. And if we don’t do them our moods drop further because we feel like we’re failing.
One of the things I have spent time on over the years is figuring out how to stick to my fitness goals in the luteal phase and how to help other women do the same. Which led me to the conclusion that this phase should be referred to as the move phase.
Releasing all expectations and simply moving my body in ways that feel good, is all that is required during this phase. Because I also know that once I hit the first half of my cycle again I will have an urgency to build my training and to push myself.
Linking this back to my writing this newsletter, to other goals, what if the luteal phase is where we just need to ‘Show Up’? Show up as we are with what we have. No goals. No need for perfection. Just to show up.
To release our expectations of ourselves and to simply be present and do what feels right, in this moment. To not compare what we do in the follicular phase with what we do in the luteal phase. To see that consistency in the second half is about doing something, anything.
After all, wasn’t it Woody Allen who said that 80% of success if just showing up?
So, here I am, showing up today in your inbox. Just as I am. Trusting that as a cyclical woman, I will be able to focus more on the drive and urgency that I expect from myself in the follicular phase. But for now, I’m showing up as I am. Perfectly imperfect.
And maybe when you feel like quitting your goals during your luteal phase, be it fitness or otherwise, maybe focus on just ‘showing up’. On doing something, anything. I promise, even the smallest step forward is a huge achievement. Because doing something, anything during the trickiest part of our menstrual cycle is always a win.
Note: I am still updating the exercise and menstrual cycle articles which I will share with you once they are up including the sources to research mentioned above. For now I just needed to show up.
The luteal phase is the second half of the menstrual cycle, the 2 weeks before our period.↩︎