The Menstrual Magnifying Glass: Embracing the Cycle of Creativity

The other day something that normally would’ve had me thinking, “Bummer… That’s sad,” had me sobbing an ocean. That same day, my dog looked even cuter, my husband even hotter and the distracted cell-phone-talking driver ahead of me EVEN…MORE… ANNOYING!!! #$*&#$#$&*… than usual. (Whew! That felt good. ;)) Since then, I’ve had vivid dreams, a major epiphany about my novel-in-progress and woke yesterday feeling pretty darn, dare I say, unconquerable. Am I crazy?!? Nope. More like fabulously female.

I’ve long seen PMS as a type of magnifying glass. Rather than create problems or trigger unfounded feelings, it highlights them. Okay, so highlight may be putting it mildly… Regardless, it can serve as a tool—if we let it.

Positive Framing & PMS
A study published by the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing showed that women’s attitudes play a significant role in PMS symptoms and our ability to manage them. If we view PMS as a horrible, embarrassing illness (which it’s not), we’re more likely to experience severe physical and emotional symptoms. Look at the ordeal in a healthier light and you may get a heap load of benefits.

Menstrual Cycle Perks
In addition to the negative symptoms related to menstruation, which I’m guessing need no explanation, we can experience positive sensations, according to the Feminist Women’s Health Center, such as:

  • A greater connection to nature
  • Creative energy
  • Increased sex drive and orgasms
  • More intense orgasms
  • A sense of relieve, release, euphoria and invigoration
  • Increased empathy and connectedness with others

The Creativity Cycle
Dr. Christine Northrup, a ob-gyn and renowned author of The Wisdom of Menopause and other best-selling books, says that the first half of our menstrual cycle is a “very good time to initiate new projects.” And when ovulation strikes, we are at our creative peak.

Hormonal changes during the weeks after ovulation, says Northrup, make for a useful evaluative and reflective time in our lives. By looking back on what we’ve accomplished, created or faced, and pondering criticism, frustrations and obstacles, we can see what needs adjusting and begin addressing them.

Once PMS rears it’s complex but natural head, we may experience boosted testosterone levels and feel empowered or moved to do things we’ve not done before. This can be awesome or awful, depending on how we utilize it. We may have the strength and gusto to break up with Mr. Wrong, the determination to set aside others’ demands so to finish a creative work or the courage to stand up for something we feel strongly is right. Or…we may scream and cry at a loved one instead of speaking gently, toss our work-in-progress (with great potential) in the trash out of despair or react to criticism from a trusted professional or friend with our latest kick-boxing move. The moral of this story? Listen to your urges, but think before you act.

To turn menstrual “madness” into marvelousness, consider the following:

1. Cry. Studies have shown that tears known as “emotional tears” contain hormones. Releasing them is one way to improve hormonal balance in the body.

2. Get ample z’s. Our bodies work hard in preparation of and during menstruation. Allowing yourself extra sleep time can also help alleviate stress and stock up on those vivid dreams. 😉

3. Eat well. Eating balanced meals and snacks containing primarily whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds, guards against nutrient deficiencies and promotes positive blood sugar levels, energy and moods. For more information, read my LIVESTRONG.com article: PMS SOS! Can Diet Help?

4. Respect your cravings. Our bodies need more calories during PMS. Eating too little, skimping on nutritious food and avoiding foods we crave can make many menstrual symptoms worse. Crave chocolate? Have some. Chocolate contains natural plant chemicals that can help balance those hormones. 😉

5. Exercise. Physical activity helps minimize stress, boosts feel-good hormones, reduces bloating and promotes creativity. For best results, MayoClinic.com recommends aiming for at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity, such as biking, swimming, aerobics or hiking, most days of the week.

6. Express yourself. I can’t tell you how many deeply emotional songs, stories and chapters I’ve written, much thanks to premenstrual mood swings. Creative expression is a great way to manage and maximize the benefits of PMS and menstruation.

7. Remind yourself of the perks. When we realize that menstrual symptoms are not only natural but beneficial to our creativity and other life factors, we become better able to access the benefits and feel less brought down by the challenges.

For some awesome inspiration, check out these links:
75 Ways Women Are Sexy, by Marcia Richards
Do You Believe in Second Chances? by Marcy Kennedy
Love Your Failures, by Ingrid Schaffenburg
Where Do We Live—For the Story, by Debra Kristi
When Life Gives You Lemons, by Karen McFarland

I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts. What has your menstrual magnifying glass taught you? If you don’t menstruate, how do you deal with support loved ones who do? Any challenges, successes or hilarity to share? I’m all eyes/ears!

Leave a comment

58 Comments

  1. LOL. Boy, you’re really reaching out to the male audience today, August!

    Cheers 🙂

    Reply
  2. Wonderful article August. You know, I try to remain positive when it comes to my menstrual cycle stuff because, it’s a fact of life. Might as well find a way to love it. And you are right, there’s a lot of pros to the period.
    My biggest irritant and blocker of joy is the MIGRAINES that always seem to come with the period. They’ve shifted in the last few years from the first of my period to the later part – day 3 or 4. They last 3 days usually. They hit around 3-4 AM with searing, writhering pain that literally leaves me debilitated for the entire day. I am talking want to throw up, someone-cut-off-my-head NOW kind of pain. They disappear almost ENTIRELY around 4 pm. Around 11 pm I usually start to get a little neck pain and by 3-4 AM I start the entire process over. For 3 days (although they’ve lasted 5 days before). It’s awful. It really saps my usual ability to find the bright side. The pain is excruciating and NOTHING seems to work on them (although I did get Midol on day 3 last time and…am excited to see if it works on my next period).
    It’s to the point where my doctor has me taking the pill 9 weeks straight to minimize periods. And I don’t even NEED the pill since hubby has been snipped. GRRR!
    I’ve tried drinking more water, eating more fruit, drinking Gatorade, working out more, taking supplements. Nothing seems to work and it’s been like this for years.
    If you, or ANY of your readers has any tricks that have worked for period migraines, I’d LOVE to hear!!!
    Here’s to all of us embracing that which makes us WOMAN!!!

    Reply
    • Have you tried an oxygen tank, Natalie? I’m not kidding! My hubby’s a medic and the added oxygen is the only remedy that’s worked to totally kick my migraines in the bud. (You can get them by prescription in the U.S…With Canada’s awesome health care, I bet you could get one.)

      You probably know about the low tyramine (aka “headache”) diet—if not, drop me a note and I’ll gladly explain and send resources. It’s not a “diet” as in weight loss/fad/scary, but a medically recommended plan that eliminates foods that trigger brain changes in headache-sensitive people.

      Excedrine paired with ice, rest and darkness have also helped me, but I’m guessing yours are more severe… 😦 So sorry you have to deal with this! Thanks for your LOVELY support.

      Reply
      • I have actually never heard of an oxygen tank but I will definitely look into that August. Thank you so much. And never heard of tyramine either – so I’d love more deets if you’d like to email me sometime when you get a chance.
        I’ve tried everything over the counter and tried a few different prescription options but for whatever reason, nothing seems to work thus far. But I won’t give up. I just keep trying different things each period. I am determined to resolved this.
        I appreciate your support and help SOOO much!!
        xoxoxoxox

  3. Oh man, I really needed this. My periods (I hope this isn’t TMI) having been bringing a major excess of exhaustion the last few months. I don’t know if it’s a mid-thirties thing or what, but the first two days just wear me out and it’s all I can do to function. I’m going to be checking with the doc next month.

    I love hearing your tips, especially the one about eating right. I think many women (and men) underestimate the positive effect healthy foods can have on the body.

    Reply
    • You’re in luck, Stacy: TMI doesn’t exist here. 🙂 It’s amazing how our cycles and hormone levels change throughout the years due to so many reasons—biology, emotional stress, environment… I hope that doctor appointment brings light to positive changes. If I can help support in any way, please say the word!

      Reply
  4. To paraphrase a song title from Flower Drum Song, “I enjoy being a guy!” 😉

    Reply
  5. Only you could take this subject matter and make it beautiful. 🙂 Seriously, I want to go put in some Indigo Girls!!! 🙂

    Reply
  6. This is really awesome, August. Well done! My period was absolutely horrible for many many years. Then I found out that I have an allergy (*sensitivity* it won’t kill me) to sulphites. It’s apparently the 9th most common food allergy – and they put this stuff on EVERYTHING! And it occurs naturally in some foods.
    Dr’s thought I had endomitriosis the pain was so bad – debilitating – sit and don’t move for 2 to 5 days bad. I didn’t experience any of those good things with PMS – I was on a emotional roller coaster that left me and everyone around me completely exhausted. It was horrible.
    Finally got diagnosed correctly – the pain is gone. It went from 7-8 days to 3. Now, I only experience ‘the good parts’ as you’ve described them above. It’s nice to feel normal. I wish I’d known years ago how much diet influenced these things.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Wow—what an experience, Lisa! I’m so sorry you had to endure all of that and grateful you had the wherewithal to investigate and finally determine the culprit. I bet you enjoy those menstruation-related benefits more than most! You also deserve them. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Exactly! I keep telling people I’m not afraid of aging because there are so many perks to it ~ wisdom for one, not being insecure if a boy likes me or not for another. And menopause? Bring it on! I’ll get to have my own personal heat wave and pretend I’m in the Bahamas. It’s all in how we play it out in our minds.

    To be honest, though, I didn’t see all the benefits to PMS that you pointed out, but now that I’ve read them I’ll embrace my womanlyness even more fully.

    After reading Lisa Hall-Wilson’s comment above, I might have to check out a sulphite allergy. Hmmm, those symptoms sound much too familiar.

    Reply
    • I’m so thrilled to hear you say that you’re embracing aging and all our added years have to offer, Tameri! I’m not a fan of the “anti-aging” craze. Who doesn’t want to age? (I mean seriously—consider the alternative…) Glad I added some fuel to that proud-to-be-a-woman fire. 🙂

      Here’s a sound article on sulfites allergies: http://www.webmd.com/asthma/asthma-and-sulfites-allergies. It’s relatively common among the 2% of adults and 8% of kids with food allergies, behind wheat, dairy, nuts, fish, etc. Hope it’s helpful!

      Reply
  8. Interesting and a very useful info, August. It makes sense that our creativity and sensitivity gates open up during ovulation and that the PMS days can be disruptive or right the opposite, depending on our perception and understanding of the hormon-induced behavior.

    I rarely suffer from the PMS-related craziness, thank God. I’m sure my family can attest to it 🙂 I guess, it’s because I’m blessed with the over-positive attitude, and the inner child in me has never matured.

    I will pay more attention to those creativity-spikes during ovulation so I can take an advantage of it. I definitely need it lately to finish my novel 🙂

    Reply
  9. I didn’t realize that crying actually equalized your hormones, but that explains why sometimes you just need a “good cry.” My husband doesn’t really understand this. I’m still trying to teach him that just because I’m crying it does not mean he’s done something wrong.

    Thanks for the link to my post 🙂

    Reply
  10. Thanks for bringing out a different way to think about this. I actually have been embracing the effects of hormonal changes for years, thanks to the wise words of a mom-and-baby-group facilitator who first put out the possibility that what we often look at as a curse may actually be a blessing. I can’t say that it always stops me from snapping the heads off unsuspecting family members who might be around me at certain times, but usually I manage to remember why I might be feeling like doing so and take a few breaths, or laugh at myself.

    Reply
    • Sounds like you found a fantastic group, Audrey. Education and support go far toward improving our experience—hormonally and otherwise. Thanks for bringing up another useful tool: laughing at ourselves. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Oh, my, I think I’ll plead the fifth on this post, and just be an Internet troll. 🙂

    Reply
  12. This is fascinating information, August. It all makes sense. So great that you pass on these truths to women – and to men – for that matter. It helps in knowing what to expect and in embracing who women are, and how to channel the physiological changes. Very interesting!

    Reply
  13. The day or a few days before my period I used to get very emotional and my husband would ask, “Are you getting your period?” and my response would be, “NO! I AM NOT GETTING MY PERIOD, HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST THAT!” But of course I was.. LOL
    Now, he has to deal with my hot flashes, I don’t know which is worse!

    Reply
  14. Excellent post, August! PMS is a subject that people don’t feel comfortable discussing in public…until someone else is brave enough to start the conversation. Then women feel the dams burst forth with all they have been holding in and dealing with alone. That’s why posts like this are so valuable. I’m way beyond this ‘period’ of my life and into the next, which will be a topic of an upcoming post on my blog.
    Thanks for linking to my post on women. I’m loving your writing!

    Reply
    • Beautifully said, Marcia. We are so much stronger connected and communicating than alone, if even by our self-induced isolation. I can’t wait to read that post!

      Reply
  15. LOL, you had me with the title as nothing about my cycle could ever have been called ‘creative’. For years, doctors told me it was ‘all in my head’ … um, no; they clearly needed a GPS to find their way to the problem. A correct diagnosis finally granted me a get-out-of-jail-get-a-hysterectomy card – one of the best gifts ever! When you’re cold natured, there’s a lot to be said for instant menopause and rockin’ the year ’round hot flashes!

    Reply
  16. Wow! What a wealth of information! I never quite thought of PMS in this way but it makes sense. If it’s part of the human creation process, why wouldn’t it apply to other creations as well? Awesome!! Thanks August for shedding new light on this topic! And thanks for the mention 🙂

    Reply
  17. Wow, great post! I never knew about needing more calories during PMS, but it certainly explains my chocolate flapjack cravings once a month. I won’t guilt-trip myself over giving in any more.
    I completely agree about the crying. I cry incredibly easily – when I’m sad, happy, frustrated, angry, at the end of a book or film, or simply because I haven’t cried in a while. I always feel better afterwards. In line with Marcy’s experience, it took me quite a while to educate my husband to this.
    Don’t know if it will help anyone else, but I’ve found that a great way of making my PMS a positive rather than negative experience is to make sure I get plenty of vitamin B in my diet – I guess that ties in with your third point above.

    Reply
    • B-vitamins do play an important role in functions related to PMS—our energy, moods, metabolism, digestive function… And I’m such a fan of getting nutrient needs met through food. So glad you’ve benefited from healthy eating, Karen. Enjoy those flapjacks! 🙂

      Reply
  18. Kudos to Mike for sticking around long enough to comment! 😀 Gosh usually you say the word Period and men run for the hills. I like that I have a creative weapon I can use like that. Awesome way to look at it!

    Reply
  19. Well I never thought of that time of the month as being an overly creative time of the month, especially if you’re suffering from horrible cramps, but I guess the creative side of our brains would be strongest when we are most fertile. That just makes sense. I had a hystorectomy quite some time ago, so while I don’t experience the physical symptoms any more, I do still get incredibly tired and a little cranky once in a while. And I am prone to crying spells for absolutely no reason at all. I guess those hormores are still swirling around inside there somewhere. From now on I’m going to think of it as a creative rush and try getting some good writing done.

    Thanks for the insightful post, August.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Reply
  20. Great post! I am lucky that I don’t get cramps – very lucky! I do crave chocolate and other weird things like thai tuna (in the can) with pasta and cheese.

    I get a bad migraine and ya – like the reader above me I get crying spells and I feel like I’m cra-zy!! Is there a certain food that will combat that?

    I will read your diet article. I do find that exercise really helps my mood at this “special time”.

    Reply
  21. First of all August, it was very sweet of you to include me in your mini mash-up! 🙂

    Secondly, what a kind and informative post. It is amazing what we know now compared to how little we knew years ago. Who would ever think that we could or would embrace our menstrual cycles? Seriously.

    What a great way to look at it! 🙂

    Reply
  22. I can’t respect my cravings entirely; I have to fake out my body. See, I *ALWAYS want milk during my cycle. Preferably with cereal and lots of sugar. (I’m guessing I need some calcium to go with my calories). Except…I’m lactose intolerant and it makes my cramps terrible.

    I kept regular milk in the house for baking (soy milk still sometimes screws up the textures for me) but I’m learning to keep a half gallon of soy milk around that week, just for indulging myself.

    Reply
    • Oh, I forgot to say – otherwise I generally have the more positive experience. If there really is a psychological aspect to it, maybe the fact that I’m not worried about who knows it or upset by the hygiene aspects is related? Who knows.

      I do some of my best writing then, though, I do know that.

      Reply
      • You bring up some great points! Respecting our cravings doesn’t necessarily mean eating whatever we want in whatever quantity we desire. Your body probably is asking for more calcium, which has been shown to reduce cramps and other premenstrual symptoms. Glad you’ve found a digestible alternative. 😉

        I suspect that your carefree attitude about hygiene also helps. I’ve read that about 1/3 of women experience PMS symptoms… Biology and lifestyle are only two contributing factors.

  23. Kourtney Heintz

     /  March 5, 2012

    August, I think of my PMS as the period where I simply exceed my acceptable bullshit tolerance for the month. I tend to talk back and speak my mind and reconsider the value of people, places, and pretty much everything in my life. It’s like spring cleaning except on a monthly basis. I tend to get insomnia for a few nights and have huge energy which I funnel into cleaning, exercising, working. Then I get a few exhausted days and I try to schedule accordingly. I love your advice about embracing the cycle. 🙂

    Reply
  24. another insightful, uplifting blog. Your life experience and wisdom comes thru in every word you write, August. thanks for the reminder. Even though I’m well past menstruation (Thank you God) I am finding menopause to have wonderful opportunities to connect to the authentic me.

    Reply
    • Your encouragement means so much, Louise. Thanks! I’m SO THRILLED to hear that menopause has been an empowering experience for you. May many follow in your footsteps. 🙂

      Reply
  25. I like your emphasis on making a positive from a life experience that is here to stay just as rainy days will come from time to time. I personally love rainy days, might as well! 🙂

    Excellent article! The older I get the more I strive to find the positive in what could be imagined as a negative.

    Reply
  26. Great post, August and very insightful.

    There used to be three ovulating women in this house, now there’s only one. But it’s really interesting how all of us synchronised each month. I had endometriosis and had a hysterectomy although I retained my ovaries so had the slight mood swings without debilitating pain.

    My youngest daughter has discovered diet plays a huge part in her PMT. She’s cut out white flour and sugar and boosted wholegrains, complex carbs and fruit and feels much better. She sometimes gets that spaced out feeling where she walks into doors and drops things but not so much these days. She exercises each day too and I believe that helps enormously.

    Reply
  27. Great article, August. I guess I’m not all that in tune with my body. While I do tend to want some chocolate the week before my period starts, have the whole increased sex drive thing (in fact, I think I could get into the whole polyandry lifestyle then), and could be a bit irritable if I let myself go there, I haven’t noticed much of anything else. I do wind up with really awful lower back pain and, for a couple of days am on what I call my 1-2 hour leash. Gotta go to the store? You better know what you want, kids, because we’re going, we’re getting ONLY the essentials, and then we’re going home. NO browsing. I don’t like public bathrooms on NORMAL days…and I’m sure not going to deal with them during those few days every month.

    I’m not in any hurry for menopause because I’m not popping any pill made from horse urine…not happening. But I have to say that an end to periods every 26 days won’t be a devastating loss either. 🙂

    Reply
  28. Got to love this post! I’m trying to schedule my hysterectomy for a few months from now, and have been dealing for the past two years with rupturing ovarian cysts, cramps and excess bleeding from fibroid tumors, and the migraines that come from the hormone stew. I’ve been known to cry at a Hallmark commercial, a bacon cheeseburger and anything chocolate are necessary food items, and sometimes some of my deepest insights have come during my most painful migraines. A very weird experience. I’ll have to pay closer attention to my creative/non-creative cycles too now. Thank you August, really excellent work with this one!

    Reply
    • Serena, I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had to endure all of that—other than the wonderful insight. 😉 I hope you find lots of respite soon and honing in on your creativity cycle helpful. So glad you enjoyed the post!

      Reply
  29. Despite the terrible cramps I usually suffer, I LOVE that time of the month. My boyfriend is super-nice to me, he massages my feet and tummy and buys me anything I want. No questions asked.
    Although I’m still waiting on that pony I asked for the last time…

    Reply
  30. Great post and tips! Love the positive perspective on menstruation. Would welcome you to come guest post for us on our site.

    Reply
  31. Fantastic post, August! I know PMS is coming when I start dropping things. Seriously. Everything I pick up will fall right back out of my hand. When that happens, I tell hubby because I also get fairly anxious.

    As I’ve started into menopause, I developed a PMDD/anxiety sort of thing (to the point that I’d have horrible dreams like someone throwing acid on my daughter’s face). That sent me to the doctor for some added B vitamins and a half-dose of Prozac as needed.

    Between the increase of vitamins, getting my thyroid under control, and the gluten-free eating, I’m starting to see some positive (calming) changes. I’ve upped my walking too because the hormonal wackiness did not help my weight. Weight training is next on my list.

    Reply
  32. That’s very interesting it can be considered a creativity cycle as well. I can absolutely say that my creativity cycle does NOT revolve around PMS. 😉 But, it does revolve around the lunar cycle, and the full moon has yet again lead to some great story developments!

    Reply
  33. J Holmes

     /  March 8, 2012

    Hi August. I seem to always show here up at the wrong moment. I’m not an eavesdropper so I promise I didn’t read pas the first line or read any of the comments. OK, I’ll leave now and you nice ladies can continue your conversation.

    Reply
  34. I agree with Julie. Only you can post about the subject and make it beautiful. 🙂 I never saw a change in myself during that time of month until after I’d gone through a pregnancy. All the rules changed after that. Never thought to relate my creativity to the time of month. I love the things you bring to us each time.

    Reply
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