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Lucy Peach, period preacher: ‘The menstrual cycle is just an untapped resource’

Fluctuating hormones and their effects is a familiar concept. For example, the drop in oestrogen levels before menstruation has been linked to migraines in some women, and compulsive eating, acne and mood swings are common in premenstrual weeks. However, the conversation around premenstrual hormonal changes is often framed in a negative way.

Performer and author Lucy Peach, from Fremantle, believes that by understanding the effects of oestrogen and progesterone around the two major events in our menstrual cycles – ovulation and menstruation – women could perhaps better understand themselves.

“Hormones are really powerful,” she says. “They affect how you feel throughout the whole day. And this suite that we have as part of the menstrual cycle is just an untapped resource.”

Peach was inspired to look at her menstrual cycle more acutely after reading a book called The Optimised Woman – Using Your Menstrual Cycle to Achieve Success and Fulfilment, by Miranda Gray. Peach tracked her hormonal changes for a year, which she used in her songwriting for her show My Greatest Period Ever (coming to Sydney for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas on 4 April.

Dr Rebecca Deans, a gynaecologist at the Royal Hospital for Women, in Sydney, Sydney Children’s hospital, Randwick, and the University of New South Wales, says: “At the beginning [of your cycle] there’s a lot more oestrogen and lower progesterone and that can give different characteristics to how you may feel. Around the ovulation phase, some people say they feel a little more aroused at that time.”

And in the progesterone phase, after ovulation, a sense of fragility is not uncommon: “You can feel a bit moody, cranky, depressed, and some people have cravings and headaches.”

Peach is taking a holistic approach to the menstrual cycle. She breaks down the four weeks into four phases, which she calls “dream”, “do”, “give” and “take”.

Starting from the first day of your period, “when all your hormones have flatlined, it’s time to really think about what you want to grow and give life to next”, she says. As your oestrogen levels increase, you enter the “do” phase: “Time to step up and step into your big power and go for it. Get things done.”

These hormonal ebbs and flows have given her and others a language to help understand and communicate why they may feel a certain way at a certain time. It’s a life hack, a way to harness each cycle for the energetic days and forgive herself for the days when she’s less inclined to over-achieve or kick goals.

“Prior to understanding this way of thinking about my body, I dreaded being premenstrual,” she says.

Anastasia Carlson, 48, from Perth, who has seen My Greatest Period Ever twice and introduced her daughter to Peach’s teen-friendly talk on the menstrual cycle, How to Period Like a Unicorn, says it has been a positive eye-opener for the whole family.

“It inspired a broader positive conversation at home on the topic of periods,” she says. “It’s encouraged me to have more body-awareness and gave me a framework in which to observe my own cycle and patterns.”

Carlson’s husband and daughter now use the framework to talk about the four-week cycle, too, and the family has found it to be a more uplifting and accessible way to talk about how their feelings at different stages in the month.

“Just because you’ve got your period doesn’t mean you can’t score a winning goal in the world cup,” says Peach. “It means perhaps you don’t train as hard the two days before, maybe you have a nap in the day, or maybe you don’t talk to that particularly draining person.”

And she’s not the only person charting women’s sex hormones. The adviser to the US Women’s World Cup winners shows them how to train with their menstrual cycle to avoid injury, the England women’s hockey team has been tracking their periods since before the 2012 Olympics, and in Australia the AFLW is investigating methods to manage knee injuries linked to ovulation in players not using hormonal contraceptives.

Deans says there are good life lessons to be taken from Peach’s advice, like “not taking on too many things, reducing your stresses”, but only if you’re sensitive to your sex hormones. “And that’s only for a subset of women,” she stresses.

“[Sex hormones] will be flattened if you’re on the pill, and occasionally if you’re on say the Mirena or the lower progesterone-only option, so that’s a reason for a lot of people to go on hormonal contraception: to level out their moods,” she says.

“It’s a treatment for mood disorders, but equally other people like feeling their natural cycle and don’t like to be on the pill because they say it can often give them side effects.

“There’s certainly a lot of research into menstrual cycles, and particularly where it pertains to an illness. There’s biological plausibility that progesterone hormones can cause depression.

“In terms of improving wellness, it’s that there’s only so much resource for research.”

For the average person, she says it may not be necessary to track your periods and she recommends people avoid “becoming obsessed with your cycle”.

Peach says being in tune with her body is “another way of practicing mindfulness … The beautiful thing is that with every cycle you get another little window into yourself and you get to discover a little more.”

Lucy Peach will appear at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas on 4 April. Period Queen by Lucy Peach is available in June.

Source: TheGuardian