Women who plan their lives by the ups and downs of their hormones

Women who plan their lives by the ups and downs of their hormones and how they use calendars to embrace their mood swings

  • Oana Tuti is one of several women who now plan around their hormone cycle 
  • She plans her life out meticulously and so knows when she is most productive
  • Faye Daintree also works within her hormonal rollercoaster rather than lose to it 

Before Oana Tuti commits to anything significant, she always checks ahead on the calendar to see how she’ll be feeling that day.

Challenging work meetings and important appointments are scheduled for when she knows her brain will be sharp and her energy levels high; date night with her husband only happens when she’s feeling at her most attractive and desirable.

Meanwhile, she circles the days she knows she’ll feel insecure and lacklustre so that she can lie low. When the calendar flags up that a truly awful day is looming, she books it off work. Oana uses her diary like a crystal ball, trusting it to accurately predict what her mood and sense of self-worth will be on any given date.

Oana Tutui plans her life ahead meticulously around her hormonal cycle, ensuring she is productive

This might sound airy-fairy, but it’s rooted in the irrefutable science of biology: this 31-year-old hotel receptionist says she has simply got to grips with the profound influence of her naturally fluctuating hormones at various points in her monthly cycle. And she’s far from alone in doing so. Indeed, it appears that the days when women lived at the mercy of their hormones are being consigned to the past.

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Certainly Oana, mum to 11-month-old William, sees herself as one of a new generation of ‘hormonally intelligent’ young women who want to understand the ups and downs of their monthly cycle rather than suppress it by taking the contraceptive pill; a change reflected in the statistics — an NHS study found that use of the Pill and other self-administered contraception dropped by 13 per cent between 2005 and 2015.

While their mothers saw the advent of the oral contraceptive as revolutionary, it would seem that many of their daughters are taking the opposite view in order, they say, to ‘reclaim control’ of their bodies and moods, as well as their fertility.

Faye Daintree is one woman who is working within her hormonal rollercoaster rather than fighting it

By keeping diaries, or downloading hormone monitoring apps to their mobile phones — to the tune of more than 200 million across the globe — these women not only know when they are most fertile and take action accordingly, they can also pinpoint when their rising oestrogen levels are going to make them feel their most confident and clear-headed.

Mid-cycle when their fertility peaks, they feel at their most alluring. And they are prepared for the subsequent increase in progesterone in the days that follow — this will eventually bring about their period, and will also dampen their mood, leaving them feeling increasingly sluggish and even depressed.

The result: where once being branded ‘hormonal’ was considered the ultimate female putdown, there’s a clear move towards harnessing the positive side effects of their reproductive cycles while working around the negatives.

And these women say it’s empowering them in both their professional and personal lives.

Oana, who lives in Cambridgeshire with her husband Gabriel, a 36-year-old chef, says: ‘I have a 31-day cycle, throughout which I feel like I switch between four different women.

Being branded ‘hormonal’ used to be considered the ultimate female putdown but many are now empowering themselves

‘One week I can be energetic, supremely confident and level-headed — another I’ll suffer from debilitating exhaustion and mood swings so severe I doubt everything about myself.’

Until three years ago, having no sense of control over all this had a dreadful impact on Oana.

A receptionist, she would fall apart in challenging work situations at the point in her cycle when she felt emotionally vulnerable.

‘Then at home I’d behave irrationally with my husband,’ she admits. ‘One night he came home late from work with a perfectly good reason, and yet I lashed out at him, convinced he’d somehow betrayed me.’

This outburst prompted Oana to take action. So, in the way someone wanting to take control over their eating habits might keep a food diary, she began recording not just the date her pre-menstrual symptoms started, but also how she felt at other times in her cycle.

Her calendar allows her to know when she is likely to feel low and lacking in energy and so unproductive

Just three months of note-taking saw a clear pattern emerge — which comes as no surprise to New York psychiatrist Dr Julie Holland, the author of Moody Bitches, a book that urges women to embrace the cyclical changes their hormones bring about. She says there’s great sense in acknowledging the power hormones have to make you weepy and hypersensitive.

‘Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) is about lower oestrogen and serotonin levels,’ she says. ‘This means you are less resilient to stress, more easily overwhelmed, and also it’s much easier to cry.

‘That’s not going to be a great time for a meeting with the boss who wants to give “feedback” on your performance.

‘But it’s also useful to know that in this pre-menstrual phase you’re likely to be more obsessive — making it a great time to plan a complicated event.’

At this time you’ll also be more sensitive to pain, she adds. ‘So in the days leading up to your period it’s better not to visit the dentist or book in a bikini wax.’

Oana circles the days on her calendar that she knows she’ll feel insecure and lacklustre so that she can lie low

Professor Joyce Harper, who runs University College London’s Institute for Women’s Health, also urges women to work with their hormones.

‘After ovulation, oestrogen and progesterone levels change; oestrogen starts to drop and progesterone rises. Some women are very sensitive to these changes, especially the increased levels of progesterone.

‘We think progesterone and oestrogen may also decrease the levels of serotonin in your brain.

‘Serotonin impacts every part of your body; it is often referred to as the “happy” hormone, as it is linked to mood, wellbeing and feelings of happiness.’

Professor Harper adds: ‘The main thing is that you recognise what’s happening and then do what works for you. Just don’t be passive.

‘We still don’t have a full enough understanding about why it is hormones affect women so profoundly in the first place — which makes it all the more important for you to monitor your own hormonal journey.’

Certainly Oana says having a greater awareness of her hormonal cycle helps her cope with mood swings. ‘I also recognise now that at the start of my cycle I feel relaxed and confident,’ she explains. ‘My skin is clear and people comment on how much I seem to glow — my sense of self-worth is really high.

‘I make sure I really enjoy this time, because it feels like payback for what’s to come.’

Faye says she felt far more in control when she started noticing the ups and downs of her cycle by marking them on a calendar

The buoyancy she experiences through this phase means Oana also knows this is the best time to embrace situations that put her under scrutiny, such as taking a test or job interview.

‘I’m not nervous during this stage,’ she says. ‘This is when I really push myself, because I’m at my most outgoing, while the rest of the month I’m much more reserved. So, it’s the best time to arrange date night with my husband or big nights out with my girlfriends.’

As Oana progresses into the second week of her cycle, her energy levels continue to rise. She feels extremely clear and level-headed — making this the perfect time to deal with, or even initiate, confrontations in her professional or personal life.

‘It’s around this time of the month that I find my voice,’ she says. ‘If there’s an issue in my relationship, or in work, I have the confidence and clarity to tackle it in a calm way.’

However, the shine starts to wear off Oana’s mood towards the end of week three, when edginess and mild anxiety surface as her oestrogen levels fall. ‘This is when I know I need to start preparing myself for week four,’ she says. ‘I make sure I’m on top of my work and that I’m as organised as possible at home, so there’s less to overwhelm me when my energy levels dramatically slump.

‘I do a big shop, so I know the food cupboards and freezer are well-stocked, and I deal with any outstanding bills or paperwork.’

Oana says that being proactive gives her a sense of continuing control over her hormonal cycle

‘I try to stay at home as much as possible. I find that cooking relaxes me so I spend more time in the kitchen. I also make sure I get more sleep during this week. This is when I’m most unstable and likely to start a row.’

Oana says that being proactive gives her a sense of continuing control as she goes into the pre-menstrual phase of her cycle, when her hormones have the power to wreak the most havoc.

Faye Daintree, 35, from London, is another mother who takes an old-school approach to her hormonal cycle.

A full time mum to 18-month-old Olivia, she says: ‘I haven’t used chemical contraception for years. I didn’t like the way it made me feel — it stopped me getting pregnant but seemed to suppress the real me.’

She says she felt far more in control when she started noticing the ups and downs of her cycle by marking them on a calendar, and she now plans ahead by charting her monthly mood patterns.

‘I used to think that my hormones only affected me just before my period started, but now I know there are several points throughout the month when I need to be aware of how I’m going to feel.’

In the week before her period starts — when her oestrogen levels take a back seat — Faye suffers from debilitating brain fog. ‘I’ve put the washing in the fridge, and thrown money in the bin,’ she says. ‘My partner only has to look at me sideways for me to pick a fight with him.

‘During this phase I really have to force myself to go to the gym — exercise is the very last thing I want to do, but it’s the only thing that makes me feel sane.

‘And so I give myself pep talks and force myself to power through.

‘I arrange for my mum to look after my little girl so I haven’t got any excuse not to go. I feel so much better as a result.’

Faye started to see the pattern of her monthly cycle after her daughter was born; her pre-menstrual symptoms got worse after the birth, and she wanted to be prepared for days when she’d be affected.

‘The more I observed my changing moods, the clearer it became that there was a pattern that spanned the whole month,’ she says.

‘On day one it feels like the clouds have parted, after a miserable run-up to my period, and life becomes effortless for a while. For the next couple of weeks I’m in a great routine; my head’s clear, I eat healthily without having to think about it and I’m full of energy, getting out and about with Olivia as much as possible.

‘I power through the housework, and feel focused on every task.’

But as she approaches the middle of her 28-day cycle, Faye knows her mood will soon take an abrupt turn.

‘I’ll start craving sweets and chocolate, and so around day 13 I sweep the house for any treats and bin them, because I know I’ll eat whatever junk I can get my hands on over the next few days.

‘I also get any admin out of the way, like paying bills and filling out forms, because if I leave it any longer they’ll just sit in a pile until I start to feel better again.’

By the end of week three, Faye says she drags herself out of bed in the mornings feeling dog-tired before the day has even begun. ‘The brain fog is terrible,’ she says. ‘I once opened a pile of birthday cards for Olivia, several of which had cash in them, and put the money in the bin, tucking the envelopes away in a drawer.

Oana says that declaring ‘I’m hormonal’ is not a red rag to a bull but a sign that she’s in control

‘I’m clumsy too — those are the days when, if I walk into a shop with loads of ornaments on display I know I need to step straight out again. Otherwise, I’ll knock something over.

‘I’ve dropped so many cups in the sink and injured myself by walking into furniture at this stage of my cycle. But because now it’s there, on the calendar, flagging up that I’ll be like this, somehow it’s become so much easier to live with.’

Without hormonal contraception, Faye has to keep careful track of her cycle in order to help prevent a pregnancy. She does this using her calendar, but others are turning to hormone tracking apps which warn them when they are at their most fertile — and when they are unlikely to conceive.

Ann Johnson, a 42-year-old primary school head teacher from Cheshire, uses the period tracker app Flo, which monitors hormonally related symptoms over the course of a cycle. The more information you enter — and the more cycles — the more accurate it becomes.

In common with other apps, such as Hormone Horoscope Pro and Period Diary, Flo sends Ann alerts on her phone advising what’s happening to her body and how she’s likely to feel at any given point in her cycle.

Explains Ann: ‘I’ve been logging my symptoms by answering questions about everything from my sex drive to my energy levels for the last couple of months.

‘Some of these questions are incredibly personal, but the answers give really strong indications of what my hormones are doing.

‘Getting alerts really helps — it means I know when I’m heading into PMS territory, which is when I need to avoid alcohol because that’s when it gives me the most terrible hangover and makes my PMS much worse.

‘I’ve also learnt that when it tells me I’m fertile, I’ll also be able to handle much more pressure at work. It’s good to know that this is the best time to tackle things like changes in school that my staff won’t necessarily want to embrace. Not much fazes me at this time.’

Ann is single, so she says she is not worried about the risk of pregnancy. Besides, she is knowledgeable enough about her cycle to know when the danger zone is.

But what will men make of this move back towards embracing natural rhythms?

Oana’s husband Gabriel is entirely supportive. And, says Oana, in her household, declaring ‘I’m hormonal’ is not a red rag to a bull but a sign she’s in control.

‘I can be quite irrational — in the past at certain times of the month I’ve instigated those pointless and yet continual “you never” conversations, letting rip over something like an unwashed cup in the sink. Being aware of that means Gabriel is more likely to be understanding rather than riled by my eruptions.

‘Learning where your natural ebbs and flows are empowers you. Go ahead and fight for a pay rise when you know you are mid-cycle and feeling as though you’ve got superpowers.

‘But also, go ahead and crawl under the covers for a day when you’re feeling low.’

It’s these highs and lows that are part of being a woman, concludes the author of hormonal, Professor Martie Haselton, another female academic who is pushing our understanding of hormones in a new direction.

‘Our hormones guide us through uniquely female life experiences, from feeling desire and pleasure to choosing a mate, having a child — if we would like to — raising a child and transitioning to our post-reproductive years.’ 

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