Cycle-syncing to reduce stress and increase productivity with Meredith Ashton
In this interview, Laurie and Meredith Ashton discuss cycle syncing to reduce stress and increase productivity as well as how to best start cycle syncing and how they cycle sync in their daily lives.
Meredith Ashton Cohen CD(DONA) is a certified holistic Birth Doula and Women’s Health Specialist who teaches women like you to sync with your menstrual cycle to get more done with less stress by finding your ‘flow’. She knows that the heart of your superpower (and your health) as a woman is your cycle.
Meredith’s passion for the menstrual cycle began when she restored her missing period in six months using cycle syncing. Since then, she has taught women like you to cycle sync and claim the benefits of higher productivity, healthy boundaries, balanced hormones, and less stress.
This is a transcription of an Instagram live conversation. You can find the full video on Laurie’s IGTV tab on Instagram and on soon on YouTube.
I’m here with Meredith Ashton, we’re going to be talking about cycle syncing and how to sync with your cycle, your hormones and the natural rhythms of your hormones throughout your menstrual cycle.
When you do that, this can help with reducing stress, increasing energy and even increasing creativity. Knowing which times of the month based on your hormones are better times for you to do certain activities can help with resilience, feeling less stress, more energy, feeling more yourself.
Let’s just start with your background. How did you get this interest in hormones and especially cycle syncing, which you now practice?
I was a dancer growing up. I studied classical ballet and got my degree in dance. I was about halfway through my college experience when I lost my period. I knew that I was in this cycle of disordered eating, body image and self-loathing. That continual striving for the ideal body inside classical ballet.
I just knew that I wasn’t in a healthy spot. When I lost my period, it was the alarm bells went off and it was not good. I knew I wanted to have babies and if I didn’t have a period, then I couldn’t have babies. That wasn’t really on the table back then, but I still knew it was bad news.
So after college I needed to step away from dance. I wanted to heal my mind. I wanted to heal my body. I landed my first job and I started eating three meals a day and being around people that weren’t dancers.
Then I found Alisa Vitti’s book “WomanCode.” It was a divine intervention coming to me. I started reading it and thought it was amazing. I thought: “Does everybody know that we have four phases in our cycle? That our food, our exercise and how we use our time can totally make a difference for our cycles?”
That’s when I started practicing cycle syncing and was able to lose weight and overcome mental things and my cycle came back. From there I re-realised that I had lost my period. I didn’t realize how important it was. So I dove into the research and that’s when I fell in love with it.
Wow. I remember growing up, women were pretty excited about not having a period. It was almost a celebration instead of freaking out about where it went.
I know. People were able to go get birth control and not ever have a period, which they thought was amazing.
I grew up in a very conservative home where there wasn’t any intervention to stop the cycle. So I grew up with sisters and we all had our periods and cycled. I had a very motherly mother. I mean, I grew up with 20 kids in my family, so lots of kids, lots of babies.
There was an honor for motherhood. And there was an honor for the cycle and no need to disrupt it. I grew up in a pretty period positive home. So when I lost it I knew it was bad. I wasn’t glad that my period didn’t come. I was wondering if my health was okay.
It’s amazing that you made that connection so young. So then from there you got into the health space as a professional?
No, I stayed in the corporate world. I worked for an online marketing company for a few years and I was just reading. I was attending health summits. I was this closet women’s health nerd. I was like, “This stuff is so good!” But it was just a passion project. I went and worked in corporate HR for five years and then had my own two children.
I came home and I got into birth doula work and wanted to find a career that was just more satisfying than corporate HR.
Then I met other people working on periods and working on cycles. I didn’t know that that was an option, health had always just been a passion project. It was kind of a light switch moment within the last year or two, I realized that cycles is really where I want to be. I realized I could turn that into valuable work, connect with women and talk about this thing that I feel so passionate about.
That is awesome that you did that. So let’s dig in. I’ve already mentioned that cycle syncing can help with stress. It can help with productivity and creativity. It can help with so many things. Why does syncing help with all that?
It’s following the hormonal shifts that go on during our cycle. Our hormones are constantly changing. So we are literally different women every day of our cycle, because there’s never this point where our hormones have reached a healthy level and we stay there. Our hormones are constantly shifting. That impacts our brain and changes our brain.
Throughout our cycle, our brain changes by 25%. With that change, we’re wired for different activities. We notice different things. Our synapses are moving in different ways and we have different strengths.
Cycle syncing is simply going with the flow of how our body is shifting and drawing on the natural capacities and gifts that we have at different points in our cycle.
Because we’re changing on a biological level, we layer in lifestyle and time management.
We’re just enhancing the natural biological gifts that we have from our changing form.
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Right. So if we compare it to men, men have that 24 hour rhythm that repeats every day and for women that are cycling, that’s different.
So throughout that month our hormones, unlike a man’s, who’s cycling every 24 hours, are shifting and the different levels of hormones in our body are priming us for different activities is what you’re saying.
Yes. So men have their own cycle they go through, but it’s just on a 24 hour clock. When they get up in the morning, that’s kind of their springtime. They’re fresh, they’re ready for new ideas. They go and approach the work day with their fresh creativity.
By lunchtime and happy hour that’s their time to socialize, connect and talk about the project that they’re working on. Then they come home or they go back to work and they wrap up their projects, finish up for the day or prepare for the next day.
Then they go home and they have their rest time. So they’ll cycle through the four phases or four seasons similar to us, but we just do it on a 28 day clock.
Right. So 28 day or however long your menstrual cycle is.
Exactly give or take 28 days.
Let’s talk about these different phases. What do these different phases look like hormonally and what’s that priming in our work and life?
We’ll start with the follicular phase, which is our inner spring. So we’re just coming out of this winter time and we have this renewed, refreshed energy.
This is when estrogen starts to rise. Estrogen gives us that boost of energy. Our creativity is alive. We’re ready to jump into new things.
This is the ideal time to do that creative brainstorming to start new projects and to lay out the month and plan ahead, because we’re primed for that. We have that energy and we have the creativity there.
And that rise of estrogen happens after we bleed in menstruation. So our estrogen rises and then it peaks with testosterone around ovulation. That’s when we have our most energy and we have a lot of drive. We have that testosterone, so our sex drive is up during ovulation, which makes sense. That’s when we would want to be procreating and finding a mate.
We have this communicative ability. This is the time to socialize, it’s the time to talk about projects that we’re working on, give presentations and have hard conversations. If you’re gonna ask for a raise, try it around your ovulatory phase, because you’ll just have that energy and that drive. The hormonal backing for you to be your most magnetic, collaborative and communicative self during that phase.
After the peak of estrogen and testosterone during ovulation is the luteal phase, which is our inner fall, this is when progesterone rises and is high. Our brain shifts into this detail orientation. We notice things that we haven’t noticed before.
This is the greatest time to do administrative tasks, detail oriented tasks, as well as projects that are kind of bigger projects. Cleaning out a closet or filing all your expense reports, so that you can get a chunk of work done. It’s the working phase. You really have this attention to detail, you have this focus to be able to get projects done. This is the ideal time to do that. So kind of buckle down and get things done.
But it’s also preparing to go into a rest, our menstruation phase, this winter phase. It’s wrapping up projects, getting things to a place where you sit, rest and leave things be, without projects hanging over your head.
You wrap up projects in the fall time in your luteal phase, then you go into menstruation, which is your inner winter. This phase is about resting, rejuvenating and reflecting. During this phase the two halves of our brain are the most open. So we are the most spiritually connected and we have this ability to reflect on how things have gone in the last month and then receive inspiration about how to move forward in our lives.
Our body is bleeding. So this is when our hormones are at their lowest and our body is shedding the uterine lining. This is the time to rest our bodies and do that reflection so that we can kind of move ahead for the next month. What do I need to change? What went well? What didn’t go well?
When you come around for springtime, you’ve had this restful winter time. So you have the energy to get up and go again and move through the cycle.
Every cycle you get everything done that you need to in a month’s time, but it’s just managing your energy when to do these projects or when to do these tasks.
So it’s different from time management. It’s more of an energy management. You have more energy during the first half of your cycle and you have energy to do different tasks at different times.
So why not use the energy that you have to do these tasks at different times, rather than plugging through and trying to do hard tasks when you’re menstruating and your brain isn’t there, your body isn’t there.
You don’t have the hormonal support to plug through and work on these really tough, challenging projects. You have skills for doing something different. So why not bring the best of you to each task during the phase, when it is going to be the most beneficial and you’re going to feel the best doing it.
“Cycle syncing is different from time management. It’s energy management.”
Yeah. That makes so much sense, but for those who haven’t tried it, it can sound pretty radical, to change what you do. But for those, who’ve tried it and who live that way, it changes things up.
I’ve personally tried it. I’m not full on, but I’d love to be more in this rhythm full on, because I have my moments where I’m doing things that aren’t really right for that time of the cycle. But especially when it comes to writing and creativity, if I do it at the right time in my cycle, it works better. I need to just pile all my writing in that one period.
But how is it working for you and the women that you’ve worked with?
It has worked. It’s allowed me to put up healthy boundaries. First it was my social life. I came into this when I was a single working girl. So I had a pretty full social calendar and I would start looking at planning to get together with friends. Knowing that I’m going to feel really good to get together with them during certain weeks. So then I would pack in my social engagements after work and it was amazing.
I knew that I would feel sluggish during this week and this week, and then I wouldn’t want to see my friends. It made a big difference socially, because it also gave me peace of mind that I’m going to come back around to this social time and that I will have this time again.
I kind of took everything as a step-by-step process. It really impacted my social life so that I could do my work and then I could go home and take care of myself on the days that I really needed that self care, because my corporate job was a nine to five, Monday through Friday job, so there’s not really room for not going to work during my menstrual phase. So I was working. I was working around that solid piece.
I could cycle sync with my work activities and I was working in human resources doing recruiting. I would pack my interviews into the follicular phase and ovulatory phase. I would leave other HR kind of duties like very task oriented, administrative tasks, catching up on data and things that to my luteal phase.
During my menstrual phase I’d just kind of do some different activities and that really helped just feel efficient in my work, because I could get things done quickly and not have this lasting stuff. I didn’t have to spend more energy on the activities, because they were cyncing up with what I was most prone to do.
My productivity actually went up, but it also saved my energy. So I wasn’t spending more energy than I needed to. And that really changed my work life for me. It felt more effortless on a daily basis, which was great.
That makes me go back to the writing. I’ll have days when I know I need to write something and I sit down and I feel I’m spending so much time and energy to get something written. Whereas other days it takes me no time at all. It was brilliant. I loved it.
If you think of the time that you spend on things that maybe aren’t aligned with the right time of the month, just making those shifts can make all the difference.
Some things are possible to move and as we cycle sync we can plan out our activities. But when it’s not then it’s good to recognize that that means you’re going to have to spend more time and energy on it. So what else can you clear off your plate?
There’s lots of room to be flexible, because our culture and especially our corporate culture is not designed around women. It’s designed around men. So cycle syncing might not work for every cycle, but there’s a lot of flexibility.
Maybe you have this mandatory task. You have to get it done. It’s going to take more energy from you, because you’re in this different phase of your cycle. What can you move to a different day? What can you take off your plate so that you can focus on this task because you know it’s just going to take more juice from you.
I love that it’s so useful. I know it makes such a big difference. It’s that permission to honor ourselves that is the underlying message. Honoring our body, honoring ourselves and knowing that you’re enough in whatever phase of your cycle you are.
I’m just going to bring the best of myself to the table and approach my work and do my best, and then do what I can to sync up my activities so that I am confident and using my energy wisely throughout my cycle.
I love that. Honoring who you are instead of just pushing through. It also made me think of when you were talking about the example of meeting up with friends, because I could think of many times when you make commitments, maybe not just with friends, but networking events and different things.
Then it comes to the day and you just don’t have it in you. So you don’t feel like you love being social, but can’t handle more than one thing. So it’s important to be putting it on the right day so that you don’t have that feeling and that you give yourself that space to recharge.
And being judicious about what events are going to work and what’s not. Knowing that there is a time and a place for them to fit into your life.
It’s not like you are never going to a networking event again, because they are to hard. You just need to remember to schedule your social time into the most social time of your cycle and when you’re menstruating maybe it just won’t work out.
I love that. I plan my different phases in my Google calendar and then I adjust every month to make sure I’m still on track. Inside those phases, I have my little recommendations so I can always open it up and remind myself these are the things to do during this phase.
Oh, I love it. That’s awesome. I love hearing how women track their cycles.
I also have Alisa Vitti’s app (MyFlo). I use that to check my period, but then I found I really only use that once a month when I enter when my period comes.
Then I found having it in my Google calendar. So every time I go to schedule events, I can have that reminder of what phase I’m in. That helps me keep it a little more on track, but like I said, it’s something I’m still working towards getting more aligned.
Yeah. I think it’s a step-by-step process. It can feel overwhelming, because we’re always in a season. So it can feel like there is so much to do, but start with one thing. Start with one phase. My recommendation is to start with the menstrual phase, because it’s a tangible idea. You know when you’re menstruating, whereas it’s hard to know which phase you’re in, unless you’re tracking regularly.
So start with your menstrual phase and carve out time to have some solo time, have some journaling time and reflect on where you are.
Ask those bigger questions. Am I happy in my life? Is my work going well? Is there anything that I want to change about my work? Am I still happy with my work? Is there anything in my relationships that needs to change? What’s next for me?
So just start there in addition to resting your body. Take a coupple of cycles to do that, every time menstruation comes around.
Then start adding in things like your springtime and feel the shift inside of you. How does it feel when you take that time during your menstrual cycle? Do you you feel refreshed?
Just start there one piece at a time.
That’s great. I love that.
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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information — we’re all wonderfully unique.
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Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT
Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and board certified health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.
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