STOP THE SWINGS: EASING MONTHLY MOOD CHANGES WITH TCM
How To Balance Your Mood & Feel Your Best
One minute you’re cranky and hangry, the next you’re crying over a spilled iced coffee. Mood swings don’t just happen when you’re PMSing. That’s because the hormones of people who have periods are constantly in flux thanks to our month-long menstrual cycle. And these changes in hormones have a big impact on our moods and how we feel.
But often, mood swings and feeling like your emotions are out of control isn’t very fun. If you’re sick of feeling out of whack with your hormones, eastern medicine might hold the answer for you. That’s because Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is all about balance. When every part of your body is in harmony, that’s when you feel your best. So of course TCM has a method to balance out your monthly hormones and finally conquer those mood swings once and for all. Just keep reading to find out how.
TCM and the Menstrual Cycle
Like western medicine, TCM breaks down the menstrual cycle into 4 phases. Let’s break that down and compare it to what you might have learned in health class.
The Blood Phase
According to the western understanding of the body, the menstrual cycle starts off with your period. Your body naturally sheds the lining of your uterus over the course of a few days. Everyone’s period is different, but most last between 3 and 7 days.
In TCM, this is known as the blood phase–for obvious reasons. But according to TCM, this phase lasts 1-5 days. Since our bodies are losing blood, TCM practitioners recommend replenishing that lost energy by nourishing our blood and working to slow down Qi circulation. It’s important to remember that in TCM, “blood” doesn’t just refer to the red stuff that pumps through your veins. It’s more like a kind of energy that revitalizes us.
How To Feel Your Best During The Blood Phase
Since you’re losing energy through your menstrual bleeding, you might feel lethargic, tired, cranky, and a little low. But by nourishing the blood, you can balance that out and feel better. Try to avoid expending a lot of unnecessary energy through heavy workouts or playing sports. Instead, take this time to rest and recuperate.
You should also skip spicy food and alcohol that will aggravate your digestive organs. There are also certain foods that can help you nourish your blood. Some of the best ones are:
- Red meat, especially liver
- Bone broth
- Beans and legumes
- Dark, leafy greens like kale and spinach
- Goji berries
- Chinese red dates, also known as jujubes.
The Yin Phase
In western medicine, the next phase is the follicular phase. It starts on the same day as your period and ends when ovulation starts. During this phase, a hormone called FSH encourages your ovary to produce follicles which each hold an egg. This is also when our uterine lining starts to thicken up again so it can be shed during our next period.
In TCM, the Yin phase follows the blood phase, taking up days 6-13 of your 30 day cycle. Yin energy (the opposite and equal of Yang energy) is associated with growing, which makes sense when we think about the eggs and uterine lining that are developing.
What To Do During The Yin Phase
During the Yin phase of your monthly cycle, it’s important to take the time to replenish your blood from menstruation and recuperatie your Yin. Keep eating protein-packed blood nourishing food like meat, eggs, and leafy greens. And because we’re more likely to overheat when our Yin is low, try adding cooling foods like cucumber, mint, or fish to your diet.
It’s also a good idea to focus on relieving stress, which can build up when our Yin is low. Try yoga with a friend, meditating, journaling in the morning, or drinking chamomile tea.
Out of all of those eggs you grew during the follicular phase, it’s likely that only one will grow to be full sized. During ovulation (which takes place about 2 weeks after menstruation), this egg is released from your ovary and heads down the fallopian tube towards your uterus. If it doesn’t meet up with sperm during that time, it will die.
TCM doesn’t consider ovulation its own phase–instead, it’s when a shift starts to occur from Yin to Yang. Because Yang is associated with heat and activity, you might feel a lot more energy during this time of the month. You might get some uncomfortable symptoms during ovulation like cramping or even spotting. This is usually caused by stagnant Qi. Some foods that can help get things moving again are ginger, turmeric, mint, cumin, and garlic.
The Yang Phase
Western medicine considers ovulation the third stage, with the luteal phase coming in last. TCM breaks up the luteal phase into 2 parts: the Yang phase and the Qi phase.
During the luteal phase, the old follicles left behind on your ovaries start to release hormones that keep thickening the lining of your uterus in the hopes that an egg will get fertilized and stick to it. If a fertilized egg does latch on to the uterus, more hormones are produced to help make the perfect conditions for pregnancy.
If the pregnancy doesn’t take, you’ll shed everything out during your period as the cycle repeats itself.
What To Do During The Yang Phase
From the TCM POV, the Yang phase happens during days 15-21 of the 28 day cycle. Your body is building up its Yang energy, and you can help it along by doing energizing activities like cardio workouts. Focus on stretches and moves that target your pelvis to encourage more blood and Qi to flow there. You can also eat some spicy food to encourage circulation and energy.
The Qi Phase
Last but not least, there’s the Qi phase which occurs around days 22-28. During this time, your estrogen and serotonin hormones are going to drop, so you might start to feel some PMS symptoms, including depression or a low mood.
If your Qi gets blocked up and stagnant during this phase, you’re likely to end up with some pretty intense PMS. You might get emotionally overwhelmed, have intense food cravings, feel painfully bloated and gassy, and have tender breasts. The same foods that helped you during ovulation will help stimulate your Qi now, too.
During the Qi phase, your body is getting ready to go back into the blood phase and start the whole thing over again.
Hormones are complicated little chemicals, and they like to switch things up on us. But when you get to know your own body and monthly cycle, you can get better at managing your mood swings and keeping things under control.