Most of us are very routine-oriented and those routines are always planned around the 24-hour clock, where we have separated our time for rest, play, sustenance, and work. But as menstruating persons, there are days that we struggle to find the necessary energy or motivation to get on with our routines, especially around the days before we start our period or while we are menstruating.
We often forget to keep track of what is going on inside our bodies, and at times, get overwhelmed by what we are expected to do and our actual capacity to fulfil such tasks. What if we told you that there was a healthier way to adjust our lifestyles and optimise our productivity?
A study has revealed that hormone fluctuations play a key role in how a menstruating person’s body responds to the changes that are taking place within the 28-day hormonal cycle. According to the study, the changes in the hormone flow affects the physiological, neurological and psychological development and function; impacting the thought process, eating habits, emotional status, energy levels and more.
What is Cycle Syncing?
In recent years, cycle synching has become a buzzword and the hashtag returns a considerable amount of content across social media platforms, such as TikTok and Instagram, sharing tips on the how’s, what’s and why’s.
Alisa Vitti, who is a Functional Nutritionist (HHC, AADP), hormonal expert and the founder of Flo Living, popularised her now trademarked term Cycle Syncing after taking into consideration her years of study, and her personal experience in understanding the female reproductive-system and wanting to assist.
According to Vitti, the 28-day hormonal cycle has four phases, and based on which phase of the cycle a person is, they should adjust their lifestyle (i.e. food intake, physical activity and work schedules) to improve productivity, as well as their overall physical and mental well-being.
Cycle syncing can also benefit groups that have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), struggle with weight fluctuation, looking to improve fertility, and improve their libido.
The Infradian Rhythm
For persons who menstruate, it is quite beneficial to take note of their infradian rhythm, which takes place through four phases during their 28-day hormonal cycle. The infradian rhythm affects a person’s mood, health, as well as energy levels as it cycles through the four phases; that is follicular, ovulatory, luteal and menstrual.
It is important to understand how your hormone levels fluctuate, and the changes that are taking place within these four phases, so you can adjust your lifestyle around it.
Phase 1: Follicular Phase
- Duration – Day 6 to 14 of your hormonal cycle.
- What happens – The pre-egg release stage, where estrogen and progesterone levels start to rise.
- What exercises to do – Light cardio, hiking, jogging, flow-based yoga to work up a sweat.
- Foods – Try to add foods that will process estorgen to your diet, such as sprouted or fermented foods; flax seeds, tofu, tempeh, soybeans, edamame, kimchi, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, sauerkraut, dates, prunes, dried apricots, strawberries, cranberries, and raspberries.
- Activities – With estrogen levels gradually rising, this is the best time to use your sense of curiosity and inspiration to brainstorm, create vision boards, explore new ideas, plan your next carer move or even plan a road trip.
Phase 2: Ovulatory Phase
- Duration – Day 15 to 17 of your hormonal cycle.
- What happens – The egg is released, estrogen levels are at its peak, testosterone and progesterone rise.
- What exercises to do – Circuit and high-intensity exercises, high-intensity interval workouts, or spin class.
- Foods – Add foods that are good for your liver as well as anti-inflammatory foods; coffee, tea, grapefruit, beet juice, leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards), fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines), olive oil, blueberries, cranberries, grapes, prickly pear, oranges, nuts (walnuts and almonds), and tomatoes.
- Activities – During this phase you should look at networking, problem solving, following up on projects, initiating important conversations and negotiating work terms.
Phase 3: Luteal Phase
- Duration – Day 18 to 28 of your hormonal cycle.
- What happens – Post-egg release stage, where estrogen and progesterone levels are high. If the egg isn’t fertilized, hormone levels decrease and the menstrual cycle starts again. You may also experience cramps, bloating, or acne due to Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS).
- What exercises to do – Light-to-moderate exercise, such as strength training, pilates, and more intense versions of yoga.
- Foods to add – Magnesium-rich foods and serotonin processing foods, such as dark chocolate, avocado, bananas, pineapple, nuts (almonds, cashew, brazil nuts), Legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas, soybeans), seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin), whole grains (wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, quinoa), fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, halibut), and leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens and mustard greens)
- Foods to avoid – Alcohol, carbonated drinks and artificial sweeteners, red meat, dairy, foods with added salt.
- Activities – As your hormone levels start to equalise, this is a good time to engage in activities that require a lot of focus, such as following through on projects, compiling and reviewing reports, and other such administrative work.
Phase 4: Menstrual Phase
- Duration – Day 1 to 5 of your period.
- What happens – Estrogen and progesterone continue to decrease, the endometrium (lining of the uterus) is shed, causing bleeding and fatigue.
- What exercises to do – Workouts that engage mindfulness, such as yoga or restorative stretching, or opt for meditative walks through nature.
- Foods to add – Warm and nourishing foods, such as soups and red meat, iron-rich foods such as dried apricot fruit, spinach, podded peas, asparagus, white button mushrooms, acorn squash, leeks, dried coconut, green beans, raspberries, passionfruit, lentil sprouts, and olives. To combat cramps, you can also drink camomile tea.
- Foods to avoid – Fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine, and salty foods.
- Activities – Cut back on work tasks and avoid the pressure of inflexible deadlines, schedule rest and prioritise sleep, allow yourself to work at a slower pace. This is also a good time to reflect, evaluate yourself, and make informed decisions.
My Flo – A period-tracking app that helps you to achieve hormonal balance; recommending what foods, exercises and activities are best suited for each phase of your cycle. It also keeps track of any symptoms and provides necessary food-based tips to resolve them.
Clue – An app that uses gender-neutral language to help you track your cycle and health. The app predicts your period, PMS, fertile window, and provides additional information on birth control, cramps, emotions, skin, hair, sleep, sex, pain, moods, cervical fluid, and more.
The recent revelation made by the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) on the cases of suicides recorded between January to May 2021, which amounted to 468, has turned the spotlight on the rising number of suicides amid the pandemic. In comparison to the annual total of 631 cases in 2020 and 609 cases in 2019, which averaged about two cases per day, this year, the average cases per day have almost doubled.
According to PDRM, the main reasons behind these incidents had been financial difficulties caused by debt, emotional pressure, and troubled family relationships.
The Ministry of Health meanwhile stated that in 2020, a total of 1,080 cases of persons who attempted suicide received treatment at government hospitals.
Director General of Health, Tan Sri Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah, issuing a statement noted that the pandemic has severely impacted the mental health of people. He had further noted that certain individuals are more susceptible to mental health problems when they are disconnected from their support networks, such as friends and family, due to the ongoing movement control orders, and would experience episodes of depression that could even lead to suicide.
Suicide Is Criminalised In Malaysia
Malaysia being a country with a Muslim majority considers it a sin to take any life including one’s own. Moreover, as an attempt to deter persons from taking their lives, the government has criminalised suicide under Section 309 of the Penal Code, where anyone who attempts to commit suicide and fails would be imprisoned for a term extending up to a year or imposed a fine or will be subjected to imprisonment and imposed a fine.
The law enacted in 1936 originated from the Indian Penal Code that was based on the British Common Law. While many other countries in the region that adopted the Colonial common law has by now repealed or has modified the section, we have yet to follow suite.
The country’s Psychiatric and Mental Health Services Operational Policy, while recognising suicide attempts as a mental health issue that needs treatment, indicates that when an individual who attempted suicide is referred for medical care, they should be placed under strict supervision until they are considered to be in a stable condition and would not harm themselves.
However, Section 309 does not indicate that the individual should be referred to medical or psychological care after or during sentencing. Which calls for its immediate repeal or appropriate modification by concerned citizens.
Since suicide is criminalised by law, it may also discourage individuals from reaching out to counselling services or suicide prevention helplines, fearing that their situation would be compromised and they would have to face legal action.
Decriminalising Suicide Is Suicide Prevention
For many years, the civil society, mental health specialists and various other non-governmental agencies have been pushing for the decriminalisation of suicide in Malaysia. Highlighting the importance of decriminalising suicide, and the progress that the authorities have made so far towards achieving it, Bar Council Law Reform & Special Areas Committee Co-Chairman and National Coalition of Mental Wellbeing member, Datuk Seri M. Ramachelvam, noted that; “The World Health Organisation has called upon the countries around the world to decriminalise suicide, therefore the moment is now, and we should not delay anymore”.
Adding that, in 2012 the government’s Law Reform Committee conducted a study on reviewing the penal code section 309, and in the same year the then Minister of Health had stated that suicide should be decriminalised.
Ramachelvam also stated that, in 2019, the Minister of Law had said that a bill would be presented in Parliament to repeal Section 309 of the Penal Code, which was supposed to have happened in 2020. While in 2020 the federal government had said that the Attorney General’s chamber was studying various jurisdictions on the issue of decriminalising suicide.
Ramachelvam further noted that; “People who are contemplating suicide or who have attempted suicide never gets reported to relevant mental health authorities through the doctors or family members. Because if the incident gets reported there will be a potential criminal charge over the person who attempted suicide and survived. The stigma caused by the criminalisation of the act itself can deter the individual from seeking and receiving mental health related care, counselling or rehabilitative care”.
According to Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Consultant Psychiatrist at the National University of Malaysia, Dr. Lai Fong Chan, criminalising suicide does not act as a deterrent to prevent somebody from attempting suicide, and can actually have a negative effect, as it marginalises people who are in distress, from accessing help from mental health services.
Adding that; “When someone is in acute suicidal crisis, somebody who is crying out for help in that distress, it’s unthinkable that you would dangle this punishment as a deterrent saying ‘you are going to prison’. Emotional distress is not best dealt with a prison sentence”.
Dr. Chan pointed out that there are already laws in place in the Mental Health Act that if someone is suspected to have mental health issues that puts the individual at risk of their own safety, PDRM and the registered social workers have the mandate to bring such persons to a mental health service provider or to a health service provider for assessment and care.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please contact the Befrienders at 03-76272929.
Sign and share this petition to decriminalise suicide in Malaysia.
A birth of a child is often considered to be a blissful moment; yet, it can also trigger a sense of overwhelming emotions in new parents. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, what is commonly referred to as the ‘baby blues’ is normal and would pass within the first two weeks postpartum. However, this condition could progress into an episode of major depression known as postpartum depression (PPD), which can in return affect the mother’s ability to care for the newborn.
Although an estimated 1 in 7 women globally is said to experience PPD, a review revealed that the incidents of maternal PPD in Malaysia was at 6.8%-27.3%. Even with the recent increase in prevalence of PPD, the number of women seeking help in Malaysia for PPD is said to be far less.
The stigma of mental health issues is universal, but it is particularly prevalent in Asian countries. This causes PPD to be even more taboo and prevents women from seeking help for their struggles with depression. Mothers are pressured to be perfect, even new mothers, so the shame and embarrassment of admitting to what society sees as “weakness” forces them to suffer in silence. On top of that, mothers may feel guilty for experiencing negative feelings during what should be a joyous occasion, and downplay their own emotions.
What is Postpartum Depression?
PPD is a depressive illness that presents symptoms similar to depression in new mothers, including a low mood that lasts for more than two weeks. Based on the severity, the mother will struggle to look after herself and her baby. At times the person experiencing PPD will even find it difficult to manage simple tasks.
According to experts, symptoms of PPD generally develop after the first two weeks of childbirth and can last up to six months or even a year, while in some cases symptoms could also develop in the weeks prior to childbirth. PPD symptoms may differ from person to person, and the common symptoms can surface as a combination of emotions: anger and irritability, fatigue, excessive crying, finding it difficult to bond with the new-born, and being anxious.
While the heightened emotions of the mother can be attributed to the sudden shift in hormonal levels, experts also attribute that sleep deprivation plays a large role in causing PPD. As the mother adjusts with her new responsibilities to care for the baby, they tend to not get enough sleep, which impacts the way they function, how they feel and how mentally stable they could be.
Types of Postpartum Depression
Depending on the severity of symptoms, there are several types of PPD:
- Postpartum Blues: Affecting approximately 30%-80% of new mothers, this condition will only have a milder or short-term form of the disorder, where the symptoms displayed would range from sadness, crying, tiredness, insomnia and anxiety.
- Postpartum Anxiety: The mother would show symptoms of intense and chronic anxiety, where they would feel nervous and constantly worry that something bad would happen to the baby. These symptoms could last from weeks to months.
- Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Can occur during the prenatal period of the second trimester or one month after postpartum, where the mother would experience disturbing thoughts, imagine that the baby is in danger or would be extremely afraid to be left alone with the baby.
- Postpartum Panic Disorder: Postpartum anxiety that includes physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, tightening chest, hyperventilation, dizziness, weakness, and other extreme symptoms.
- Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This disorder can be triggered due to a traumatic incident the mother faced during childbirth or afterwards. The incident could range from emergency C-section, the baby being sent to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), complications experienced during childbirth or lack of support during delivery.
- Postpartum Psychosis: Although a rare and severe disorder, the symptoms of the person could drastically change from agitation to anxiety, which could lead to memory loss and confusion, causing hallucinations and the mother showing disinterest about the baby.
PPD left untreated could interfere with the mother and child bonding, and can also lead to family problems. It could also place a strain on the relationship with the baby and the partner. Moreover, PPD can also impact the development and behaviour of the child, which can have a long-term effect.
While any new mother could experience PPD, it is imperative to know who is more vulnerable to develop symptoms. It is advisable to seek assistance from a psychological counsellor if the mother has: a history of depression during or prior to pregnancy or is receiving treatment for depression; experienced PPD during a previous pregnancy; baby has health issues or other special needs; experienced strenuous events during the past year such as pregnancy complications, illness or job loss; have family members who had depression or mental disorders; experiencing problems in their relationships with the spouse or partner; experiencing financial difficulties; or the pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted.
The doctor could thereafter monitor the mother closely for signs and symptoms of depression and get the mother to respond to a depression-screening questionnaire during the pregnancy and after the delivery. The doctor might refer the parents to support groups, counselling sessions/ therapies, and if required, prescribe suitable antidepressants.
PPD is a serious mental health condition, but the lack of education, prevention and treatment has caused it be unrecognisable. According to a recent study, suicide is among the leading causes of deaths among new mothers, making it crucial for them to voice their concerns and seek help, as well as share their experiences and normalise the conversation. If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please contact the Befrienders at 03-76272929.
As we prepare to return to normalcy, you may find yourself focusing on the changes that your body might have gone through over the lockdown period. Most of us would be experiencing increased levels of anxiety due to staying indoors and feeling very anxious about our body image.
Just know that you are not alone in feeling so – a recent survey conducted in the UK on body image uncovered the scale of the problem. It reported that 61% of adults and 66% of children feel negative or very negative about their body image most of the time, and the figures were higher for specific groups including women (62%), people with disabilities and transgender people (57%). This means that the lockdown has worsened existing body image anxieties and inspired new insecurities in such groups.
Rather than focusing on your insecurities and pushing yourself to achieve unrealistic post-lockdown body expectations, here are some body acceptance practices you can adopt instead:
- Break body-bashing habits – Instead of criticising yourself when your jeans feel a bit tight, find comfort in a pair of pants that are easy to move in.
- Avoid negative body talk in conversations – If your friends start discussing appearances, redirect the conversation towards something more productive.
- Eat intuitively – Enjoy a balance of healthy foods that nourish your body, as well as desserts and snacks instead of denying your cravings.
- Respect your body’s limits – Choose fun physical activities, such as walking, cycling or dancing, but when you feel tired, don’t give yourself a hard time for taking it easy.
- Ground yourself – When you notice yourself being critical towards your body, remind yourself what it has done for you. Take a deep breath and focus on your body’s strength and ability in the moment.
- Curate a positive social media feed – Unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad about your body or like you need to change your appearance. Find accounts that inspire and empower you instead.
- Practice self-care – Self-care helps us be more compassionate toward ourselves, so make time to attend to your body’s needs.
Even after we return to normalcy, we should continue to work on loving and accepting our body regardless of the season or the occasion. Some days may be harder than others, but the real body goal is to promote and maintain a positive body image. If you still struggle with how you feel about your body, please seek professional help.