SHOW NOTES: 012 Working Within Your Energy Cycles
Welcome to Keeping it Candid – Wedding Photography Unfiltered for photographers who want to keep it real. I’m your host, Sandra Henderson, international wedding and family photographer and educator with a Marie Kondo-style approach to running a business – you know, keeping things simple and getting rid of anything that doesn’t bring you joy!
More importantly, I’m a strong enneagram 3w2 who is obsessed with tacos, and my love for travelling plus navigating chronic illness life are just two of the many things that drive my passion for all things systems, workflows, and beating burnout as a business owner.
Join me twice a month for a candid, behind-the-scenes look at what it’s really like working as a wedding photographer – where I’ll give you actionable steps to take your business to the next level. Absolutely no fluff here, friends! So grab your favourite notebook and pen, and let’s dive into this week’s episode.
Hey friends! Sooo the podcast went on an unexpected hiatus over the last few weeks but we are BACK!
If you’re a long-time listener of the show you know that I’m super passionate about systems and workflows – and this unexpected hiatus is such a good example of why.
I’ll be honest – I don’t have a single system in place for this podcast. It was something I started doing just for fun and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted the end-goal to be. But the more I got into it… I just love it so, so much.
I had originally planned on 12 episodes for my first season. Today’s episode is episode 12 and I’m happy to say, this season isn’t ending any time soon. It feels like we’re just getting started! I have at least few more months worth of amazing interviews and topics to share with you all before then.
So now that I have all these ideas and plans in place and the podcast is here to stay – more than ever, I need a system. Most importantly for writing and recording, so the next time I wake up with a fever and an unexpected virus that I caught at a wedding, my podcast can continue on like planned. Without a system in place going forward, it’s a guarantee I’ll run into more occasions where I can’t get an episode finished in time because of unexpected health problems.
Cold season or not, that’s the life of someone with a chronic illness!
Anyway – enough about that. I’ve legit been so excited for today’s topic and am so glad I’m finally able to share it with you. It’s a little different than past episodes but I’ve really been looking forward to diving into it – I’m talking all about working within your energy cycles, and how anyone that experiences a monthly hormonal cycle can use it to their advantage.
Yep – that’s right friends. We’re getting right into it today, talking about periods and hormones and all the things that come along with being a menstrautor.
First, though, I want to take a second to give a few important disclaimers.
Throughout the episode I’m going to speak from my own personal experience, which is that of a cisgender woman. I never want to pretend like I can speak to the experience of anyone else, but this topic applies to all menstruaters alike. For my friends in the trans community, anyone who is non-binary, who are pre-menopausal or not getting a period for any other reason – this episode is for you, too.
You’ll also hear me talk about quote/unquote “average” menstrual cycles, which are approximately 28 days long. Your cycle might look a little bit different, but I’ll be sharing takeaways throughout the whole episode that you can apply no matter what an average month looks like for you.
And lastly – though this cycle is directly related to menstruating, I’m going to refer to it as a “hormonal cycle” rather than a “menstrual cycle”. Yes, they are the same thing, but since your body can still go through a hormonal cycle without the physical act of menstruating, I find it to be better for clarity’s sake to call it a hormonal cycle. Take me for example – I stopped getting regular periods back in 2020 because of the medications I take to help manage my endometriosis symptoms. But, nonetheless, each month my body is still going through it’s cycles, I’m still ovulating, and I still get a never ending pile of symptoms to manage each month regardless of whether or not my body actually bleeds during that time.
If you’re not familiar with my story, in 2020, after about 20ish years of managing symptoms and 3 years of doctors appointments, tests, and advocating for answers, I was finally diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis. Endometriosis is an inflammatory disease that causes tissue similar to the lining of the uterus to grow in other areas of the body. As of last year, it has been found on every single organ within the human body, including the lungs, brain, and heart. It’s widely believed to be a disease that just causes bad periods, but as you can see, it’s far more complicated than that. Endo patients deal with an endless list of symptoms ranging from chronic pain to infertility and significantly heightened risks of cancer and other conditions.
In the spring of 2020, the pandemic was fully underway. There were so many unknowns, and I for one was pretty terrified if I’m being honest. To make matters worse, I had a really bad string of symptom flare-ups, back-to-back over six weeks. I couldn’t see my doctors and was too afraid to go to the hospital – where endo patients are typically brushed off, anyway. I started to lose my ability to walk, needing help getting up even a couple of steps most days. The chronic nausea I was experiencing was so bad it was almost impossible to eat, and I started losing about 5lbs a week.
So here I was, not only trying to figure out how to feel better, but also wondering how in the hell I was going to live my life, let alone run a business or do any of the things I’ve dreamed of doing, if I could barely eat a meal or walk around my house.
I was finally able to get in to see my doctors to get on a symptom management plan through medication, but that really just took care of a small part of the battle.
The rest came after a ton of research, community support, and the biggest part – self discovery. I began tracking everything I was feeling – both mentally and physically – day in and day out. Every. Single. Thing. Every spike in energy, every drop in my mood, every pain I felt.
And it was around the same time that I came across this really interesting concept that was a turning point in creating a better quality of day-to-day life that I desperately needed.
This concept talked about how similar the four phases of our hormonal cycles are to the four seasons we experience in nature. The four phases of our hormonal cycle are the menstrual phase, the follicular phase, the ovulatory phase, and the luteal phase, and these match up with winter, spring, summer, and fall – though, on a shorter timeframe, because they’re all happening in the span of a month rather than a full year.
Just like the seasons in nature all bring their own temperatures, weather, and growth – our hormonal cycle does, too. And after a few months of tracking everything I could about how I was feeling, I started to notice patterns that aligned directly with the different seasons of my cycle.
So let’s talk more about what these seasons typically look like –
We’re going to start with the first week of your cycle, days 1-7. This is your Winter season, also known as your menstrual phase – the week of your period. When we go through the winter season outdoors, especially where I am in Canada, it’s snowy and cold, the weather is gloomy, the trees are all bare, and it gets dark so early in the day. We spend a lot of time indoors, wearing our most comfortable sweaters, snuggling up to stay warm, and let’s be real – eating our favourite comfort foods because for some reason, they just taste better in the winter.
During the winter phase of your hormonal cycle, it’s got a really similar vibe. Your hormone levels drop and leave you with a lot less energy. You might be dealing with things like cramps, headaches and migraines, or brain fog. You might be feeling a little more emotional or anxious than usual. You might even experience night sweats, hot flashes, and trouble sleeping. All of this on top of the actual bleeding aspect, which, I’m sure most women and others who have had a period will agree – is never, ever a fun time.
It’s a week to focus on resting and recharging, taking things easy and listening to what your body needs. If you’re anything like me, that means snuggling up, eating my favourite snacks, and taking all the naps I want guilt-free. Ok, well, like, all of my naps are guilt-free, but that’s for another day!
As a woman with endometriosis, taking my winter week slowly is basically non-negotiable. If I were to fill my winter week with meetings and appointments, I’d be setting myself up to have to cancel last-minute all the time, and the stress and guilt that go along with that just isn’t worth it. It’s better for everyone if I just keep that week as open as possible!
Instead I like to work on tasks that don’t require a lot of effort or mental energy. I do things like designing graphics in Canva, and jotting down ideas and point form notes for future blogs and podcast episodes. I’ll also work on some client-facing work, but because the pain in my pelvis, back, and hips during my winter week makes it hard to sit at my computer for hours on end, and the brain fog makes it hard to focus for long periods of time, I break things up into smaller pieces – like culling smaller sessions or going through and cropping photos but leaving the major editing for another day.
As it gets closer to day 7 I feel things start to shift as the next phase of my hormonal cycle approaches.
The spring season typically happens during days 8-14. This is your follicular phase, which is when an egg is maturing inside your ovary but has not yet been released during ovulation.
In nature spring brings a time of renewal. The snow melts, the days get longer, flowers start blooming and animals come out of hibernation. Similarly, our bodies start to go through that ‘coming out of hibernation’ feeling, too. Thanks to a rise in estrogen, our energy levels increase, the brain fog starts to lift a bit and so do our moods.
It’s a really great time to embrace your creativity by pursuing new ideas or working on projects that require a lot of creative thinking!
For me, spring also brings a lot of relief after the pain and discomfort that comes along with my winter week. I have to take a few days to deal with the mental weight that inevitably comes along with it. It’s a side of things that doesn’t get talked about often, but it should be. It’s really not easy to explain how it feels to have your body essentially spiral out of control, to know it’s not acting the way it should be and that the best I can do is learn to deal with it the best I can while hoping one day they’ll find a cure. It’s not easy to explain and it’s really not easy to deal with. But we do. I do. Every month. Because I’m not going to let it stop me.
So I give myself the space and grace to process. I write in my gratitude journal and I come out the other side a few days later ready to take full advantage of the relatively good days I have ahead.
I use that time to catch up on any work I may have missed, and I get back to work on any bigger projects that I just didn’t have the capacity for last week.
The third season is summer, and that usually happens around days 15-21 of your cycle. This is your ovulatory phase, ovulation, when your body is physically releasing an egg from your ovaries for it’s adventure through your fallopian tubes and into your uterus. I feel like I should have played some really epic movie theme song in the background as I said that haha
Summer in nature means long days, beautiful weather, lots of social events and reasons to adventure. As part of your cycle, your summer season is a time of the month where you’re really just feeling good. It’s the perfect time to be really social, and also a perfect time to embrace your sexuality. Our estrogen levels are at their peak, and this surge in hormones leans towards the enjoyable side of the scale, unlike during the winter season where they’re leaving you feeling a lot of negative emotions instead.
On the business-side of things, it’s a great time to take advantage of the energy and mental clarity you’re feeling. Fill up that calendar with things like meetings, sessions, collaborative projects, and networking!
For me, the beginning of my summer week comes with a lot of the same physical symptoms I experience during my winter week – things like cramps, pain in my ovaries, and even in my chest, back, and shoulders all happen for a second time when I ovulate. But there are two major differences – one, it doesn’t last as long, and two, it doesn’t bring the same level of brain fog. I can bring my laptop to the couch and snuggle up with my heating pad but still get a full day of work in.
After I’m finished ovulating and the pain and other symptoms start to subside to a more manageable level, I’m usually mentally in a better place afterward than I am when my winter season ends, and I can bounce back to take advantage of the last few days of my summer season a lot more quickly.
It’s a time of the month where I get really flexible with my boundaries around things like work hours, too. Typically, I have a rule to not work in my office or on my laptop after dinner. Things like engagement sessions and wedding consultations are a slight exception, because sometimes they just have to happen in the evening, but for the most part, I try to shut it all down once it’s time to eat.
There was a day last month, right at the end of my spring week, where I was feeling really good. My pain levels had been really low all day, I had so much mental clarity, and I was feeling inspired to tackle some projects I’ve been working on for awhile now. I’d had such a productive day, and then shut everything down to eat dinner. Around 7pm, though, I decided to hop back onto my laptop and keep working. I had looked at my calendar and noticed that I was supposed to ovulate over the next couple of days, so I gave myself permission to ride out this wave of energy I was having.
Over the next few hours, I built out an entire email nurture sequence in Flodesk, designed an 8 page PDF in Canva, and drafted a bunch of Reels. It felt SO GOOD.
And then sure enough, I woke up the next morning with my pain levels at about 9/10, and it stayed that way for the next 3 days. I was what I like to call, “a puddle on my couch” – just a pile of a human, laying down with my heating pad, snacks, and water all within arms reach, and a watch list on Netflix full of mindless romantic comedies to get lost in until I felt better. Not a single bit of work was done over those 3 days.
After it was over, I eased back into work, and was even more thankful that I had taken advantage of that late-night burst of creativity I had a few days before.
If you missed episode 10 of the podcast, you should definitely go give that a listen after you finish this one. My friend Sarahna joined me for an interview and we talked all about taking an intuitive approach to building systems and processes within your business to create flexible structure in your day-to-day, and this is a prime example of that. By recognizing patterns in the way my body reacts throughout each part of my hormonal cycle, I’m able to navigate around it so much better and can adjust my schedule to accommodate my needs at any given time.
Ok – we still have one phase or season that we haven’t talked about.
Last but not least, we have fall. This is what’s also known as your luteal phase. It happens around 22-28 days, and is the last week of your cycle. During the luteal phase your progesterone levels are increasing, which is another type of hormone that naturally occurs within people who were assigned female at birth. Progesterone helps your uterus prepare for implantation of a fertilized egg. If implantation doesn’t happen, your progesterone levels, along with the rest of your hormones, will drop the following week when you get your period. That’s what leaves you feeling so sluggish and like you have absolutely no energy!
Fall is a season of change in nature. It’s when things start to slow down after summer comes to an end. The days gradually get shorter, the temperatures start to get cooler. The leaves change colour. Endless days outside in the summer sun are traded for early nights at home.
During this last phase of your monthly hormonal cycle, you guessed it – you can expect a lot of the same.
It’s a good time to wrap up any major projects and get ahead on any small tasks you can in preparation for your winter week ahead.
During my fall season, my internal system acts like there is impending doom around every corner, and you know what – it’s not wrong. At the beginning of the week I try to do a lot of prep work because I *know* days are coming when my winter week arrives that are going to have me feeling like a puddle on my couch again.
If you want to dive into the seasons even further, there is *so much* out there that talks about different types of foods that are really beneficial at different times of your cycle, and even different types of exercises that will support you throughout each phase as well. If I’m being totally honest, one of my favourite places to go dive into this is on Pinterest. There are so many helpful infographics that break things down into each of the four phases and it’s so interesting to learn about.
So now that we’ve gone through all the seasons… Now what? How do you get started using every up and down you experience each month to your advantage?
Well, I’ve talked about this a lot this episode, but you NEED to start with tracking. You can start that today, even if you don’t know exactly where you are in your cycle right now. Just start doing a daily check-in with yourself, and whether it’s in an actual notebook or just a note on your phone, write down how you’re feeling. If you felt any physical symptoms, if you felt really energetic or really sluggish, how well you slept, if you had a hard time concentrating or if you had one of those “lightbulb” moments where everything was just so clear. And most importantly, make sure you write down when your next period starts and how long it lasts to help determine when your cycle is starting and how many days it is, because not everyone falls within the 28 day timeframe like I do.
After a few months, you’ll start to notice patterns. And once you do, I *highly* recommend putting it all onto your actual monthly calendar!
I’m a Google Calendar user. I have separate calendars within my account for things like appointments, when my bills are due, personal events and birthdays – and I also have a calendar I call “seasons”. Each season – winter, spring, summer, and fall, is scheduled in 7 day blocks every 28 days. I also include two others – peak days, and pit days. Peak days are days when I feel REALLY good. Like, significantly better than an average day. And pit days? The opposite. When I feel like absolute shit, I mark it on my calendar as a pit day.
I cannot tell you how much this helps me with scheduling!
Remember earlier in the episode when I said I realized I would be ovulating so I decided to take advantage of some late-night work hours? It’s because I had those “pit days” marked on my calendar. Earlier this year I had some really bad days, so I wrote them down. The following month the bad days were back, so I wrote them down again. When it happened a third time, I realized it was happening every 28 days. I also use a period tracking app on my phone and these bad days lined up with when it said I was ovulating, which made total sense. And now they have a permanent home on my calendar so I know, don’t schedule anything on those days unless it’s an absolute emergency.
If you’re not a menstruator but you’ve gotten this far into the episode – hey friend! I honestly want to give you props for taking the time to learn about a topic that doesn’t apply to you, because I truly do believe that every single person should be learning about menstruation and hormonal cycles, not just young female-presenting kids who will likely experience it one day. I know so many people can relate when I say that when you live with endo you get *really* passionate about periods, we just can’t help it! But that’s for another day.
This last part I want to share is applicable no matter who you are – menstruators and non-menstruators alike.
Another way I work within my energy cycles is simply by giving myself permission to do things differently, in a way that works for me and no one else. What that looks like in my regular day-to-day life, is popping onto my computer immediately after waking up.
On an average day, I wake up around 6am, and I’m on my computer getting to work by 6:30am. I use scheduling features in GMail and Honeybook that allow me to respond to emails but schedule them to send out after 9am, which is when my client-facing office hours begin. I start tackling my to-do list and typically get more done by 11am than I will for the rest of the day. I have lunch around 11am, and take a couple hours off to have a nap, scroll my phone, watch TV, and run errands. I’ll head back into my office around 2-3pm for a few more hours of work until my husband gets home and we can have dinner together. And then I’m done for the day!
I remember a time when I believed that if I was awake, I needed to be working. It’s such an unhealthy mindset that we have a capitalist society to thank for creating. I mean, from the very first job I ever had – oh god, ew, 20 YEARS AGO! That just made me feel so old… my bosses were telling my co-workers and I, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean” – do any of you ever remember hearing that when you were working your first jobs?! As an adult, I understand the sentiment behind it, but it’s just one of a million things that has led us to where we are today, with so many people feeling like their worth as a human is entirely dependent on their contribution to the workforce. And it’s so. Not. true! You’re worthy as a human just for existing. If you have time to lean, good, because you need rest. If you’re working 16+ hour days, 7 days a week, like I used to, because I felt like I was doing something wrong by watching TV while I ate lunch, you’re very likely going to end up in the same place that I did – which was burnt out, with my mental health crumbling around me.
When I started working within my own energy cycles, it helped me stop listening to all the noise of people who live in the hustle culture mindset. I realized that I could build my workday to look how I wanted and needed it to, and still be just as successful, potentially even moreso. I could also be a happier, healthier person along the way, too. Because it IS possible to have both!
Above all else, if there’s one thing I want you all to take away from this episode, it’s giving yourself permission to be as you are and to cater to your own needs first. Whether you’re navigating a chronic illness like I am, or if you’re a parent or caregiver, or just have a lot on your plate right now, taking care of yourself and your own needs is how you continue to show up as the best version of yourself for all the people in your life that rely on you, personally and professionally. No matter what anyone tells you – taking care of yourself is the least selfish thing you can do.
If taking a few days off a month in relation to your cycle means that you can show up as 100% the rest of the time instead of showing up as 50% the entire time… It’s so worth it.
So friend, go grab your notebook or open up a note on your phone, and start tracking today. By the time the new year gets here you’ll have a much clearer picture of how your body works and functions day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month, and you’ll be able to use that information in your planning to make 2023 the absolute BEST year it can be.
Thanks so much for listening to Keeping It Candid: Wedding Photography Unfiltered with Sandra Henderson! You can find full show notes from today’s episode at simplysandrayvonne.ca/keepingitcandid. In the meantime – let’s connect! You can find me on Instagram @simplysandrayvonne, and on Facebook in the Wedding Photography Unfiltered community! If you’re loving this podcast, I’d be so honoured if you’d go ahead and hit that subscribe button and leave me a review!
Until next time!