Why Ovulation Tracking Might be the Key to a Better Life
Keeping track of your cycle is about much more than fertility
The other week, I’d had a frustrating, stressful day. I went home feeling really, really grouchy. Wanting to push innocent tourists headlong down the escalator sort of grouchy. Luckily, my husband had dinner under control when I got home, otherwise I would 100% have eaten a bag of M&Ms – lying face down on the sofa, in a puddle of my own tears.
You know what I’m talking about. That particular brand of irritation that just grates and gnaws away at you like a small beaver with blunt teeth. Like the feeling of an itchy jumper or a too-tight ponytail. And just to top it off, a sense of utter exhaustion – which made no sense for the first day back at work after a relaxing weekend.
But all of a sudden, it came to me. I bet I’m ovulating.
Before I started using cycle tracking apps, I’d never paused to consider ovulation. It felt like a distant concept, one I’d think about eventually but that wouldn’t affect me until family started calling. But over the last two years, tracking my cycle has shown me that every single stage of the process has significance in relation to how a woman acts, feels and thinks – not just the few days of actual menstruation. In fact, reducing the female experience to menstruating or not menstruating is a bit like saying an avocado is only ever ripe or unripe (when 99 per cent of the time they occupy an infuriating middle ground). It’s overly simplistic.
We ovulate around the middle point of our cycle – so if your cycle is 28 days long, you’ll ovulate around day 14. Chemically and hormonally speaking, we’re all over the shop at this point. It’s the most extreme point in the cycle. Luteinizing hormone (LH) comes from the pituitary gland which triggers ovulation 24-36 hours later. This is when the ovary releases an egg that travels to the uterus.
But baby-making is not the part that concerns us right now. Rather, it’s all those hormones and chemicals peaking and troughing in our bloodstream during ovulation. How come we’ve never paused to consider the huge effect these have on our everyday mood? And how we can use them to our advantage? It’s about time we did.
As well as LH, both estrogen and testosterone peak during the ovulation phase to facilitate reproduction, and a lot of the side effects are good. Increased energy, libido and overall perkiness, for example, are rather nice. But our fluctuating hormones also make ovulation a phase of extremes. For me, this manifests in feeling on top of the world one second and then intensely irritated and stressed the next. Whatever I feel is magnified, and it’s likely the case for you too.
This is one of the most interesting things that has come out of my cycle tracking – the realisation that ovulation is actually the hardest point in the cycle for me. Believe me, I’m not minimising the awful cramps and aching back of my period. But for me mentally, ovulation is harder. I’m up and down like a crazed, hormonal yoyo.
But how do you know when you’re ovulating? Like I mentioned, you can go off the mid-point in your cycle as a rough guide to your ovulation day. If you’re new to tracking, day one is the first day of your period.
There are other signals too – a tweaking in the lower abdomen is an indicator for me (how crazy is it that we can actually feel ourselves ovulating!) Tender breasts and bloating can also be indicators.
Or you can go scientific with an LH test. These need a little perseverance but are good if you’re actually trying to conceive and need accuracy. For me, going by how my body feels and the mid-point of my cycle is enough just to prepare me for a few days of extreme emotions, good and bad. Often, the knowledge alone is enough to make the ride a little smoother, to stop me from beating myself up or worrying about how I’m feeling.
So, don’t set ovulation aside just because you’re not wanting to conceive. It can be a really useful indicator for other things. For example, I know I don’t want to be teased around ovulation because I’m sensitive and emotional – so a bold ‘I’m ovulating’ is all my husband needs to hear to know not to push my buttons that day. Very handy. For you, the triggers might be different. We all have different bodies.
The point is, we don’t have to be battling our hormones. We can use them to our advantage. And equipping ourselves with the knowledge to do so is one of the most empowering things we can do for ourselves as women.