Charting your fertility may be the best self-care you can give yourself

My senior year of college was a horrible year for self care. I didn't eat for sometimes 12 hours or more, I had horrible body image and self-esteem thoughts, and there were many nights that I went to bed way after midnight. I over committed to things in my attempts to enjoy every minute of my last year of college, and my crazy schedule showed it. My health took a turn for the worse, and I lost around ten pounds from stress and horrible health habits. 

But I don't think I'm alone in the struggle for self-care.  I've visited with so many women who admit that caring for themselves is not a very high priority on the to-do list.  As women, we can be very good at taking care of others and investing in them.  But this is often done to the detriment of our own spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional health.  

Alright, we've acknowledged we have a problem.  So how can we get better at self care? The answer may be unexpected, but charting our fertility is one of the best self-care habits women can form - and a solution I can personally attest to myself.  By tracking signs of fertility, I was able to see areas and causes of stress and how it was affecting my body. 

When I started charting my fertility with the Creighton model system during Joseph and I's engagement, I began to notice patterns as well as the affects of my unhealthy habits.  The stress I was going through because I spread myself too thin by being involved in everything during school and finishing a senior thesis was causing longer and delayed cycles.  Does this sound familiar to you, too? 

Check out these three ways charting your cycle can help you become better at self-care. 

01.  Charting your fertility can give you key insights into just how stress effects your health. 

Dr. Thomas Hilgers writes in the Creighton Model Fertility Care System handbook, saying, "Stress has an enormous impact on the ovulation and menstrual cycles.  The stress may be physical or emotional, and it may be acute or chronic.  A variety of different patterns can be observed in women who are under stress.  First of all, one can have the delayed appearance of the mucus cycle and delay observation of the Peak Day when an acute stress occurs right around the time one would be ovulating. In effect, the ovulation is suppressed and delayed and thus the mucus cycle is delayed with it." 

But your fertility cycles aren't just delayed due to stress.  When you're under stress, your fertility can be impaired too, and you may be ovulating less than what is considered normal in women's health. 

In a study conducted by Shekufe Akhter and colleagues, results found that women who experience high levels of stress will ovulate 20% less eggs than women whose stress levels are lower.  And that's not the only research on how stress can mess with healthy fertility.  A study led by Dr. Cynthia Bethea found that the changes that stress can bring to a woman's fertility are so serious she called it "stress-induced reproductive dysfunction.” That's serious.

When I was in college, I was so tuned out to my own body, I didn't even realize that I was stressed.  But when I started tracking my cycles and noticing all of the irregularities, I slowly became aware of what I was putting my body through due to the stress I was under.  

Sometimes even having a written record of your fertility can reveal small hints that something could be up.  Is your writing sloppy, rushed and hard to read one day? That could be indicative of something deeper.  Having a physical record makes it easy to go back and pinpoint a day that things started going downhill, which can help you get to the bottom of what is causing you stress.  

02. Charting your fertility helps you know about your whole body and how to care for it. 

When we tackle self-care, there are so many aspects of the journey to look at.  On my road to recovery, it involved setting alarms on my phone to remind me to take time to eat. It also meant getting outside and enjoying the sunshine, and more frequent trips to the gym.  When I was committed to caring for myself more, I also knew that my fertility was an important part of my health that I needed to learn more about.  

As a woman, your fertility cycle is just as much an integral part of your system as other areas of physical health.  I got outside to boost the levels of serotonin in my brain.  I  went to the gym to strengthen my muscles.  I also started charting my cycle to become more aware of my fertility health.  

You are a whole person - mind, soul, heart, and body. By tracking your fertility through a variety of methods, I was able to see how intertwined all of those systems are.  When I was stressed, I stopped eating.  When I stopped eating, I became weak, shaky, and tired all the time.  All of those effects of hunger and bad nutrition choices also played a role in my cycle as well.  Until I started keeping track of my fertility through charting, I didn't understand the bigger picture of how my poor self-care habits were impacting every part of me - including my fertility.  

03. Charting your fertility can alert you to deeper health problems than just irregular cycles or bad PMS symptoms. 

Charting your cycle and having an instructor spot issues could lead to early and quick diagnosis of a variety of health issues, including: endometriosis, infertility, risks of miscarriage, low progesterone, hormonal dysfunctions, abnormal ovulation, infrequent ovulation, inflammation of the cervix, and cervix infections.  Most of these issues can be discovered just by an instructor noticing you have irregular bleeding, heavy periods, long mucus cycles, long cycles, short cycles, or short post-peak phases.  

If you're planning on having littles in the future, you can find out about and address these issues before they cause even larger problems.  And regardless of your relationship status (yes, you can chart even when your'e not dating!) charting can tip you off to deeper issues or explanations on issues like why you're suffering from awful pre-menstrual cramps, have heavy periods, or are experiencing irregular cycles - all without having to take tests, but simply through charting your fertility.

Okay, so what now? 

Are you interested in learning how to chart your fertility? It doesn't matter if you're a single lady (cue Beyonce), dating, engaged or married - each stage of life deserves a holistic approach to self-care and fertility health. 

The Creighton Model, Symptothermal method, and the Marquette method are all different approaches to charting your fertility - and there are other methods that are available, too. Each method has different ways to chart, track, and observe your fertility and cycles as a woman.  There are also some great, new articles on how fertility ties in with self-care, and so many experts to answer all of your questions. 

Do you already chart your fertility? Leave a comment letting us know if you've found it helpful in your journey of self-care. 

Are my thoughts on how to take care of yourself as a woman through an awareness of your fertility old fashioned? Or is this a modern look at self care? 

Old Fashioned or modern? It's up to you! *

Catholic answers to 9 real reasons millennials don't want kids

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