A couple of years ago I began to wake in pools of sweat; not just a bit hot and sweaty, but absolutely bed wet through sweaty. Last year, the palpitations began which led me to many tests at the doctors. As it had been months since my last period there was only one conclusion; “We cant find anything wrong,” the male doctor said, “unfortunately, it’s just your age.” I went home and lamented the loss of youth, said goodbye to fertility, examined grey hair and wrinkles and wept a little.
I felt that the doctor had been a little flippant about this change of my life, and indeed, change is the important word here. At this stage of a woman’s life it is all change. Woman feel a stirring; an unrest. Anxiety, depression and moods can suddenly go on a roller coaster ride. My friend tells me stories of sobbing on the kitchen floor whilst her family stood and watched, unsure of what was happening.
It is important to explain to your family what is going on for you otherwise they will not understand; and even then, with an explanation, they might still struggle. Try to explain what is happening for you on a physical level and emotional level and let them know how you feel. Ask them to try to give you some space when you need it and let them know that you will come out of the other side of this. Explaining to your family how you feel allows you to let go of feeling judged. It stops you from beating yourself up. That internal inner critic that yells at you that you are a bad mother because you just lost your temper and burst into tears can be told to keep quiet. This is not your fault, try to show yourself some kindness.
At this stage many women want to change their lives. Statistics show that menopause can put a strain on marriage with high rates of divorce in people over 50. Sleepless nights, depression and mood swings can all take their toll. Added to this, we may have children that are getting on with their own lives; they have left home and we no longer feel needed. We might find that we have nothing in common with our partners and have stayed together for the sake of the children. Suddenly, where once there were family times focused on the kids, their activities and their care, there is now an abyss.
At this stage many women reflect on their lives and who they have become. They begin to ask questions such as, “Am I truly happy? Have I done everything that I wish to do? What is my role now that my children have left home?” These are soul searching questions which may lead some women to feel that they want more out of life now that they have transitioned from full time carer to an independent care-free status.
What I have found when speaking to my friends is that they’ve had enough of caring for husbands and children. They want to think about themselves. They want to experience the freedom that they had in their early twenties and reclaim some time for themselves. The freedom of no longer worrying about becoming pregnant can, in itself, be a liberating thought. The freedom of no longer having to spend hours each night cooking for a family, washing piles of laundry and keeping a family home half presentable can allow for free time to do what we have put on hold for years. This may mean taking extra education classes, exercise, travel and pursuing the career.
During the menopause a woman’s brain will go through changes. There is the depletion of the hormones. These hormones are what prompts us to care for and nurture children. So, what is actually happening in our brains when we have these hormonal changes? Basically, when estrogen and progesterone begin to decline in a woman’s body every hormone receptor thoughout the body registers these changes, and that includes the brain. This disruption then affects the production of mood boosting chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. A woman’s ovaries are trying to keep up the estrogen production and this fluctuates daily. This means that our brain chemistry is fluctuating too, resulting in mood swings; that feeling of being fine one minute and wanting to sob the next for the smallest of reasons. Add to this the lack of sleep that occurs during the menopause then it’s no wonder we are tired, irritable and moody.
Ways to help ourselves are to get as much rest, where possible, as we need. If that means small naps during the day then do this. Be kind to yourself. You are going through a tough time and this is something that you can’t control but you can have some influence, to some extent, over how much menopause affects you.
Reduce caffeine and switch to herbal teas that relax you before bedtime. Chamomile and Valerian are known to help us to wind down before bedtime. A relaxing bedtime routine can also help; turn off electronic devices, maybe a candlelit bath and book will help you to switch off from the stresses of the day.
Stress reduction can come in the form of meditation and breathing exercises. Following the breath going in through your nostrils and back out can help your mind and body to calm down. There are apps that you can put onto your phone to help with this. A relaxing body scan where you lay in a peaceful quiet place and mentally move down your body, concentrating on relaxing each muscle and body part can help you to focus and relax. As well as this you could try yoga where some of the poses can help to calm the body when combined with the breath.
Plenty of exercise in the fresh air has been proven to help with relaxation and better moods, as well as help to reduce any weight gain that occurs during the menopause. Strength training can also help to stave off osteoporosis which can occur when estrogen is reduced. Using weights helps us to build muscle and bone strength and burn calories throughout the day too. Cardio is great for the heart and if you can get some cardio in outdoors then even better.
Eating a healthy diet is vital at this stage in a woman’s life, not only to keep the weight off but to help keep a healthy body. Dairy products are important as they are rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin D; all important for maintaining bone health. Healthy fats may decrease hot flushes and night sweats; fish, avocados, nuts, etc all help. And, of course a diet filled with fruit and vegetables is important at any stage in our life.
Eating healthily, cutting down on alcohol and caffeine, exercise and meditation will all make us feel great so it’s worth having a go to help to decrease the symptoms of the menopause. This is about finding out what works best for you and may take some experimentation. The big take away? Hang in there, freedom is just around the corner.