Are you one of the many women struggling to cope with the menopause? Every day can bring another unwanted symptom. Read on to find out how you can help yourself to have an easier transition.
The average age for women going through the menopause is thought to be 51. Yet many women in the UK will go through the menopause long before this. If you don’t know what is happening to you then it can feel like your life has suddenly got out of control.
You might feel overwhelmed by even the smallest tasks. Where you used to be able to answer the phone whilst helping kids with homework, folding washing and cooking dinner, you now feel that even getting out of bed each day and taking a shower is the equivalent of running a marathon. Your limbs might feel heavy and sore and you might feel weepy and emotional. You take yourself off to bed each evening at 7pm, no longer able to even leave the house to take your usual evening jog. In short you are exhausted, unable to sleep, can't think clearly, achy and, at times, feel unable to cope.
Not knowing what is happening; why you feel brain fog, have mood swings and high anxiety, can all make you feel worse than ever. When women realise that they might be entering the peri-menopause (you are still having periods but with menopausal symptoms and your periods might be disrupted) they often go down the herbal route. Black cohosh, agnus castus, red clover to name but a few of the supplements that health shops would recommend. But once the hot flushes, night sweats and heavy limbs really take a hold then you can feel quite desperate. A vicious cycle of sleepless nights can make you feel exhausted, depressed, and anxious. You might not feel like looking after yourself properly; eating well or exercising and might even increase your alcohol intake to enable you to cope better.
Let’s have a look at what is going on in your body.
Estrogen and progesterone are two female hormones produced in the ovaries. Changing levels of these hormones as we age lead to the many symptoms associated with menopause: hot flushes, night sweats, depression, anxiety, sleep issues, aching bones, etc.
Our bodies make less estrogen as our bodies age and the reproductive cycle slow downs. Menopause is thought to have occurred when a woman hasn’t had a period for at least twelve months. This doesn’t happen overnight. The peri-menopause can begin to occur 10 years before this stage. Post-menopause is the name given when you haven’t had a period for over a year.
So what can we do to help ourselves?
Exercise. (I can hear you groaning from here!) You may not feel at all like dragging your body out of bed or raising your heart rate or lifting weights in the gym! However, a small amount of exercise during the menopause can help. Osteoporosis is a risk in women after menopause and doing weight bearing exercises will strengthen bones. Exercise can help with sluggish digestion, flexibility, heart health, mental health to name a few positive factors. If you don’t feel like it, try making a start with a twenty minute walk. It can help and it might make you feel like going for longer once you start to move your body. I tell myself that I'll start with just ten minutes and if I really can't do it after this I will stop. I usually keep going for longer once I've warmed up.
Diet. A healthy diet can help us keep off the stubborn weight gain for starters! Our bodies need vital nutrients during the menopause; calcium, magnesium and vitamins all help with bone density. Protein can help with muscle gains and repairs. Healthy fats in things like olive oil, fish, avocado and nuts and eggs can help with joints, skin and brain function. It really is worth trying to cut down on alcohol and caffeine to enable better sleep.
Sleep. This is something that all of us menopausal women are craving. Maybe you spend all night tossing and turning with hot flushes, night sweats, going to the toilet or your mind racing. A good bedtime routine might help. Turn off all blue lights an hour before bed (tv, phone, laptop) and reading can send important chemicals to your brain that it’s time for sleep. Try a magnesium bath with candles. Ten minutes soothing meditation and breath work can help to calm body and mind. A milky drink can also help. There are some menopause supplements that have chamomile and hops in them; all good for soothing your body.
HRT (hormone replacement therapy) HRT has had a bad press and many women stopped using it after a damaging report in 2002 by the Women’s Health Initiative that told women there was a risk with breast cancer, cardiovascular health and HRT. Fortunately, new reports are now discounting this and show that the benefits far outweigh the risks. The benefit is that HRT can help to alleviate the many symptoms of menopause as well as prevent osteoporosis (the thinning of bone which can occur in women after the menopause) There is a slight risk to developing breast cancer which is related to how long you take HRT. Putting this into perspective can be helpful: more than 2-3 units of alcohol per day increases risk of breast cancer by 1.5x, postmenopausal obesity by 1.6x, late first pregnancy ( more than age 30) by 1.9x. Taking HRT increases the risk by 1.35x; so there is less risk in using HRT than with drinking, late pregnancy and obesity. (www.menopausematters.co.uk/risks.php)
Not feeling understood by those nearest to you can only serve to isolate you further. There is a certain amount of acceptance involved in the menopause. This is a transitional stage which can feel difficult. We might grieve the loss of youth and fertility. Our bodies can no longer do what they could do in their twenties (or sometimes even a few months ago!) and there is change in how our bodies look. Many women find that they find a new lease of life once they have made this transition and can pick up their exercise routines again. And for some women there's the added bonus of enjoying sex as your libido increases again and no fears of pregnancy.
All women experience menopause differently and talking to a counsellor can help with motivation, fears, life changes and loss during this emotionally turbulent time. Women need to have their experience heard. This is a tough transition for some and it can be helpful to be heard and understood.