By the time you get to your 40s and 50s you think you have a pretty good handle on who you are, then along comes menopause and everything can get turned on its head.
It is a time in life that often involves considerable external pressures so it may not be obvious that hormones are playing a part in how you are feeling. Caring for aging parents, dealing with children, work, relationships; there are so many reasons to be sleepless, tired and overwhelmed. We don’t always stop to consider ‘oh, this could be a menopause symptom.’
For me, I was left questioning my identity, not just because I was aging but because mood swings could leave me wondering who I really was. Something I took in my stride one day could cause a melt down on another, so which was the real me?
It isn’t always comfortable to realise that our reactions are dictated by the presence or absence of hormones, we believe in our stories – my manager made me cross, a late train made me anxious. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t sit well with our minds. When the outside world doesn’t match up with how we feel on the inside, it searches for explanations, and we invest a lot of effort into finding things to blame for our difficult feelings.
But all women go through menopause, what’s the big deal?
It’s true, menopause will happen, and some sail through with few complaints. Some find it a difficult time without ever realising why and many simply put up and shut up because our health has never been that high on anyone’s agenda – including our own!
But the fact is menopause is a time of considerable change which impacts the individual physically and mentally, with knock on effects for the family, workplace and communities. A recent parliamentary report[i] found 3 in 5 women in the UK were negatively affected at work by menopause symptoms and over 900,000 left their jobs as a result.
Physically the reduction in oestrogen can impact our bones, brain, skin and muscle. We are at risk of osteoporosis and there are links to cardiovascular disease and stroke. Psychologically there can be memory and concentration difficulties, anxiety and depression. Other symptoms include hot flushes, vaginal dryness, reduced libido and increased UTIs, problems sleeping, headaches, palpitations and stiff joints. So, yes, this is important.
Recognise what’s happening
It is important to inform yourself. Talk to peers and professionals who can support you. There are over 30 recognised symptoms of menopause and knowing more can allow pieces of the puzzle to fall into place. Go to the internet, social media, friends, professionals; there is a lot of knowledge out there.
Don’t let shame keep you suffering in silence, openness and awareness genuinely help. In societies where there is a more positive view of aging, women register fewer or less severe menopausal complaints[ii] so a problem shared and acknowledged is truly a problem halved. Keep sharing what you know with others because what’s helped you could help a friend.
I found speaking openly about my brain fog reduced its impact. I would be embarrassed at work when I couldn’t think of a colleague’s name or find the word I needed but now I am comfortable saying ‘sorry, brain fog’ and by taking that pressure off myself it actually makes it easier to find the words in the moment.
If HRT is an option for you then talk to friends to see what their experience has been. Make a list of your concerns and symptoms before going to your GP because these are easy to forget in an appointment. Importantly, some anti-depressants have been found to increase anxiety in menopause[iii] so if your mental health is suffering and you think menopause may be a factor then be sure to raise that with your GP so they can prescribe appropriately.
Tools to support your wellbeing
Positive Psychology is about taking care of your whole self, so no surprises that many positive psychology techniques are also seen to minimise the negative impact of menopause.
Getting information and taking action increase the feelings of control you have over a situation and this self-efficacy is important to thriving.
Being physically active, eating well and practicing mindful activities like yoga and meditation have all been found to be beneficial.
Figuring out what works for you is part of this mindfulness. Interoception is listening to what your body is telling you. Try paying attention to what it needs, what foods it no longer likes, when it’s starting to get too warm or when it’s tired, and learn to prioritise your self-care by acting on these messages.
Learn about your own internal resources and use these to deal with the challenges menopause brings. Add to this your external resources like friends, family and community so you feel supported with people you can trust and rely on. Take stock, practice gratitude, spend time in nature, explore what brings you purpose and joy.
Like all transitions, menopause is a time for reflection and review. Connecting with your strengths and values reignites meaning so you can look to your third age as a time of renewed potential. I retrained and started a new career, and now while some friends are counting down to retirement I am excited about a new path in life. Before this ‘re-purposing’ I had been floundering in ‘what’s it all about’ thoughts. Now I wear my grey hair with pride.
[i] Menopause and the workplace – Women and Equalities Committee (parliament.uk)
[ii] Sayakhot, P., Vincent, A., & Teede, H. (2012). Cross-cultural study: experience, understanding of menopause, and related therapies in Australian and Laotian women. Menopause, 19(12), 1300-1308.
[iii] Kulkarni, J. (2018). Perimenopausal depression–an under-recognised entity. Australian prescriber, 41(6), 183.
Photo: Woman Dragon Relax – Free photo on Pixabay – Pixabay