Is this you? ‘I used to be full of energy but now seem to be dragging myself through the day. I used to sleep well but now find myself lying awake night after night. I now feel anxious about things that I would have done without a second thought. I feel bloated when I eat and seem to be putting weight on that I can’t shift whatever I do.’
Would it be a relief to discover that these are all symptoms of the menopause? My aim is to help you understand what your body is going through. Later this year I will be publishing a more in depth guide for which you can register your interest by email here.
I was talking to a client who had been to her doctor as she was starting to worry about what was happening to her. She has had an awful time at work and has lots of family pressures to deal with. I realised as we chatted that it is so easy to get caught up in your own world and to feel overwhelmed. It is awful to think that she has been struggling so badly and it took going to see her doctor to put it all together and to understand what is going on.
It takes a conversation like that to see where I can help and support you. I read and learn all the time and it is good to get a reminder of what it is like to not know what I know. My role is to share and support and so that is what I am doing today to help those of you going through or starting to experience the menopause.
When does the menopause start?
The average age for a woman in the UK is 52 years old. As with any average many will be earlier and others older than that. The definition of having gone through the menopause is that it has been a full year since your last period. What is clear is that there is a lot to go through before you get to that stage!
Whilst for some it is plain sailing, for others the symptoms can be all consuming and last for many years. The stage leading up to menopause is called the peri-menopause and this is where you can start to see changes to your monthly cycle as well as many of the symptoms we associate with the menopause.
What will I experience?
What has become clear is that it is different for us all. The consensus is that you are likely to go through the menopause at a similar age to your mother. That does not mean that you will have a similar experience (thank goodness given the years of hot flushes that my Mum has suffered!)
For the purposes of today I am going to break down the symptoms and then give you some ways to help you to look after yourself.
What is actually happening to my body?
This is a time of change and your body is undergoing transformation to prepare you for the next stage. Whether or not you are ready, you are moving past your fertile years and your primary function is no longer to reproduce. Your body makes a series of hormonal changes that reflect this shift. During the menopause the number of ovarian follicles declines and there are changes to how your body can regulate levels of oestrogen, progestorone and testosterone. You no longer need the same levels of oestrogen and the body adjusts accordingly.
These changes manifest throughout your body and you may experience a number of symptoms. As we know it will be different for us all and some will only see the end of their monthly cycle and nothing more. Others can struggle with all sorts of symptoms over many years.
Perhaps the most well known of all is the hot flushes and/or night sweats. These can be difficult to live with and to manage. You may feel completely exhausted yet struggle to get a good nights sleep. Many suffer with low mood, and irritability is common. There can be aches and pains as well as issues with bone density leading to osteoperosis for some. You may experience bloating and weight gain. A lack of concentration and memory loss are common too.
Dryness, itching and wrinkling of skin can worsen with the reduction in oestrogen. This affects our appearance as well as problems with bruising and irritation. It is common for skin changes and dryness to cause discomfort during sex. This can add to problems with low libido and poor body image. For many sex becomes lower priority and that can impact close relationships.
For some the physical changes are minimal, it is more an emotional response that is experienced. There are lots of reports of feeling more anxious about doing things or going to places that would have been fine previously. Perhaps you worry about something happening or how you would cope. A common response is to avoid these situations and to stay home or make an excuse rather than having to deal with this anxiety.
You might feel tearful or overwhelmed more easily and feel as if you are struggling. For many there can be a sense of loss as you enter the next stage in life. There is a growing realisation that you are getting older whether you feel ready or not!
A way forward
As with so many things in life the key is the way that you approach the change. It is a huge change both physically and emotionally. Understanding what you are experiencing and feeling in control can make a big difference in how you will cope.
You will see lots of remedies in the shops, online and in magazines. There are a multitude of vitamins and herbal solutions such as Black Cohosh, Red Sage and Evening Primrose Oil. I know that many women have found these to be useful and many of the supplements will provide key minerals such as Calcium that will support the changes in your body. It is always important to speak to your Doctor about any supplements that you are taking particularly if you take medication for other conditions. The last thing you want to do is to cause other issues!
Here are some steps to take that will help you to support your body through the changes menopause brings. What strikes me is that whilst there are a multitude of changes it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Our bodies are amazing and I for one am glad to be approaching the time when I no longer have to worry about getting pregnant or dealing with a period every month. That will be a liberating change!
I am sharing my understanding and experiences here not providing medical advice. It is important to see your Doctor about your specific needs.
- Take a multivitamin to ensure that you are getting support for your body as it goes through the menopause.
- Use Epsom salts in your bath once a week. This will help to relax your muscles, aid your sleep and reduce fluid retention. You can buy these at most supermarkets and a 1kg bag is enough for 3 baths.
- Establish a good sleep routine. Clear your bedroom of anything that is not about rest. Turn off televisions, phones, tablets at least an hour before bed and keep them out the bedroom. I have a relaxing bath and a cup of herbal ‘bedtime’ tea to help me to wind down.
- If you are suffering from hot flushes or night sweats then make sure you are using breathable fabrics where possible. You can buy menopause friendly nightwear, sheets and duvets from retailers. This is a big step forward in supporting women at this stage in their lives.
- Talk about what you are experiencing whether with family, friends or colleagues. This is a natural stage in our lives and not something to hide. By sharing what you are going through you will help others too. Bottling it up and worrying will only make things worse.
- Exercise regularly. You knew it would be here somewhere! It really does help on so many levels. Movement helps with aches and pains, builds bone density, relieves stress and anxiety, releases tension, helps with hot flushes and getting your lymph moving and releases those all important endorphins.
- Strength Training. It is vital that you do some weight training as you approach menopause. You lose bone density, muscle mass declines and the reality of that is that you are weaker and more likely to fall or to break bones. We are not talking about lifting heavy weights or bulking up. This is one of the best steps you can take to look after yourself.
- Cut down on alcohol. I know that is not what you want to hear but it has a negative effect on health, mood, sleep and digestion. You can find out more here.https://www.fit4evermore.co.uk/the-truth-about-alcohol-finding-a-balance-that-works-for-you/
- Invest time in your close relationships and find a way to maintain intimacy. Avoiding sex because it can be painful or not addressing your decreased libido can leave you both feeling isolated and unattractive. Talk about how you are feeling and adapt together. Relationships play a big part in how we feel about ourselves and are worth an investment of time and effort.
- If you are experiencing bloating and discomfort it is important to pinpoint what the issue is. Food intolerances are common and easily addressed. You can speak to your Doctor. A good first step is to keep a food diary and to see whether there is a common trigger or pattern to the discomfort. There is an increasing body of research around our gut health and the need to include fermented foods and lots of vegetables. Try too add in kefir, sauerkraut and lots of leafy green vegetables.
- Taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do at this time of life. We have so many conflicting commitments to juggle and we end up stressed, exhausted and struggling to cope. If you look after yourself you will be in a much better position to take care of children, elderly parents and perform well at work. The analogy I always use is the fact that when on a flight you are always told to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping anyone else. It is exactly the same with looking after yourself. You need to exercise, have time to relax and time out.
- Mindfulness has been reported to help to deal with anxiety and stress. There are some great apps that you can download to get you started. I used the ‘Headspace’ app to start with. Even being aware of your breathing and slowing it all down can make a big difference in how you cope. I struggle with total silence and stopping my mind from wandering. For me a visualisation is more effective where I am following instructions and escaping from the chatter in my head. I really like the CD ‘Thirty Paths to Stillness’ by Susan Johnson. I find her North East accent soothing and really enjoyed sessions with her at the Yoga Show too. It is all about finding what works for you.
- It is worth speaking to your Doctor about the support that is available to you. HRT was given bad press a number of years ago but more recent advice is that in many cases it is really effective. There are herbal remedies and bioidentical hormone treatments too. Your Doctor will be be able to advise what your options are. Some people really need support and there are no prizes for suffering unnecessarily.
I am finding that so many of you are asking the same questions and telling me about the way you are feeling. We really can support each other through the fit4evermore community and sharing our experiences. It really does help to talk about the issues that you are facing and to get advice from others who have already been through it. If you haven’t already done so, you can join the Community below using the link provided. I love to hear your feedback and questions and you can email at https://www.fit4evermore.co.uk/contact
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