Although women often joke about menopause, most of us agree that it can be a challenging time. You may experience moodiness, lack of sexual desire, hot flashes, sleep disturbance, or vaginal dryness, due to decreased hormone levels. As you enter your 50’s, It takes more work to maintain a healthy weight, and your energy levels begin to decline, making it more difficult to get everything done. There is a silver lining, however. Things will get better before they get worse. Research on happiness shows many people report their 60’s and even 70’s to be the happiest years of their lives. With old roles changing and new challenges to face, these are the years to really focus on YOU and growing from the inside out.
Last year, I was a speaker at the Embrace the Change Menopause Health and Wellness Summit, along with other authors, physicians, and wellness coaches.
Below are four tips and pieces of information that will help you cope better during menopause:
(1) Menopause Does Not Equal Mental Illness
Researchers have surveyed thousands of women from all over the world and concluded that although there is some increase in depressed mood during peri-menopause/menopause, there is no increase in actual mental disorders such as Major Depression or Anxiety Disorders. Some women are more vulnerable to mental health problems than others – women with a history of depression or severe PMS, those experiencing severe hot flashes and sleep disturbance, or women encountering other major life stresses at the same time may be more at risk. However, many women weather this transition with only minimal disruption.
(2) Negative Mood During Menopause May Not Be Biological
Some of the mood & sexual desire change you experience during peri-menopause or menopause is due to hormones fluctuating and eventually decreasing. But some of it may not be caused by biology at all. Today, many women in their mid-40’s and 50’s are a “sandwich” generation, often facing the dual task of caring for kids and aging parents, leading to stress overload. Kids reaching adolescence may change family relationships. Financial stress of paying for college and retirement, and onset of chronic diseases, such as arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes or layoffs and age discrimination are just some of the challenges you may be dealing with. The good news is that if you’re feeling down because of a situational stress, rather than messed up hormones, there’s more opportunity to use your psychological coping strategies, such as taking mindful breaks, reaching out for support, or changing your thinking about the situation.
(3) Mind Over Matter – If You Don’t Mind, It Doesn’t Matter
Your attitude towards menopause can make a big difference to the experience. Research by Professor Carol Dweck shows us that if we have a ‘fixed mindset” and see our skills and abilities as unchangeable, we will have a worse outcome than if we adopt a “growth mindset,” believing that we can adapt and grow our skills. A major life change, such as menopause challenges you to learn new new skills and adapt. You may need to learn new ways of communicating with your partner about sexuality and emotions. You may need to learn new skills to guide your kids through adolescence or communicate with aging parents. You may need to cope with unexpected losses or even divorce. You may also need to reach out more and find new friends who can support and understand you. It can be helpful to find new creative outlets to help you discover and express who you are at your core and what is most important to you.
(4) Pay Attention to What Your Body is Telling You
Research shows that maintaining a healthy weight, having adequate nutrition, and staying active, during menopause can make symptoms and sleep disturbance less bothersome and can also decrease your risk of getting diabetes, cancer, or heart disease. This may be the time to start a new exercise routine that works for you, as a woman in her 50’s. It is important to find an exercise, and way of eating that you enjoy and can maintain over the long haul, rather than going for the “quick fix.” Prolonged stress can worsen menopause symptoms, so this may be the time to take up meditation or yoga, schedule more regular date nights, start a gratitude diary or vision board, or go hiking with a friend.
There is a lot of menopause information out there, but not all of it is research-based. Research supports the use of some treatment methods and supplements, but finds some to be ineffective. Don’t believe all the hype. Do your own research and form a partnership with an experienced and compassionate health professional who can advise you. A psychologist with a specialty in health psychology can also help you address mood, mental health and cope with symptoms and changes related to menopause.