Things I’ve learned about the menopause
Until relatively recently, the menopause was something I’d heard of but didn’t know much about. I figured that it had something to do with periods stopping, but I hadn’t a clue when this was going to happen or what it involved.
From my own experience as a child living with a mum going through the menopause, I knew it made my mum very grumpy. My dad used to whisper ‘it’s the change’ as if that explained everything. When in reality it made no difference to my understanding at all.
I don’t remember learning anything about menopause at school. They seemed to concentrate only on how NOT to get pregnant and so my knowledge of menopause was sketchy to say the least!
My mum tried giving me a book about the menopause when I was in my early thirties, she’d realised that by the time I was of the age to have the menopause she wouldn’t be here and she wanted to offer her support. At the time I thought she was slightly mad, but now I appreciate the love that she showed me in that gesture. So as I headed towards 50, I realised that menopause might be looming, but it was still a very abstract concept. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
When will the menopause happen? How would I know? What can I expect?
My head was full of questions. When was menopause going to happen? How would I know when I was starting the menopause, what should I expect? Did it mean that I’m going to be permenantly grumpy too? (I asked my children this, they said I always am anyway which I thought was charming!)
I’ve learned that the average age for a woman’s periods to stop is around age 51/52 in the UK. Menopause is where periods have ceased for 12 consecutive months. So far so good. Periods stop, I can manage that!
Then I read on further. It seemed that there were many, many symptoms associated with the menopause and the transitition phase in the run up to periods stopping. This transition phase is known as the perimenopause.
All manner of delightful things can happen in perimenopause from loss of libido, stress incontinence, vaginal dryness, to mood swings, anxiety, low mood, loss of bone mass, irritability, hot flashes, night sweats, you name it! I started to quiver a little. One article I found listed 34 different symptoms of menopause! 34! And to make the whole thing worse, it could last for years!
It reminded me of the time when my mum had explained what periods were and when she’d told me that they lasted around a week. I could cope for a week. Then she dropped the bombshell that it wasn’t a single, one-off once in a lifetime week, it was one week out of every four, for approximately the next 35+ years. I can still feel that feeling of complete horror at the very thought. And now I’m having to face the reverse of all this.
Fortunately I soon found out that it doesn’t always last for years and some women are lucky enough to experience little or no symptoms other than the gradual ceasing of their period cycle. Phew!
How do I know if I’m experiencing the perimenopause?
Often one of the first signs is a change in your cycle, it could become longer or shorter, or heavier or lighter than usual. You might notice some of the other symptoms, experience hot flashes or night sweats. Digestive issues can also appear (although it’s always very important to get any digestive discomfort, bloating, cramping or changes in stools checked by your GP, just in case)
Anyway once I’d stopped quivering at the thought of all these potential symptoms I decided to see if anything could be done to help with them. Or was I supposed to just lie there, in a grumpy heap, feeling everything shrink back and pack itself away?
What can I do to help myself during the perimenopause or menopause?
Fortunately the more I read the more I found that things like having a good, balanced, nutrient rich diet (and keeping out of the way of sugar) can help massively, as can exercise. Now after being traumatised by school P.E lessons, I am still a little nervous around the idea of exercise but it sounds like the nicer sorts of exercise can be helpful. Like Yoga and Pilates. Both are great for building strength and for calming anxiety and boosting low mood. Pilates can be particularly helpful for alleviating stress incontinence.
Keeping stress under control is also a key factor during the perimenopause and menopause. Unfortunately this time can also coincide with having to hold down a job, juggle child care responsibilities, cope with elderly parents, as well as be a partner and friend. So this time can naturally be stressful, especially if you never get any time to yourself. Making a conscious effort to release stress (or actively avoid stress where possible) and to build into your lifestyle pockets of time where possible to relax and unwind, of taking any opportunity you might get to nourish yourself and your soul can make all the difference.
Even if it’s taking 5 minutes a day to do absolutely nothing (or to meditate, or to just sit in the garden with a cup of tea, or to stand in the shower and let water cascade over you) As a qualified Reflexologist and Massage Therapist my go-tos for destressing are Reflexology and Massage (especially if used in conjunction with essential oils) but we’re all different. Some of my friends have recently taken up wild-swimming and find that totally relaxes them. Find what works for you and make sure you pencil it into your own diary with the same fervour as if it was a work based appointment or a meeting with a friend!
Check out my article What is Menopause for more information of some of the more common symptoms
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Please Tell me your story!
I’d love to hear YOUR experience of the perimenopause/ menopause. What symptoms have you experienced (if any) and what has helped you? If you’d be open to having an honest (completely confidential conversation) with me about your menopause please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Cooper is a Reflexologist, Reiki Master Practitioner, Aromatherapist and Writer based in Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire, England.
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