Menopause is the time in our lives when our periods stop completely.
Medically, Menopause is defined by not having had a period for a whole year, whilst the ‘run up’ is called the Peri Menopause. Typically, when we talk about Menopause we tend to blur these 2 distinct categories and are simply talking about this whole episode. For lots of us, symptoms can become less problematic as we go into the actual period free era. Whilst there are some symptoms that are common, there are also individual variations and perceptions of symptoms- these can make us feel a little more stressed – but don’t doubt yourself – what you feel is what you feel and it’s important to acknowledge it so that you can then make efforts to reduce any negative impact. We are all different and that is OK!
You will notice a good bit of repetition throughout this article. I know you want a quick fix but try to look at your lifestyle issues – they are free, and they will impact your overall health in a positive way and we all have improvements that we can make even if they are small.
In no particular order..
1) Vaginal dryness
One of the most unsexy terms ever. Vaginal dryness is a thing. Vaginal dryness is bad news for your sex life, can just feel generally uncomfortable and can make any kind of investigation like smear tests simply unbearable. Of course, there are always options. With vaginal dryness you can opt simply for lubrication as you go. The one that springs to mind is KY Jelly – it’s a water-based lubrication. Or you can opt for an ’as needed’ oil-based lube – a bit more messy.
For those low- oestrogen -related -dryness issues, then you will benefit from using oestrogen cream.
2) Hot flashes
Hot flashes – another typical symptom of menopausal hormone fluctuations. Suddenly out of nowhere and for no apparent reason feeling ridiculously hot, visibly flushed and perhaps even sweaty. It’s embarrassing – not only do you feel uncomfortable, but everyone knows it!!!!
Avoid wearing man-made fibres, try to layer your clothing so you can adjust according to your body heat. Get one of those portable fans – the battery-operated ones are bloody brilliant, but the old school paper fan is better than nothing. Spicy foods and alcohol will not be your friends and lastly (I know you don’t want to hear it) but if you are carrying a bit of excess weight it would help to try & shift it.
3) Brain fog
So yesterday, I put my phone in the kitchen cupboard….thankfully I have ‘find my’ installed on all my devices otherwise I may have lost hours of my life searching for it – I literally had zero memory of doing it at all!!
Brain fog, of course affects everyone at different points in their life; -it’s a very non- specific term. However – Menopause related brain fog is more consistent and that’s where it goes beyond funny. Whether you’re forgetting what you went upstairs for or finding that your performance at work is suffering, it can really make you feel like you’re losing your grip.
On the body front -try to keep hydrated, reduce alcohol, get as active as you can and try to manage your sleep. If it floats your boat – meditation and mindfulness can be life changing for some.
On a practical level – use the tools around you – use your calendar (electronic or otherwise) to help your organisation, write lists, check stuff off, set alarms on your phone (I have only just discovered you can set a title for your alarm. Before now, sometimes the alarm would go and I would have no idea what it was for 🤯).
Do some brain games or download duo lingo and learn a language- get that brain fired up with mental workouts.
Now this can be down to interrupted sleep or it could simply be a feeling that you can’t fathom out. For sleep issues see the next category. Whether sleep deprivation is an issue or not…..yup you guessed it – exercise is really important. If you are allergic to exercise I really want you to try & figure out what is the most tolerable activity you can engage in. Set yourself very low goals (both in frequency and duration) and do your best to stick to them. Even when you feel you have zero in your tank – exercise or activity of some description WILL give you energy – it WILL make you feel better.
Try and include less processed foods in your diet – those foods that give you a sugar punch and then drop off really fast will add to fatigue levels. Reduce alcohol, increase hydration blah blah – again you know what to do but you need to commit to make it work! Don’t kid yourself that these things don’t work for you – it may be small but there will be an improvement. Try and break up your day if you have to sit in front of a computer – get up and walk and stretch as often as you can.
5) Difficulty in sleeping
Waking up hot and sweaty, or stumbling into rabbit holes or a catastrophic combination of both ……There are few normal daily activities that impact your general sense of wellbeing as much as quality and quantity of sleep.
Try to get into a routine – going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. Do try to be strict with sleep hygiene even if you feel it isn’t helping. I am not going to patronise you with ‘how to sleep’ advice – you know what it is. When I discuss sleep issues with clients, I find what tends to happen is an unwillingness to implement because it’s not for them. If you can crack this problem, the benefits are huge. Try to approach it positively, stick with sleep hygiene rules and commit to consistency. Whatever you try will not work first time so don’t bin it off if you don’t get immediate results. Definitely experiment with podcasts of gentle story telling or hypnosis sleep sessions, if nothing else they provide a different focus to help you to move away from fretting.
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6) Reduced sex drive
Not feeling in the mood may be related to vaginal dryness and discomfort or may be a completely separate issue. This is extremely frustrating and it’s not where you want to be in your head and like lack of sleep it can become a horrible loop that you can’t scramble out of. It’s not an easy fix and this one may certainly be improved by addressing what’s happening with you at a hormone level and an emotional level. Reduced sex drive can result from menopausal changes, from other physiological factors or from an emotional overload issue. Sometimes you may even experience a perfect storm. The key thing is, try to pluck up the confidence to discuss with someone medical. It’s really hard for some to discuss such personal intimacies. I categorise myself as a massive prude, very comfortable to discuss others intimate issues, but when it comes to mine, that’s a whole different story. However, I know that there are many options out there and that is my motivator to discuss any issues that I actually find mortifying…..its worth the graft and its also character building to challenge your shortcomings (have I lost you in that one?!!)
7) Dry skin
Having dry skin can look and feel uncomfortable. Dry skin tends to be itchy..and if you have read any of my previous blogs you will understand the ‘itch scratch’ cycle……another hormonal loop of hell. Hydrate both inside and out, consider a skin supplement and anything out of the ordinary intensity or locality wise (meaning concentrated in one specific area) should be investigated by your GP.
8) Thinning hair
Thinning hair can really affect the way you feel about yourself and can be a real confidence knock. A varied diet will help you to get vitamins and minerals essential for hair growth. For supplements include Vitamins B, C, D, Zinc and Omega 3. You may opt for treatments such as PRP which can help to stimulate the follicles and improve thickening of the hair.
Background worry & anxiety…you’re a proper adult now right? This seems to creep on and fester through middle age. This is not the actual normal worry about things that are worrying but more the general state of feeling slightly on edge, less confident, less ‘bouncy’. When you start to add actual worries on top, you very quickly wade into overwhelm.
Dealing with anxiety is not easy -its hard to unpick it for one thing. We all have moments of levelling when we realise that things could be so much worse – perhaps someone we know gets sick / loses their job /falls out with their family. These moments of clarity can be helpful but can be too fleeting to make enough impact.
Being actively positive can be challenging but like any changes you must practice this. Whether you choose to formalise in a ritualised activity or you simply decide to monitor your thought path more deliberately really depends on what will work for you.
If anxiety is impacting your decisions or you fear that you are on that trajectory then it is time to seek advice from a medical professional who can signpost you to the right kind of help.
I have left this to the end. I think we are blessed to live in the era of discovery when it comes to hormonal changes through life. Albeit too little, too late for some, this new openness is only going to grow. Facing menopausal and peri menopausal changes is something that can be easy breezy or can be hell and anything in between. Finding that person that you can disclose stuff too is always a helpful thing and if you do suffer with embarrassment – the more you practice disclosure, the easier it will be. We all have bodies, and they all malfunction in different ways at different points in time. Some of us have better coping mechanisms than others, but if ‘coping’ means sticking your head in the sand and pretending the problem doesn’t exist at all, just consider that you may be doing yourself a massive disservice and that there may be something out there that has helped many women address the very same issue you have and result in big impactful changes in happiness, so why not you?
This list is by no means inclusive. You might experience something completely different, or a variation of the above. We are all different and experiences are unique and individual.
Improving your lifestyle will help with all of these symptoms as I mentioned at the start – it’s not magic and definitely not easy but it’s an undeniable fact.
You may also want to consider Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or Bio Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) to help with all of the above.