Menopause, for some of us, can be hard. Really hard.
Until more recently, no one ever talked about menopause. The whispers I heard were only ever about things like hot flashes. As I transitioned through menopause and symptom after symptom presented themselves, I quickly realised that this menopause thing was a whole lot more involved than as few hot flashes! Looking back now, there were also some issues I encountered that I wasn’t even aware were related to menopause! Basically, it was a very confusing and often somewhat distressing time of life.
Many women contact me and ask – does it ever end? Do things get better?
Can I ever feel like me again?
The thing is, we are all unique. As midlife women, we have different genetics, decades of individual lifestyle choices, possibly injuries or diseases, different cultural upbringings and a variety of messaging that we have been subject to. How you transition through menopause is therefore extremely unique – to you.
While taking your uniqueness into account, my personal opinion is that yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel and you can in fact become healthier and happier than ever before. You can feel great, look great and make this the best and most beautiful part of life yet.
That’s all good for you Tania, you might say. But, I’m feeling really crappy, my periods have finally stopped and nothing is really getting any better – in fact there are more issues presenting themselves and I just can’t cope! Where is this amazing post menopause life you talk about all the time?
I understand. I hear you. And, it’s not always as simple as I may make it out to be. However, ultimately, it is quite simple and that’s part of what I’m about. When we look at our overall health, get back to basics and learn to simplify, we often find that things start to fall into (or back into) place.
Some of my most important lessons I gained throughout my own menopause transition were these:
Understand your body is changing
Throughout life, our body is changing, evolving and ageing. At menopause, it’s a time of big change – in some cases, it’s quite dramatic as our reproductive hormones fluctuate crazily and then diminish forever. Accepting that there is a lot going on and realising that our bodies do require time to adjust to the changes, can allow us to understand and accept that there may be some disruptions to our normal way of operating for a while.
Does that mean you have to suffer? Definitely not. Depending on your circumstances, you may need help with changing some aspects of your lifestyle. Alternatively, you may need to consider combining hormone treatment with lifestyle changes to allow your body to find its way to homeostasis.
However, when we give ourselves and our bodies a little grace and self compassion, it is amazing how much less stressed we can be throughout this natural process.
Look at your health as a whole, not as individual aspects
As someone who considered herself fit, healthy and resilient, I really struggled with the fact that I wasn’t coping with menopause. My body was definitely not happy and I was forced to reassess and take a more holistic view of my overall health. I eventually realised that I had never prioritised sleep or stress management – two huge issues which are affected as our estrogen levels decline at menopause.
Everything is connected. Health is not just eating well or exercising regularly. True health is a combination of physical, mental, social and I suppose spiritual (I’ve never really considered myself spiritual but the older I get, the more I realise there is something to this as well).
For example, when I exercise regularly, I tend to eat healthier foods, I feel better about myself which means that I’m a happier person to be around, more likely to want to go out socially and then I also take time to do things like meditation to help calm and relax me. When one of these aspects of my life is out of whack, there is often a bit of a snowball effect and all of a sudden, I’m moping around, not exercising, feeling grumpy and eating an entire block of chocolate for lunch!
When I began to look at my health more holistically, my menopause symptoms began to improve. Simple but true.
Not too little, not too much
Just like goldilocks, we need to find what is just right – for us.
I find many women (including myself!), realise they may be in their menopause transition and then get a bit scared. Menopause, in the past (hopefully this is changing), was something that meant you were getting old and perhaps past your use by date. No one wants that and the natural instinct is to do whatever you can not to go there! Often, that means women either retreat into a shell feeling like totally giving up – or, completely the opposite, we may start with restrictive dieting and extreme exercise regimes in an attempt to maintain ‘youth’ and fight off the affects of ageing.
Personally, I don’t think either way is so good.
Extremes are not the answer to sustainable long-term health. For example, over exercising in menopause and beyond over-stresses your body that is already more sensitive to elevated cortisol levels – ie too much exercise is counterproductive. That’s fine to say Tania, but you trained for an ironman triathlon in menopause. Yes, I did – but it wasn’t easy. To do this, I really had to develop a training regime which allowed me enough recovery for my body to cope – it was definitely a big juggling act between doing enough to allow me to reach my goal while also staying healthy. My training looked a hell of a lot different than something my younger body could have coped with.
My overriding message her is to try to find your own balance, listen to your body and create a lifestyle that is devoid of extremes where possible. We want to find our just right.
Life is busy. Women often ‘do it all’. They don’t have time not too. And, most of us just don’t have time for something as annoying as menopause adding more complexity to our already over committed lives.
But what if we did take some time? What if we looked at our life and really thought about what it was that we actually had to do? What are our true priorities? What do we really want our life to look like?
If one of your priorities is to live a long, healthy life, then are you living in a way that supports that?
I’m a ‘busy’ person. I always have been. I don’t like sitting still. I am always studying several courses at once, trying to fit more into my day than is logically possible and always striving to do more. I have only been on one holiday in my life where I lazed around a pool (actually I ran, went to the gym and swam every day but otherwise I did laze a bit)! It’s just me. And, to be honest, de-busying and simplifying is still a work in progress for me.
However, menopause highlighted that perhaps it was time to re-evaluate my life a little. During the worst of my struggles, I was ultra busy with my teenage kids, not sleeping enough and not having any ‘down’ time. My stress levels were through the roof, as were my night sweats and hot flashes!
I took up meditation – nothing too long but enough to allow me to declutter my mind. I learnt to say no – this was a big one for me as I had always been a yes person. I have quite a small house which is relatively easy to keep clean but I also leave it when I don’t have time. I’ve decluttered my clothing and am back to wearing basic black which for me is easy and means I don’t need to think about what I’m wearing each day. I eat in a fairly simple way – I try to include some variety but the basics are quite similar each week. With my exercise, I walk every day and then try to mix things up a little for my other sessions – I have a home gym, so it’s easy to access.
How does all this relate to menopause symptoms? I found that as I simplified my life, my stress levels decreased and so too did my symptoms.
Finding our way to the light
Of course, there are many other aspects of life and health that you may need to be considered with regards to your menopause transition. The ones I have mentioned here are, I suppose, are not always the usual things that we think about with regards to menopause health but they made such a big impact on my own life, that I think they are worth mentioning.
Ultimately, how did I find my way to the light at the end of the tunnel?
I really did finally just recognise that my body was changing and decided to go with the flow a little. I then realised that I had neglected parts of my health puzzle that impacted on the way if felt, looked and operated. I also made a decision to stop punishing my body and start nurturing it. And, I have started to really consider what a healthy and happy life looks like for me and have begun simplifying, editing and creating that less busy but more rewarding lifestyle.
Menopause does mean change.
However, it can be a change for the better and you can find a light at the end of your tunnel. Perhaps, it means looking in a variety of places (some that you may have never considered before) to find it.
Keep going and keep evolving until you find your light because I truly do believe that post menopause can be the most amazing and beautiful time of life.