Unlocking the Wisdom of the Menopause

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The 18th October is World Menopause Day! The fact that menopause now has its own special day speaks volumes about how what was once a taboo subject is now moving into the mainstream. About time.

According to the International Menopause Society (IMS) around a third of a woman’s life is lived after the menopause. Most women in developed countries go through the natural menopause at around age 50-52 and in less developed countries it often occurs in the late 40’s.

Peri-menopause and Menopause – What’s the Difference?

The menopause, or change of life, occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop releasing an egg every 4 weeks. It signifies the end of menstruation and fertility. A woman is considered to have reached menopause once she has gone through 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period. The time leading up to the menopause is known as perimenopause and is a transitional phase during which many physical and emotional changes happen. Although there are a range of symptoms that are associated with the menopause the severity of these symptoms differs with each individual, leaving some wondering what all the fuss is about and others suffering a great deal.

A Psychotherapist’s view

Much attention is paid to the physical aspects of menopause and, while this is important, it is helpful also to address the emotional and psychological changes. Menopause is accompanied by frequent hormonal shifts and this can lead to changes in mood and our ability to emotionally regulate. You may experience heightened bouts of anger, tearfulness, frustration and overwhelm. For some women it may take them to some very dark places.

Menopause is a highly significant chapter in a woman’s life – the end of fertility, of menstruation – and it can call us to re-evaluate who we are and what we want from life. Journalist Suzanne Moore writes about her own experience of:

“[a]…deep sense of time passing, through one’s flesh, of not wanting more of the same, a sense of coming into the present and only the present, understanding that time is valuable and time has passed.”

In my own psychotherapy practice I have worked with numerous women who have used the experiences of menopause and peri-menopause to re-think their lives; getting rid of what doesn’t work, embracing new and old passions, being more authentically themselves in ways they had never imagined before and doing away with the undue influence of other people’s opinions.

These women have inspired me and shown what is possible when we take the psychological, and what some may call the spiritual, aspects of menopause seriously. In certain cultures woman of menopausal age and beyond are revered and respected for their wisdom and recognised as a vital support for their communities. I think it is time that we did that too.

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Menopause is a time to listen to ourselves, to acknowledge our deepest desires and frustrations. It is the time to honour our years of experience and wisdom and be more potent. Things may not come easily, it may be painful and involve dark times, but the rewards can be truly life enhancing.

Five tips to take care of your emotional wellbeing during peri or menopause:

Be curious about your emotions. Rather than dismissing them as ‘just hormones’ allow yourself to be interested in what they are trying to tell you. If you enjoy writing try writing down your feelings as this can help to make connections. Maybe you feel taken for granted. Maybe you are spending too much time on things that don’t matter. Listening to yourself may just be the key to unlocking a brighter future.

Talk about how you are with people you trust and want the best for you. Talk to friends who may be going through similar changes. It can be a relief to hear that others are experiencing similar issues. If you want further help you could speak with a professional, don’t be afraid to ask for support.

Get moving. We all know that exercise is good for our physical health but it can also help us to manage our moods. When we exercise hormones such as endorphins are released that make us feel good. Choose whatever form of physical activity that you enjoy and do it regularly. If you have any health concerns discuss them with your doctor.

Give your body good nutrition. Food is closely linked to mood and wellbeing and a nutritious diet can support our mental health. Keep well hydrated, eat a rainbow – food of many different colours, and plenty of fruit and vegetables. Try to ensure that over a week you eat a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, fibre and healthy fats.

Be kind to yourself. Self-compassion is often at the heart of change. Beating ourselves up for failing in our personal expectations can keep us stuck in unhealthy situations and habits. Try to be understanding of yourself and recognise that you are doing your best. If you find you are very tough on yourself imagine what your best friend would say to you instead.