By Ilene Federman, LCSW-C
If you are a woman, you will go through it sooner or later. Maybe you’re sitting in a meeting at work and a hot flash strikes you or a colleague across the room. We’ve all seen women furiously fanning themselves or hurriedly shedding layers of clothing – and some of us have already “been there, done that.”
You’ve heard women talk about “the change,” and it has even been a source for comics’ humor. Some women dread it, others welcome it, and many just accept it and take it in stride.
So, what really happens? What is menopause and what can you expect?
It’s really about the seasons of a woman’s life. The average age of menopause is 51, but every woman’s experience is different. Your body is changing to adapt to life when reproduction is not its main role. Menopause is actually the middle phase of a three part process. Perimenopause (near or around menopause) is where it all begins. You will notice the “changes” in your monthly cycle such as erratic cycles and missed periods, culminating in a year without any periods, called Menopause (mens, monthly, and pause, to stop). This is a result of the body adjusting to hormonal changes and decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone. It is a stage that naturally occurs in every woman’s life. During the final stage, Post menopause, women readjust to the “changes” as they move forward in the natural process of life called aging.
Coping with the physical and emotional symptoms can be a challenge. For example, some women may have only one hot flash per month, while others struggle with 10-20 a day. Some women experience more serious symptoms as a result of the hot flashes, such as insomnia, mood swings, heart palpitations and other delights. There are medical treatments available to manage difficult symptoms. You should check with your doctor to discuss your particular challenges. Depression can also be common. If it becomes severe, contact a mental health professional for help.
Attitude has an impact on how a woman feels about herself and what kind of support she gets during menopause. How well you weather menopause will depend on how happy you are with your life at this time, how supportive your relationships are, the medical help you receive and your understanding of the events taking place in your body. Here are some self-care tips:
- Keep cool. Wear light weight clothing or clothing in layers. Have cool drinks, especially water.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol.
- Avoid heavy, spicy foods.
- Try to relax because getting stressed makes the symptoms worse. Use relaxation strategies like meditation and yoga.
- Get educated. Check out some of the resources below.
- Seek the help of a professional like your primary care provider, gynecologist or mental health professional if your symptoms are interfering with your ability to function.
- Lighten up! Incorporate humor into your life. Looking for the light side of any situation makes everything more palatable.
No two experiences are the same, but there are lots of resources that can help, such as the National Women’s Health Network, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the North American Menopause Society. But don’t forget that some of the most valuable resources are close to you. Talk with mothers, sisters and FRIENDS. Sometimes just catching the eye of another woman and smiling sympathetically can help get over an uncomfortable moment. It’s a kind of sisterhood.
By Ilene Federman, LCSW-C, Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.
“Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era” (Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, 2011).
“Is it Hot in Here? Or is it me? The Complete Guide to Menopause,” by Pat Wingert and Barbara Kantrowitz
“The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing During the Change” and “The Secret Pleasures of Menopause,” both by Christiane Northrup, M.D.