Managing the menopause
With menopause in the spotlight more and more, Penny Tyndale-Hardy, Senior Trainer of The Mental Health Toolkit, looks at managing the menopause, and how to navigate the changes it can bring.
At last, it seems like society is talking about the menopause. High-profile celebrity focus, increased press coverage and storylines in soaps and dramas have put the menopause centre stage.
And let’s get this straight – the menopause affects everyone, directly or indirectly.
50% of the population will experience the menopause themselves, while the other 50% will have friends, family and colleagues affected, so it’s important that we all understand it and can talk about it in a useful way.
What is the menopause?
Like adolescence, the menopause is a natural hormonal transition – in this case caused by the fall in the hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Physical symptoms range from the well-known hot flushes and brain fog to less reported things, such as itching and a decrease in bone density. Psychological symptoms can include anxiety, depression, loss of confidence and loss of libido.
Almost 80% of people experiencing the menopause report that at least one symptom is very difficult  and the whole process, from perimenopause (when symptoms begin but periods may still be occurring) to post-menopause (when symptoms end) may last a number of years.
But, with such a wide array of symptoms (and there are over 35 that have been identified), how do you know whether what you are experiencing is the menopause or something else?
Some menopause symptoms are also symptoms of different medical conditions. So, it is important that when anyone experiences a significant change in physical and/or emotional health that they check with the GP to rule these out.
Equally, not everyone will experience the same symptoms in the same way. The menopause is different for everyone, which can make it difficult to navigate the journey yourself, and equally difficult to support others, even if you have been through it.
And, while the focus on symptoms is important, it’s also vital that we don’t medicalise what is a natural process. The menopause is not an illness, and although there are medical treatments that can help, this is not always the right way for everyone.
Tips for managing the menopause
So, what’s the best way for us to manage our own symptoms, or to support someone else?
If we come back to the understanding that we feel healthy and well when we are able to meet our 12 physical and emotional needs in balance, then we can begin to see some different and individual ways of managing the menopause.
For example, the menopause may affect our ability to meet our need for security, if our body is no longer behaving in a predictable way. This will also affect how in control we feel, which can in turn increase our anxiety.
If menopausal symptoms are affecting our sleep, then this has knock-on effects for both our physical and mental health, and we may need to change our patterns and habits in order to prioritise our sleep in a different way.
Watch our video on sleep and the menopause below.
Experiencing brain fog may well affect our sense of achievement and our attention capacity, while others may find that withdrawing from some activities means we’re not meeting the need for community or emotional connection.
When we don’t meet these needs so well, it affects how we respond to other aspects of our lives. Our ‘window of tolerance’ for managing the everyday ups and downs of life may become narrower as we are dealing with the uncertainties and discomforts of the menopausal symptoms as well as everything else.
It is important, therefore, to be kind to yourself and find ways to help mind and body relax, such as through breathing techniques or relaxation exercises. Watch our video on 7/11 breathing to learn a technique to help with this.
What help is available from Suffolk Mind?
When there is a barrier – such as menopause symptoms – to meeting our needs, we need to look at what we can change so we can meet these needs once more. Because everybody’s symptoms are different, it follows that each person’s solution will also be different.
There’s loads of advice and interventions out there – including different HRT packages, nutritional supplements, exercise programmes, sleep support, relaxation and peer support groups. Getting access to all the options in one place is a great start.
Suffolk Mind and Suffolk Libraries have created the Menopause & Me project, offering support to individuals and businesses. Here you will find a wealth of advice and signposting – including access to support groups and training – that can help you find your best way to navigate this dynamic phase of your life.
1 Statistics from the report by The Fawcett Society on (peri)menopause (4,000 contributors)