The menopause is big news at the moment, thanks to Davina’s candid account of her menopause experience over on Channel 4 a few months back. For those of us hitting our 40s, you might already wondering if the menopause will ruin your life.
It’s a harsh reality that the menopause descending on us one day becomes pretty much avoidable. No longer will we be laughing at women being attached to their wide open freezers trying to surpress the cruelty of hot flashes because one day – probably sooner than we think – those women will be us.
The truth is, I am actually completely bricking it at the prospect of the menopause wrecking my life. I am scared of being a foggy, dried up, manica whose life seems to be swung into complete calamity thanks to the change in hormones. I’m just not ready to go there yet, and I am beyond frightened.
And I am frightened because everyone’s experience seems to be so different! Some women I have spoken to seem to have breezed through it without so much as batting an eyelash. Others on the other hand have pretty much been falling apart at the seams. I hope and pray I will not be the latter, but knowing my luck with hormones I’m banking on becoming a wailing banshee, who can not sleep or basically function, drenched in menopause induced sweat. Please God don’t let it be so.
So will the menopause ruin your life? I’ve asked Teresa Townsend, Menopause and Mental Fitness Coach, to join forces with us in this little explainer – or should I say – spoiler about the menopause.
Menopause: The basics
Every woman will go through a menopause stage (unless her ovaries were surgically removed before puberty), some with little to no symptoms, and some with many.
Perimenopause can last upwards of 10 years. Hot flashes and night sweats on average last about seven and a half years and they can last upwards of 14 years. It’s variable and, of course, depends on factors like genetics and health.
It’s often misunderstood – even by healthcare professionals
Since perimenopause arrives at a time of life when many different events are at play – and because symptoms are so numerous – it can be misdiagnosed by GPs and other healthcare professionals. Often women “report suddenly getting panic attacks from nowhere”, are often thought to be depressed or suffering heart problems, when really it is their fluctuating hormones that are responsible. Another thing a lot of women are told is that it isn’t the menopause because they’re still having periods, again just misunderstanding what menopause actually is. Some women are put on anxiety medication instead of HRT and this is why this petition below is so important.
In the UK #MakeMenopauseMatter campaign is aiming for 150,000 signatures on a petition to parliament demanding mandatory menopause training for all GPs, and menopause policies in every workplace.
Only in September 2020 was the subject of Menopause added to the UK school curriculum.
During menopause, approximately 85% report experiencing symptoms of varying type and severity.
Premature menopause can happen in early teens or 20s – about one in 1000 women reach menopause before the age of 30.
Challenges at work
In a recent Chartered Institute of Personnel Development survey in the U.K. found that 59% of women experiencing menopausal symptoms said that it had a negative impact on their work and difficult to cope with their tasks. Another study of nearly 900 professional women found that lowered confidence, poor concentration and poor memory associated with menopause symptoms caused significant difficulties at work.
Your “bad” cholesterol may go up
Turns out estrogen does a lot more than help regulate our periods: It keeps LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) low and HDL cholesterol (the good kind) high. So, as estrogen decreases during menopause, LDL tends to rise and HDL stays the same. The good news, that if you lead a healthy lifestyle as you approach menopause you can prevent these fluctuations. What’s more, making sure you get plenty of exercise and that you’re eating a heart-healthy diet are two lifestyle changes that can go a long way toward countering these cholesterol changes during menopause.
You may feel less social
If you’ve always been an extrovert, you may be surprised when you suddenly feel like spending more time alone. “Menopause is an introspective period, which means you might experience an emotional shift that could affect your social life,” says Holly Lucille, ND, a naturopathic doctor in Los Angeles. “Don’t just jump to the assumption that you’re depressed. This newfound introspection should be honored.” At long last, this is often a time in a woman’s life when she starts to put herself first. “Prior to menopause, women are more likely to make sure that their kids, partner, parents, co-workers—you name it—get what they need, and only then does she take care of herself,” says Barb Dehn, RN, a nurse practitioner in Mountain View, Calif., and author of The Hot Guide to Cool Sexy Menopause. “During menopause, many women start prioritizing themselves and start thinking about what they want to do.”
The emotional symptoms can sometimes be worse than the physical symptoms
The emotions can be really horrible and take you by surprise! A lot of women find they get angry, irritable, short-tempered and apathetic. Be aware, for some women, the emotional side of it can be worse than the physical symptoms that you’re experiencing.
The following menopausal symptoms are not as common, but are also usually caused by the same hormonal shifts:
- Forgetfulness, confusion, loss of focus, and difficulty concentrating: Decrease of estrogen and progesterone can provoke cortisol levels into becoming erratic, resulting in ‘brain fog’ and slower cognitive skill function.
- Bloating: During perimenopause and early menopause, flagging hormones can create bloating. This often disappears when levels permanently stabilize.
- Sleep problems: Dwindling hormones can trigger sleep disturbances such as interrupted rest, insomnia, waking up too early, or sleeping too long.
- Burning tongue: This condition, simulates a fiery sensation in the mouth and tongue in about 40% of menopausal women. It can create a metallic taste, dryness, soreness, and tingling and is believed to be activated by a drop in estrogen.
- Urinary and fecal incontinence or frequent urination: Significant changes to pelvic muscles damaged or weakened during childbirth, or waning estrogen can prompt more bathroom visits.
- Thinning or loss of hair and brittle nails: Increase in androgens (male hormones) spur shrinkage in hair follicles. Bald patches, thinning, and undesirable ‘peach fuzz’ may develop, along with dry, brittle cracked nails.
- Digestive problems: Constipation, indigestion, and gas can be attributed to cortisol levels affected by hormone reduction.
- Headaches or migraines: If women experienced headaches before and during menstruation, this may continue throughout perimenopause and menopause. These often decrease or completely disappear after menopause.
- Weight gain: Estrogen loss prompts fat redistribution to the abdomen, buttocks, thighs, and hips, resulting in that dreaded ‘middle age spread’.
- Dizziness: Hormone fluctuations can disrupt efficient body and organ function, including the inner ear’s ability to provide balance, accounting for menopausal dizzy spells.
- Increase in allergies: Ebbing hormones during menopause can accelerate histamine production, introducing new allergies or magnifying old ones.
- Itchy skin, rash: Lubrication lost through lowered estrogen can spread throughout the body, contributing to dry skin, chafing from fabrics, and unpleasant reactions to soap and perfumes.
- Breast sensitivity and pain (mastalgia): Hormonal spikes cause fluid buildup in the breasts, resulting in tenderness, swelling, and
- Arthritis, joint, bone, and muscle aches: Estrogen minimizes inflammation. Loss of it intensifies aches, pains, stiffness, and
- Irregular heartbeat and palpitations: Precipitated by hot flashes, these frightening sensations cause many women concern that they may be getting heart disease. Usually, this is not the case
- Electric shocks: Often, these precursors to hot flashes radiate from areas on the head or extremities. It is theorized that these mild to severe jolts of pain can be ascribed to hormonal imbalances affecting the hypothalamus, or to neurons misfiring in the nervous system. Medical intervention is often necessary.
- Change in body odour: Urinary or fecal odors arising from incontinence, pungent perspiration scents from hot flashes and night sweats, hormonal fluctuations affecting the thyroid’s impact on vaginal PH, producing a ‘fishy’ odor which can cause noticeable, unpleasant smells.
- Tingling sensation throughout the body (paresthesia): Sensations like prickling, stinging, ‘pins and needles’, ‘crawling’ feelings, or numbness are experienced and are linked to the lubrication lost through estrogen drop.
- Voice changes: As estrogen and progesterone diminish and testosterone rises, hoarseness, lowered pitch, and vocal fatigue after speaking too long are often overlooked menopausal symptoms.
Hormonal changes during menopause can contribute to several serious conditions in women, including:
- Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes can be life-threatening. Estrogen and progesterone dictate your cells’ insulin behavior. Disrupted hormonal balances weaken that message, leading to blood sugar level chaos, and then diabetes. Complications such as heart attack and stroke may follow.
- High cholesterol: Waning estrogen boosts harmful LDL cholesterol and decreases good HDL cholesterol, inviting a fatty buildup in the arteries. This can lead to stroke and heart attack.
- High blood pressure (hypertension): Plummeting hormones weaken the body’s resistance to several dangerous health risks, including those of salt and the rapid rise of a woman’s body mass index (BMI).
- Irregular heartbeat (arterial fibrillation): Moderate symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, weakness, and shortness of breath. More severe cases can develop into blockages which can trigger stroke, heart disease, and even death.
- Osteoporosis: Bones become thinner, fragile, and more brittle from lack of estrogen and can lead to fractures and breakage.
Will the menopause ruin your life?
For some women the symptoms can be debilitating. It’s more challenging because it’s not a disease or illness as such but comes with so many symptoms that make you feel ill.
If you’re having hot flashes – it’s highly likely you’re worried it may happen in an important or when you’re out with family.
If you’re not sleeping well – it’s highly likely you’re going to feel tired, be more snappy and not performing at your best – then relationships/health/performance are all affected.
Constant headaches or feeling emotional – it’s highly likely you feel on the edge and more anxious – again adding a strain on health etc.
The combination of anxiety, sleep issues and hot flashes is going to be pushing you even harder.
Some people have a few symptoms, some people have lots and it can vary day to day. So knowing how to manage your emotions, self-care, slowing down, time management and having lots of support all will aid to making this time easier.
With all that said however, the menopause can actually be a great opportunity for women to look at their life differently.
Chances are you’ve not put herself first – you’ve been saying yes, when you should be saying no – you think you can do it all but you can’t. Looking after your own needs is not selfish – you’ve been rushing around and now it’s time to put yourself first and this is your chance to do so.
Coaching yourself through the menopause
A lady at the peak of her menopause was having panic attacks- feeling like she’s going crazy, having hot flashes and struggling to cope with her mood changes. Then on top of this she’s got a demanding job, three children, husband, house to manage and so on. All she wants to do is sleep and rest but she can’t.
Sound familiar? First of all it’s time to look at her self-care – very basic but it’s amazing how many women still don’t look after themselves. Water – healthy foods – exercise – sleep – rest – time for herself – general medical checkups. Make sure syou goes to your doctor to be checked out, as you may need HRT, vitamins, etc.
Then look at how you’re managing your day – you’re probably not, the day is running you. Find ways to slow down – do you need to delegate some work? Do you need a cleaner? Do you need to ask for help? You do not need to be a martyr. Do you need to say NO? Are you putting her energy into the right things?
All these questions and many more will help you to prioritise and streamline your day.
This basically means you’ll feel more in control and lighter, which is what you need with all your symptoms. This will ripple out to other areas of her life.
Will the menopause ruin your life? Then time to get your life sorted
The menopause stage is the perfect time to get other things in your life sorted, as your tolerance levels are too low to deal with BS. This time we look at habits/people/thoughts that are draining. Declutter inside and out. Maybe it’s time to let go of some relationships and thoughts that no longer serve you. Maybe you need to let go of doing everything for everyone. Maybe you need to start saying no and start saying yes to yourself. Maybe you don’t want to be the rescuer, giver anymore. Maybe you don’t want to follow the rules anymore and live your life your way. This time is like a new chapter beginning where you don’t have to conform anymore and you can be your authentic self. Menopause is the perfect catalyst to say no more, I’ve had enough and begin to live again.
Are you worried about the impact of the menopause on your life? Comment below with your thoughts or experiences and follow us on Instagram here where we’ll be keeping the conversation around the menopause going.