When I was in my mid-forties I started experiencing a number of seemingly unrelated symptoms – weight gain, brain fog, sore joints, and fatigue. I tried all sorts of one-off fixes – diets, exercise programs, and magic pills – without success. It wasn’t until my period started changing and I experienced hot flashes that the penny dropped and I connected everything to perimenopause. Did it happen like that for you too?
Perimenopause (and menopause) is the bookend to puberty, the reproductive part of our lives. So it includes a lot of hormone changes as the reproductive hormones – primarily estrogen and progesterone – naturally decline.
But the real challenge comes with how those changes impact our wellbeing. Like mood swings, inability to sleep, extreme fatigue, joint pain, digestive issues, hot flashes, night sweats, low sex drive and weight gain. What’s up with all that? Why can’t we just wind up our periods and call it a day?
There are two paths for getting help with perimenopause. The medical path and the lifestyle path. Unfortunately, many doctors are not well equipped to help. The American Association of Retired Persons reports most medical schools and residency programs don’t teach physicians in training about menopause. To make matters worse, a recent survey found that just 20% of ob-gyn residency programs provide any kind of menopause training.
When asked, 3 out of 4 ladies reported they did not get adequate treatment when they brought perimenopausal and menopausal concerns to their doctors. And 84% of women say their symptoms interfere with their lives and some are even debilitating.
One of the main areas where doctors should be able to help is in prescribing Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Even though treatment has changed dramatically over the past decade, many doctors are unaware. The new body identical treatment is administered in patches or gel and poses none of the earlier health concerns for breast cancer and heart disease. The topical delivery method means that the liver is completely bypassed, and that absorption through the skin dramatically changes the health risks. Dr. Louise Newson, The Menopause Doctor, goes so far as to encourage women to consider taking body identical HRT for the protections it provides against heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
The other path to get help with the symptoms of perimenopause is through lifestyle. There is a lot that lifestyle habits and behaviors can do to demystify the changes. It turns out the healthy practices of diet and exercise that ladies maintained before perimenopause are unlikely to suit them very well once they enter perimenopause. As our nutrition needs change, so does our digestion. We no longer need all the protein we used to eat, and our sensitivity to sugar and processed foods heightens. Bloating, brain fog, joint pain and weight gain result.
And with hormonal changes to our muscles and joints, the type of exercise and movement that is beneficial also changes. Even if you have always been athletically active, the fatigue and joint pain can make ambitious workouts very difficult. In fact, high impact and anaerobic exercise can cause stress to the system and result in the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. The timing and type of movement you choose take on new importance.
Hormonal changes impact sleep, especially when combined with food choices and stress. So figuring out new sleep hygiene habits are vital to being able to restore the body each night with quality sleep. As we sleep, the body is busy removing dead cells burning fat and rebuilding tissue. The brain catalogues the day’s experiences and builds up memories. Without adequate sleep, the body is stressed when it cannot carry out these maintenance functions and produces cortisol in response. That in turn stimulates appetite, which produces more insulin leading to fat production (and stubbornly stored around the middle). So getting enough good sleep is vital to being able to adapt through the changes of perimenopause.
And finally, mindfulness – getting your head in the game is so important. As it happens, the mind can only focus on one thing at a time. So if you control some of the things you tell yourself and make them positive things, you will benefit from that. Rather than tell yourself that you’re a lazy slob or beat yourself up because you don’t have enough willpower, you tell yourself that you’re an intelligent woman and the goal is achievable. Meditation is a great way to calm the mind, focus on positive things and create endorphins. This can really help to create positivity, reduce cortisol levels and help with sleep.
Are you satisfied with the support your doctor has been giving you for the symptoms of perimenopause? Some symptoms are best resolved using HRT. But many more can be resolved by taking a lifestyle approach.
The beginning of my perimenopausal journey didn’t go well, and I’m determined to help ladies navigate this chapter of their lives so they can take control of the next decades and live their best lives.
To find out how you can navigate the symptoms of perimenopause, click the button to book your free call with Dyna Vink, Health and Nutritional Coach.
The shift from perimenopause into menopause can be a time of reflection and inspiration or a time of confusion. Any major change can be challenging, but we have a choice of fighting it or embracing it. It is an inevitable transition, so logically finding ways to adjust and thrive are the better option. Then it’s a matter of getting the emotions aligned through all the symptoms.
In fact, studies have shown that switching up negative thoughts and attitudes can result in a reduction of symptoms. Even in the face of difficult symptoms, women consistently say that changing their outlook helps. The following tips might help you transform your menopause experience.
Watch Your Thoughts
There is growing evidence that the absence of positive thoughts has a greater negative impact on our health and well-being than does the presence of negative ones. One way to cultivate positive thoughts and emotions is to keep an “appreciation journal.”
“It changed how I felt psychologically. I learned to appreciate things more. Appreciating and enjoying a beautiful spring day because it’s beautiful. I think the act of journaling opened my eyes as to how beautiful life can be.”
“Life is what I make it for myself and no matter what the externals, at the end of the day by attitude and outlook I decide whether the glass is half full or half empty.”
Laughter brings us closer to people, moves us into more positive mind-sets, can stimulate our immune system, enhance our learning and memory, and help us cope better with the stressors in our lives. Laughter is a great menopause support.
Make Time for Yourself
Exercise, eat right, and incorporate relaxation techniques into your day. This practice moves you out of the stress response, which is harmful to our health. Eliciting a “relaxation response” increases muscle relaxation, quiets the mind, promotes positive emotions, learning, concentration, and creativity. It can also reduce symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, PMS, and pain. When women actually make themselves a priority (even 15 minutes a day), dramatic changes can occur.
“It’s very empowering to learn what your triggers are and to be able to change your lifestyle so that you feel good. And, it’s not a sacrifice. You’re really giving yourself a gift.”
Social support is key to health and can even help you live longer. It is one of the first pieces of advice women share.
“At this stage, women need other women — friends with a rich life experience and wisdom to share.”
“I measure my success in terms of the richness and closeness of my connections with good people.”
Stay in the Moment
Try to be mindful (aware and present) of each and every moment of your life. This practice prevents you from worrying about the future (often fraught with anxiety) or dwelling on the past (possibly tinged with regret). By combining positive thoughts, a healthy lifestyle, and relaxation techniques, many women are changing the menopause experience.
“I feel that I’ve acquired tools and learned techniques that fortify me when I feel my body is a stranger. I can quiet it with deep breathing and meditation. I have techniques to help me sleep better. I am kinder to myself. More empathetic to others. I have new thoughts and behaviors that help me change my mood before I feel at the mercy of the blues. I walk daily (after years of detesting exercise). I feel my energy rebuilt and my mood lifted with exercise. I have new power to be positive.”
“I am more aware than ever of my own ability, and responsibility, to change the course of my life, and to choose happiness, joy, and peace, rather than waiting for someone else, or fate, to deliver it.”
This is an opportunity to reshape our lives to take on new meaning after children grow up and leave the nest. It can open up new avenues of creativity and reward that you never had the time or focus to see through. This is your time! Enjoy it.
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