Dealing with the symptoms of menopause
Teenagers have seemingly endless information and advice at their fingertips to help them handle the transition to puberty. When it comes to another major life event, however – the menopause – there’s a real lack of knowledge and guidance available. And despite the fact that it happens to half of the population, it’s something that’s not often talked about. As a result the symptoms can come as a shock, and some women end up suffering in silence, without a clear understanding of what’s happening to them.
Menopause symptoms vary widely between individuals, but the notorious hot flushes are most likely to spring to mind – and they’re probably the only one a lot of people have heard of.
In fact, the range of symptoms can be far more extensive, complex and disruptive, which sometimes leads to misdiagnosis. They can affect women both physically and mentally, and could go on for several years. According to the NHS, common symptoms include:
- night sweats
- difficulty sleeping
- forgetfulness and poor concentration, and
- low mood or anxiety.
Migraines, irregular or heavy periods, irritability, tiredness, reduced sex drive, weight gain and mood swings are also frequently reported.
Some psychological symptoms could be directly caused by the decrease in oestrogen and progesterone hormones within the body, while others might be triggered by the impact that menopause and its symptoms are having on an individual’s life.
Someone who experiences hot flushes might feel self-conscious about having one in public, for example. Night sweats and insomnia are likely to result in fatigue and low energy in the daytime. If someone who’s always been organised and focused finds ‘brain fog’ creeping in, this could knock their self-esteem.
The symptoms of menopause differ from one person to another, which means everyone needs to find their own way of coping. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is one option, and it’s down to personal choice whether or not it’s right for you. Here are some other ideas that might help.
Track your symptoms. Keep a diary of how you feel, and when, and what the effect is on your mind, body and daily life. This will help you recognise how menopause is impacting you, how you respond, and whether there are any patterns. As well as identifying the symptoms you might want to address, this will pinpoint any times when they tend to be worse, so you can potentially work around them to minimise the disruption to yourself, your family and your work.
Find out what works for you. This might take some experimentation! It’s worth spending some time researching ideas and approaches that might improve your symptoms. The NHS and the British Menopause Society both have some useful insights. Is there anything you’ve not tried yet? If so, give it a go.
Making lifestyle changes can also help. For instance, some women say exercising regularly helps their mood and energy levels. Alcohol can make hot flushes more frequent and intense, so it might help to cut down a bit if these are a problem.
It’s important to make sure you still have things in your life that are enjoyable and fulfilling. If your social life or confidence have taken a bit of a dip, for example, think about the things that are important to you. What gives you pleasure? A sense of achievement? Closeness with others? How can you bring those things into your life again?
Watch out for unhelpful behaviours. Think about the things you do in response to the symptoms you have, and ask yourself whether they’re helping, or potentially making things worse. If the answer is yes, challenge them!
For instance, when you’re feeling feel down, anxious, or lacking in confidence it’s easy to start avoiding situations that might be challenging in some way – but this can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. This is particularly true for people who’ve experienced mental health problems in the past: if you’ve had social anxiety, certain menopause symptoms might make you want to turn down invitations and withdraw.
Challenge beliefs that might limit you. Having a bad night’s sleep, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to function the next day. Try to avoid the temptation to cancel everything and stay in bed – do what you’d normally do and see how you get on.
There’s still a stigma around menopause, and some women feel they need to hide their symptoms. You may well prefer to keep things private, but don’t assume that the people around you won’t understand, or will judge you negatively. If it would help you – and them – to talk about what’s happening, decide what you want to share, and with whom.
Try CBT. If you’re really struggling with depression, anxiety and mood changes as a result of the menopause, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has proved to be a very effective treatment for improving these symptoms. Find out more about how CBT works here.