I don’t know about you, but I always saw the menopause as a scary thing – the great unknown, looming over me – something I had no control over, something to struggle through as best I could. What I didn’t realise is that this attitude is pretty unique to Western culture.
Research has shown that in the East for example, women largely see menopause positively, as something to celebrate, a symbol of achievement and a chance to enjoy life. The Japanese word for menopause is konenki, which means a time for renewal, regeneration and new energy. Until very recently there was no word for hot flush in Japanese, because so few Japanese women report having them, and it’s the same for women living in other cultures that view the menopause as a something to celebrate.
This doesn’t mean that problems with the menopause don’t exist, or that we’re imagining them. Far from it. But is the way that we interpret and experience these symptoms influenced, even in part, by our culture? Do we, in the UK, see the menopause more as a medical condition, or even a disease, than as a rite of passage, with pain along the way, of course, but with something good to look forward to at the end?
The following suggestions might help you to see your menopause journey in a more positive light:
- Consider Your Unique Abilities.
Menopause can be a time of self-discovery and self-reflection. Take some time to reflect on what your strengths are – both physically and emotionally. What are you really good at? What are you proud of? Are you a good problem solver? A good listener? Are you creative? Do you have a strong sense of resilience? Take some time out to do some personal strengths spotting and maybe also consider using a free psychometric strength questionnaire, such as the VIA Character Strengths Survey (www.viacharacter.org) to understand your unique strengths.
Acknowledging and embracing our strengths has been shown to reduce stress and improve overall physical and mental wellbeing. Have a look at “The Strengths-Based Workbook for Stress Relief: A Character Strengths Approach to Finding Calm in the Chaos of Daily Life” by Ryan Niemiec. This evidence-based guide written by a leading positive psychologist includes a strengths-based stress reduction plan that might help you to use your strengths to navigate major life changes such as the menopause.
- Nurture Your Physical Strength
Regular exercise can help us manage the physical symptoms associated with menopause, such as weight gain, muscle loss, and decreased bone density. Think about including activities that strengthen your body, such as yoga, Pilates, or weight training. Not only will this help maintain your physical strength, but it can also boost your confidence and overall mood.
- Eat Well.
I am not a nutritionist or a doctor, so this is not medical advice, and the suggestions below may not be appropriate for everyone. Just make sure that you maintain a balanced and varied diet to give your body all the nutrients it needs whilst you’re going through this period of change. These might include the following:
- Phytoestrogen-rich foods: These foods contain plant-based compounds that mimic oestrogen in the body. Sources include soy products (e.g., tofu, tempeh, soy milk), flaxseeds, sesame seeds, and some vegetables.
- Calcium-rich foods: Menopause is associated with a higher risk of bone density loss, which can be helped by eating calcium-rich foods like dairy products, leafy greens (e.g., kale, broccoli), almonds, and fortified plant-based milks.
- Foods high in vitamin D: Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption and bone health. Sunlight is a natural source, but you can also get it from fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel), egg yolks, and fortified foods.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce mood swings and promote heart health.
- Magnesium-rich foods: Magnesium can help reduce irritability, mood swings, and muscle cramps. Good sources include leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes.
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant may help reduce hot flashes and night sweats. You can find it in foods like almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, and avocados.
- B-vitamins: B-vitamins, particularly B6 and B12, play a role in mood regulation and energy levels. Foods like poultry, fish, eggs, and fortified cereals can provide these nutrients.
- A wide range of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds: These foods are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, promoting overall health and helping to combat inflammation.
- Healthy fats: Incorporate sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, which can help with hormone regulation and support heart health.
- Water: Staying well-hydrated is important for managing symptoms and overall health, so drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Speak to a medical professional If you’re experiencing severe or persistent symptoms and don’t embark on any radical changes to your diet without medical advice.
- Develop Your Emotional Resilience
Menopause can bring massive emotional fluctuations, including mood swings, irritability, and anxiety. Developing emotional resilience can help us navigate through these changes with greater ease. Support from loved ones, joining a menopause support group, or even some professional coaching or counselling can help you build resilience and navigate the emotional ups and downs of menopause. Some great books to read about developing emotional resilience include “Emotional Agility” by Susan David and “Why has nobody told me this before” by Dr Julie Smith.
- Be Kind To Yourself
Remember to carve out time for activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and inner calm. Whether it’s enjoying a warm bath, reading a good book, or simply sitting in nature, make self-care a priority and take time to be kind to yourself every day. Researchers (Brown et al., 2014) have found that self-kindness helps reduce some of the symptoms of menopause. Although women with high levels of self-compassion still experience hot flushes, they interfere much less in their daily lives. Women with high levels of self-compassion also report lower levels of depressive symptoms. Have a look at “Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself” by Dr Kristin Neff –a practical guide to improving self-compassion, that includes tried and tested exercises and audio downloads.
- Talk About It
Don’t go through menopause alone. Reach out to others and share your stories and coping strategies. Just talking about what’s happening to us and the changes we’re going through can help us to see things in a different light and make them feel much less daunting. And the more that we talk about menopause, with one another and with the wider world, the more it will be seen as a positive milestone in a woman’s life rather than as simply something to suffer through in silence.
We’re happy to help. My colleague Victoria Ward and I are menopause wellbeing coaches and can offer a range of support, from personal coaching to facilitated Women’s Health events, which focus on exploring a range of different ways to help women to understand and cope with the challenges presented by the menopause. Get in touch if you’d like a chat.
David, S. (2018). Emotional agility. Penguin USA.
Neff, K. (2021). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. Yellow Kite, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton.
Niemiec, R. (2020). Strengths-based workbook for stress relief: A character strengths approach to finding calm in … the chaos of Daily Life. READHOWYOUWANT.
Smith, D. J. (2023). Why has nobody told me this before?: The no 1 sunday times bestseller. MICHAEL JOSEPH LTD.
Via Character Strengths Survey & Character Reports: Via Institute. VIA Institute On Character. (n.d.). www.viacharacter.org