Coping With Menopause

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Hormonal changes that define the transition to menopause can cause minor or temporary issues, but also significant and longer-lasting ones that can affect your quality of life. As you work to manage physical symptoms like hot flashes and insomnia, it's also important to find ways to cope with emotional ones, be them mood swings or challenges mentally adjusting to this new phase in your life.

Emotional

The emotional impact of menopause depends largely on an individual woman's personal history and life circumstances, as well as other factors, but increased stress and mood swings are nearly universal.

This is often a time of reflection and realization that one important phase of life is giving way to another. You may feel like your self-identity and sense of femininity have been based on factors that change at menopause, such as your physicality or the ability to have a monthly cycle and bear children. You might feel grief or regret as you go through this transition. Your social role may be changing with the end of your fertile years, which can be stressful as well, even if it is welcomed.

You may need new tactics to cope. There are a multitude of strategies that may help with this, many of which may also contribute to improving your overall mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being.

  • Meditation: A mere 15 minutes a day of meditation can effectively alleviate stress and make it easier to cope.
  • Exercise: Any sort of physical activity can reduce stress. The important thing is to do it regularly (at least three times a week or more).
  • Goal-setting: Do a life inventory. List things you'd most like to accomplish, hobbies you're interested in, or skills you'd like to hone. Consider any obstacles that might be in your way, even if it's simply a negative mindset. Make a plan to begin pursuing at least one goal.
  • Social support: This is a healthy response to stress because it helps establish a social support network. When you're overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, or worry, call a friend or see a counselor.

Physical

If needed, there are a host of treatments that can help you cope with the physical symptoms of menopause. Beyond medications, you may find relief by trying some of these approaches.

Hot Flashes

Your internal thermostat may be very touchy around menopause. Many women find that they have a very narrow range of comfort, and it doesn’t take much to become overheated. Try some of these ways to deal with flashes:

  • Dress in layers so you can easily remove clothing if you start to feel hot.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply: Doing this sort of controlled breathing just as a hot flash begins can shorten its duration and lessen its severity.
  • Drink water: If you are flashing, you are sweating. Water helps replenish you and seems to help regulate your internal temperature. Try to get at least 48 ounces in a day.
  • Turn down the heat: Whenever possible, keep your environment under 70 degrees in the daytime.
  • Avoid hot places: Don’t sunbathe or sit in a sauna if you are prone to flash.
  • Don't eat hot and spicy foods: Even if you have always been able to eat them, they may trigger you to flash.
  • Try flaxseed or flaxseed oil: It may decrease hot flashes and have the added benefit of reducing joint and muscle pain for some women.
  • Consider vitamin E, yam phytoestrogens, and black cohosh: These have all been used for many years to combat hot flashes, though studies on these alternative remedies usually show them to be only as effective as a placebo. Because some supplements can have estrogenic effects, it is best to discuss them with your doctor before deciding to take them. You may have a health history that could make them risky, or they may interact with other medications.

Insomnia

Insomnia is very common just before and after menopause. Sometimes it is due to night sweats, which are hot flashes. But sometimes women seem to have a hormone shift that makes them wakeful at the same time each night.

This can be frustrating and exhausting. Here are some things to try:

  • Cool your bedroom: Try to keep your nighttime bedroom temperature below 65 degrees.
  • Meditate: Just before bed, meditate for a bit. This can put you in a calm state of mind and help you fall asleep—and stay asleep.
  • Take a bath: A warm or cool bath can regulate your temperature and send you off to dreamland comfortable and relaxed.
  • Try sedatives: These can sometimes help you regulate your sleep cycle. It’s not a long-term solution, so talk it over with your medical provider.
  • Discuss changing your antidepressant: If you are on an antidepressant that makes you wakeful, talk to your provider about changing to one that has a more sedative effect and taking it at bedtime.
  • Consider CPAP: If you snore, or if you are having periods of not breathing in your sleep (sleep apnea), you may need a sleep study to determine whether you would benefit from a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.

Vaginal Dryness and Urinary Incontinence

Vaginal dryness or pain with intercourse can be very upsetting for women who experience it during menopause. These symptoms can disrupt your sex life, which may affect your relationships. Incontinence can also be embarrassing and disheartening.

These symptoms can be caused by the change in vaginal and urethral tissue that occurs when estrogen drops. In addition to seeking vaginal estrogen treatment:

  • Use lubricant: Because your vaginal wall is becoming thinner, it is easier to tear or damage. Using lots of vaginal lubricant during sex will help prevent damage. Water-based lubricants feel natural and wash off easily. Silicone-based lubricants last longer, but more women report being sensitive or allergic to them.
  • Incorporate vitamin E and flaxseed oil: These can sometimes offer some relief from vaginal and urinary symptoms. Usually, women take them as oral supplements, but there are creams that contain them as well to be applied directly to the vagina.
  • Do Kegel exercises: Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can improve sensation during intercourse and reduce urinary incontinence. If you do them several times a day, you will probably see results in two to four weeks.

Weight Gain

Since metabolism slows down as you age, menopause is a common time to begin gaining weight. Weight loss in menopause requires the same approaches that it does at other times in your life.

Set a goal for your target weight—one that is both reasonable and driven by achieving good health, not a certain size. Enjoy a varied diet in your calorie goal range.

Use weight training as an exercise to get stronger, prevent osteoporosis, and step up your resting metabolism. In your cardio exercise, such as walking or running, vary the speed and enjoy interval training. These weight-bearing exercises can improve your metabolism and build bone mass.

Managing stress has a place here as well, as it can help tame the release of hormones like cortisol that tell your body to hang onto fat.

Memory Problems

Although some memory loss is part of aging, there may be some transitory loss that comes with the dip in estrogen associated with menopause. Here are some suggestions for relief:

  • Consider your diet: Get plenty of colorful fruits and vegetable for antioxidants and vitamins. Cut back on (or cut out) alcohol, sugar, and caffeine and see if it improves your ability to remember.
  • Explore memory strategies: Use acronyms to remember lists of names or streets (such as POMB for a sequence of streets like Pine, Oak, Main, and Broadway). Associate one thing with another—for example, a green clover to remember a person with the last name Green.
  • Implement external supports: For example, hang your keys in the same place every time you come into the house, or put important information into your cell phone so you can easily access it when you need it.

Social

Nurturing and leaning on existing relationships is beneficial for everyone, and that's certainly the case in menopause. But it can also help to make an effort to make new ones with women who are also in this life stage.

Organizations such as the Red Hat Society and Meetup groups are one way to go about this. Weight loss and exercise groups can help you tackle those concerns as well as being a good way to meet new friends going through what you are.

A Word From Verywell

Every woman's experience is unique, and how they can best cope with menopause is as well. Keep in mind that menopause is another life stage. Just like adolescence, you can cope with the changes leading up to it and enter this new chapter confidently by adopting some useful strategies.

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Article Sources

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Additional Reading

  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Menopausal Symptoms: In Depth.

  • North American Menopause Society, (NAMS), Menopause Guidebook: Helping Women Make Informed Healthcare Decisions. North American Menopause Society, 2015.

  • Office on Women's Health. Menopause.

  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The Menopause Years.