Menopause always seemed so far away, something that happens to ‘the older generation’ – but it can happen at any age, and it can also creep up on us suddenly. I was diagnosed with ‘premature ovarian insufficiency’ in 2020 (they stopped calling it ‘failure’ which I really appreciate). I was 38 years old and facing the menopause (the average age of onset is 51.5 in Canada) but quite quickly realised I wasn’t alone. Although menopause is a natural phase of life, it is something that a lot of women are not prepared for, both physically and mentally.
The symptoms of menopause are not just physical (hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, sleep difficulties, mood changes, changes in sexual desire (libido), weight gain and joint pain).
There can also be mental health changes including:
- Anger and irritability
- Brain Fog and memory issues
- Low self-esteem
- Low confidence
- Low mood and feelings of depression
- Poor sleeping
All of these changes can contribute to mental health challenges, studies showing that rates of depression double during menopause. Some folx are also caring for children, their own parents and managing a career during this time, which adds stress to the situation. Some other reasons for low mood and vulnerability for depression may include:
Important hormones – estrogen and progesterone – are important for regulating sleep, mood and overall well-being, and when their levels decrease during menopause, this can cause mood swings, anxiety and depression.
Due to the physical symptoms including insomnia and night sweats, getting the required amount of sleep can be difficult during this time. This sleep deprivation can affect mental health including moodiness, increased irritability and cognitive difficulties.
Menopause can affect memory and also cause ‘brain fog’ which can lead to feelings of frustration and low self-esteem, especially in work situations.
Body Image and Self-Esteem:
Menopause can cause weight gain and body changes which means (for me, anyway) that your usual wardrobe doesn’t sit quite as well anymore.
Menopause typically means loss of fertility which can have a huge impact on mental health. Grieving your fertility may feel like a lonely time, but you are not alone.
Your body must work hard to replace the hormones it no longer naturally produces. This can lead to exhaustion and often a lack of motivation which can have a negative impact on your mental health, self-care regime and social life.
So what can we do about it? Whether you or someone you know is experiencing menopause early or later in life, it is helpful to research as much as possible about the subject to remain educated and informed about your options.
Easier said than done, right? Especially if you have a family, a household, a career and aging parents to look after. But even the smallest acts of self-care can have a big impact on mental health. Have a bath or shower before bed, meet a friend or colleague for coffee/tea, do some stretching or escape for a massage, acupuncture or some retail therapy.
Share your story
Whether it’s leaning on friends to share your experiences or booking a therapy session, it is always helpful to share your story. Getting support and building a community with people who understand your situation and empathize can help you feel less alone.
Health Eating and exercise
Eating a balanced diet rich in iron, vitamin D and calcium (like leafy green vegetables, fruit, tofu, salmon, beans, whole grains) and limit foods that have a lot of fat, sugar and salt (like chips, candy, fried foods). Limiting or cutting out caffeine and alcohol can also help with sleep and symptoms.
Research Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT replaces the hormones that your body is no longer making and can decrease menopausal symptoms. Please consult with your physician to discuss the benefits and risks.
Practice Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Techniques
Mindfulness means being intentionally present and acknowledging all feelings as they arise. Learning breathing techniques and progressive muscle relaxation help in stressful situations and promote overall emotional well-being.
Every person will experience menopause differently, it is so important to be compassionate with yourself or your loved one during this transformative time. By prioritizing your mental and physical health during this time, folx can navigate this phase of life by leaning on your community during this journey and embracing the changes that accompany menopause.