Managing Menopause – the power of the mind

Welcome to the second blog instalment of our three-part Managing Menopause series that will be featured in the lead up to SOF's Managing Menopause event on Wednesday 8th September.

The first blog discussed the positive role movement and exercise has on menopause management, and now we will take a look into how mental well-being can be used to manage symptoms too.

Many people are informed around the physical symptoms that come with menopause. The hot flushes, the disrupted sleep, fatigue, aches, pains and bloating. However, something that is discussed less frequently, but is just as common and difficult to manage, is the psychological symptoms.

When a woman’s physical health changes, mental health is generally concurrently impacted too. With a lot of taboo around the topic of menopause, women can feel under pressure and develop feelings of defeat, isolation, guilt, and frustration. Women are left questioning their bodies whilst they try to navigate the turbulent period of not feeling themselves. Am I handling menopause as well as others have? Did I do something wrong and cause my symptoms to be more intense? How do I get out of bed today when I feel this way? Will I ever feel like my younger self again?

To all menopause sufferers past and present, if you have ever asked yourself any of these questions, then you need to know you are not alone.

A large part of the psychological support that is required during menopause is professional help through the life transition itself. However, personal support from loved ones as the individual learns to adapt is critical too. Showing empathy can encourage someone experiencing menopause to be less hard on themselves, which can help them to worry less about their body and what their future and capabilities will look like moving forward.

Today’s society teaches people to fear and avoid ageing and stop and slow down, rather than embracing this stage of life and finding new ways to be active. When life expectancy was approximately 65 years old, this may have been justifiable. However, with the average woman now living until approximately 85 years old, menopause marks roughly only the halfway point of life. This means there is a huge period still ahead to look forward to.

To work through this stage positively and alleviate physical symptoms, women need to feel in the right frame of mind and address their psychological symptoms too. The strongest findings for management of psychological symptoms of menopause is using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT). Research has found that utilisation of these therapies is beneficial for the management of hot flushes, insomnia and more. It is important to note that implementing psychological therapy to help manage these symptoms, is not necessarily going to decrease the number of hot flushes that occur, but rather work to shift the level of distress associated with them. Although it does not completely stop menopause from occurring, it helps to make the experience less upsetting, meaning women can feel more at ease and confident moving through it.

Developing awareness and understanding the variables that can and can’t be controlled during menopause allows the mind to build more self-compassion, which is important in overcoming the mental challenge the physiological symptoms bring. For example, a drop in estrogen (female hormone) will affect the amount of serotonin (mood-stabilizer) that’s available in the body. This leads to disruptions in sleep and reductions in energy levels, and unfortunately, this often cannot be changed or avoided. However, instead of feeling defeated by this, women can use it to their advantage. If they feel they are underperforming at work, gym, or other day-to-day activities, they should acknowledge this is likely due to a chemical imbalance they are experiencing, rather than blaming it on their actions. This will add clarity to their life and help reduce habits of self-deprecation.

Like anything, challenging these thoughts and self-expectations takes time. Just as we need to do multiple repetitions of an exercise for physical strength, we must implement several strategies, multiple times, to help our minds find mental strength too. It all comes down to the individual and finding the method that works best, as it’s not one-size-fits-all.

For more information about the upcoming Managing Menopause workshop, click this link here. We are looking forward to diving more into the research behind the use of these therapies and exercises in menopausal women and exploring how beneficial it is to implement psychological management practices into day to day life.