The menopause and COVID-19
2020 has been challenging for even the most robust. The implications of lockdown and COVID-19 run deep and could affect many of us for many years to come.
Menopause and emotions
You may not consider yourself as someone who has ever had mental health issues or problems with your mood or emotions. If you are of a certain age, as you move into the perimenopausal part of your life, you may find yourself struggling with your feelings in a way you have never felt before.
You are not alone and there is a reason for this. As your levels of oestrogen and progesterone reduce it can lead to subtle but steady changes in your mood, with increased levels of anxiety and lower energy levels. Lack of sleep and mood swings can also take their toll. Lower levels of oestrogen have been linked to irritability, stress, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating. Hello brain fog! It’s even thought that the drop in oestrogen may affect how your body manages serotonin and norepinephrine, which have both been linked to depression.
I was talking to a friend recently who was describing an incident that had occurred. Her sister and her are both caring for their elderly mother and her sister had phoned the Pensions Department without realising she was not the named person with authority to do so. As a result, the Pensions Department had phoned my friend, concerned about suspicious activity.
My friend described how she had felt unbelievably anxious about the phone call for no good reason. She said she felt so anxious she felt unable to return the call or even think about it and was trying to push it out of her mind, albeit that she knew she had done absolutely nothing wrong. She’s 47 and this level of anxiety is common during the perimenopausal phase. Interestingly, just by discussing it, and realising what might be the cause, it brought her an instant and renewed sense of calm.
On a more light-hearted note, another friend and I were discussing her recent visit to the doctor. The doctor asked how long she’d been on HRT and why she started taking it. Oh, the irony that she couldn’t remember the answer to either question! When you’re menopausal, little incidents like these suddenly become the norm, so much so, you can start to question your own sanity as you go upstairs for the third time because you keep forgetting what you’re looking for!
Don’t underestimate the impact of 2020
In a pre-COVID world, the menopause was bad enough. The changes in your hormones often coincide with other big changes in your life. Children leaving home, parents who need care, an expanding waistline or a realisation (as you look at your beautiful children) that you’ve lost that glow of youth.
But in 2020, we’ve also had to add in the stress and pressure of being at home 24/7 with family, the ongoing worry about loved ones, lost jobs and finances, a second spike and social distancing, as well as the disappointment of lost holidays.
As women, our “to do” list is also often never ending and the list of things to do can feel relentless. But that almost pales into insignificance when we think about the emotional rollercoaster we’ve been on this year. A rollercoaster that many of us are still unable to get off, not even for a short holiday or by treating ourselves with a day at the spa with friends or a good day’s shopping.
Winning back your Joie de Vivre
In my last post, I talked about ways of managing the symptoms of the menopause, including lifestyle changes, changes to your diet and exercise regime. I also talked a little about the approach of Chinese medicine and acupuncture. In particular, I talked about the importance of focusing on your “yin” which is all about slowness, gentle breathing and quiet introspection.
In addition to the lifestyle changes described, yoga, meditation and acupuncture can also be a great help when it comes to managing your mood and reclaiming some of your joie de vie!
Yoga for menopause
Yoga is a calming and rehabilitative form of exercise for anyone but particularly for perimenopausal or menopausal women. It’s a good way to maintain body strength, tone and flexibility without getting stressed, exhausted and overly hot.
Practising yoga on a regular basis, can help with low moods, stress and anxiety. And the good news is that as you get into the routine of yoga, the benefits extend beyond the yoga practice itself as you bring the yoga techniques into your day.
Some of the many benefits include:
· Controlled breathing techniques can help you control your mood, reduce anxiety levels and quieten the mind. In fact, gentle breathing exercises can even improve sleep quality and help you focus on the moment.
· Specific yoga poses can help both to reduce stress, relieve joint pain and promote oxygenation, blood circulation and flexibility.
· Yoga can also leave you feeling re-energised and some women say it helps with hot flushes.
· Weight gain can be a problem during the menopause but practising yoga three times a week can support your weight management as you regain a sense of calm, control and mobility.
· Finally, many of the restorative poses can help to relax the nervous system and may improve the functioning of the endocrine system (especially the pituitary gland and the thyroid), which helps the body adapt to hormonal fluctuations and changes.
If you’re not sure which form of yoga will be best for you, just get in touch and I’ll be happy to help.
Gratitude and mindfulness
I was talking above about the rollercoaster of life and the intensity of this year, and another practice which can help enormously is spending a few minutes each day practising gratitude, meditating, journaling or just being mindful. That may sound like a big ask but it really isn’t. There are all sorts of tools that can help from meditation apps, to beautifully bound journals that take you through a process.
In my experience, it’s best to set the bar low to start with and try and aim for just 5 minutes a day, every day. You might combine a few moments of focussed breathing (see my recent video on circular breathing here) and then identify three things you’re grateful for and why. Or you may find journaling is more of your thing.
By just taking time each day to quieten your mind, observe the things around you (from birdsong to blue sky, or even the sound of rain or the sound of voices) it can help improve your mental focus and clarity and reinstate your love of life.
Of course, I’m passionate about acupuncture and I can’t write about the menopause without mentioning the benefits acupuncture can bring. In my last post I spoke about the increasing body of evidence that supports my experience that acupuncture can really help ease menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, skin and hair problems as well as emotional problems.
I certainly find that many women report that they find acupuncture a profoundly calming and relaxing experience, which leaves them feeling mentally and physically restored with a sense of emotional wellbeing and balance. And that in itself can be a huge benefit in times such as these when emotions are running so high.