Attitudes to menopause

What does menopause mean to you?  Is it a normal life event?  An illness? Something to get through? Natural part of an ageing process?  A medical condition?

How we perceive our experience of the menopause actually matters and can impact on our overall experience.  Research suggests that our attitude to menopause is often related to what we actually feel, physically and psychologically.  For example, it is experienced differently across cultures. So it seems that women in general are having less problems with the menopause beyond the western world and there are a number of explanations for this relating to climate, life-style, diet and cultural taboos. 

What is menopause?

Menopause is now talked about more than ever before, thanks to media attention, with many celebrities on board with the conversation, and more information in the public domain.  However, there are still  myths out there and confusion about symptoms and available treatment. 

Basically, menopause means the last menstrual period.  Natural menopause takes place when the ovaries stop producing oestrogen and progesterone, our female hormones, any time from 45 onwards although the average age is 51.  Then there’s the women who experience ‘early menopause’ which is associated with damage or removal of the ovaries due to surgery or chemotherapy.  

There are two stages of menopause: peri-menopause is the stage from first experiencing symptoms to post-menopause, which is the stage following the last period.

Physical symptoms

Symptoms vary between individuals and depending on whether you’re at peri or post-menopausal stage.  It’s a time most commonly associated with physical symptoms, including hot flushes, insomnia, night sweats, palpitations and joint pain as well as uro-genital symptom such as urine infections, vaginal dryness and diminished libido commonly associated with the post stage.

Psychological symptoms

Although much of the attention relates to the physical symptoms, it’s important to understand the psychological impact of menopause.  Feelings of anxiety, mood swings, irritability, low self-esteem and depression…?  You’re not alone.  Whilst hormonal changes are thought to be responsible for some of these, we know menopause doesn’t take place in isolation and social context is important.  It often comes at a time of life change, family change. Those with children may be experiencing empty nest syndrome.  Many now too are at the time in their life when they will be carers for an adult parent.  This at the same time as working longer.  Often referred to as ‘Women in the Middle’.

Tips and strategies

It’s important to be prepared for ageing generally but specifically for the changes around the transition to menopause and after. Making changes to your lifestyle by taking responsibility for your health should start now.  Keeping active and managing weight are associated with better health outcomes related to cancer and chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and dementia. Also, reaching out for support and advice for symptom management, including whether or not to take HRT.

Managing stress and anxiety

We’ve already talked about the impact of menopause on emotions which can be more difficult to manage than physical symptoms.  Most self-management techniques start with lifestyle changes and an acceptance of the menopause process.  It can be a time of confusion when we are struggling with a new identity.  Self-compassion is important.  Be kind to yourself and treat yourself as you would treat someone you care about.  Learn to care about yourself.

Serenity and Power

And finally, acceptance??

This is a time to begin

Your life.  It could be new.

The sheer not fitting in

With the old who envy you

And the young who want to win,

Not knowing false from true,

Means you have liberty

Denied to their extremes

At last now you can be

What the old cannot recall

And the young long for in dreams,

Yet still include them all.

‘Accepted’ Elizabeth Jennings Collected Poems

Dr Gill Smith 30.5.22