Today 1 in every three women in our workplaces are menopausal so why is menopause still taboo? 80% of women in the West report symptoms yet 70% claim to be unwilling to discuss their menopause with their friends or partner let alone their boss.
The menopause happens to all women and is just another stage in life’s rich journey. However, it’s not something most of us feel comfortable talking about, and it’s only recently that it has been getting more mention in the media but even then is it ever positive? Also, doctors often automatically hand out pills for it as though it is an illness rather than a natural phase of life.
A New Beginning
We need to talk about the menopause and make sure we build the capacity to accept, tolerate and transform our mind states that in turn will allow us to thrive through menopause. As menopause expert Irene Hatton frequently points out ’the menopause is a journey, not a disease.’ Women are programmed to adopt the attitude that is a time of loss – the loss of fertility, the loss of hormones, the ’empty-nest’ syndrome. In many other societies across Asia and Africa, this time life is seen as special and positive. A time when there is a shift away from caring for others and to one of wiser older counselor where life experience make a significant and valuable contribution to the family and society.
In many western cultures, menopause occurs within the context of our youth-obsessed culture. This cultural context means that women can experience difficulties not only the symptoms but a sense of loss of identity and feelings of invisibility. This in turn can significantly impact a woman’s sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
Thinning hair and weight gain affect both men and women, so they can’t be blamed on the menopause! While acknowledging that women can have a difficult menopause transition with symptoms that require medical intervention, changing how we feel about the menopause and ourselves as menopausal women might help us survive or better still thrive through it.
The Facts and Symptoms
The menopause has been known and recorded since Roman times. However, the word menopause was first used in the 1820s and was a combination of two Greek words; men’s meaning monthly and pauses meaning cessation.
Everyone’s transition is unique concerning the length and types of symptoms though the average menopause lasts about 5 years. There are two phases, peri or pre-menopause and menopause itself. You have officially gone through menopause when you have not had a menstrual period for twelve months. Peri-menopause can start at any time, and often you’re experiencing menopause-like symptoms in your early forties which much earlier than you’d expect. The peri-menopausal years usually last 2-6 years but could last longer and this when your hormones go on a rollercoaster ride. Many women think they are just stressed but the mood swings, the tiredness and more are also signs that you are peri-menopausal.
Some women sail through menopause but the majority experience a number of symptoms that include physical symptoms like Hot flushes (flashes, trouble sleeping, headaches and migraines, aching joints, muscles and feet, weight gain and diminished sex drive and vaginal dryness. The psychological symptoms can include irritability and forgetfulness as well as anxiety and feelings of insecurity. If you have pre-disposition to depression, this can resurface during the menopause.
Benefits of Mindfulness and Compassion
Menopause is part of life. It can bring drastic changes. The main one being the cessation of period and the end of childbearing days. The hormonal shifts that occur can take as long as ten or even fifteen years. So how do you manage this transition with greater ease and grace.?
It is important to understand why we might have some tough times when we’re going through peri-menopause and menopause.
Many women are afraid of this part of their life and try to hide from it. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to acknowledge the profound spiritual aspects of self. When you avoid your feelings or attempt running away from the loss of connectedness with yourself and perhaps others around you this more of a soul crisis where you may feel lost, and everything can feel like it’s falling apart. However, sometimes when things fall apart, you’re in the middle of being reborn in a sense. If you like this, mindfulness and compassion practices can help you find greater balance and clarity-
Mindfulness doesn’t remove the symptoms of menopause, but it does help you to deal with them more calmly and compassionately.
On the practical side of dealing with the symptoms of the menopause, many recent studies have demonstrated the benefits of mindfulness. A study from the University of Massachusetts showed that women experienced a reduction of up to 40% in the number of hot flashes after taking a mindfulness course. Moreover, in some studies, women have reported that they’re less bothered by their symptoms. They have a greater sense of wellbeing. Mindfulness doesn’t remove the symptoms of menopause, but it does help you to deal with them more calmly and compassionately. Mindfulness practice encourages you to take a radical perspective on all your menopause experiences. And that by bringing an attitude of gentle and non-judgemental curiosity to every experience you build the capacity to interrupt the spiral of stress which can come with pain or difficult symptoms.
If you are like most women, you often view your body as an object, rather than as an aspect of your whole self. Most of your body focused thoughts may revolve around changing, depriving, comparing, cajoling, punishing, or improving. The problem isn’t your desire for change… it is that a lack of self-compassion and high levels of self-criticism that often accompany body image. This can lead to a variety of other psychological problems such as panic, social phobia, PTSD, depression, generalized anxiety.
Turning towards our menopause experience can be revealing in that often you find that it is not as bad as you feared. Women who cultivate self-compassion through the loving-kindness meditations have been found to have reduced menopause symptoms and a greater sense of wellbeing. The process of self-compassion requires that you step outside of yourself to give yourself kindness and see your experience as part of the broader human experience. This more objective stance allows you to put your personal experience into greater perspective. And the acceptance and kindness rather than disdain that follows improve your overall mental health and body image. Practicing self-compassion during the menopause seems to reduce the tendency to avoid negative emotions and therefore increases your potential for better emotion regulation. Beyond reducing self-criticism, self-compassion is independently central to reducing stress, depression, AND it seems to buffer against negative body image. It is associated with less body dissatisfaction, preoccupation, and worries. It starts with accepting where you are wholeheartedly, even if you simultaneously want to change.
By practicing mindfulness and compassion towards ourselves, we become better at dealing with this significant life change and transition. We are powerfully enhancing our health, wellness, and sense of connectedness. With a proactive approach and a shift in mental attitude, you have a much better chance of thriving through the menopause.