Dr Michelle O'Driscoll: The emotional challenges of the Menopause (Part 3)

In this feature, the final part of a three part series, Dr Michelle O'Driscoll  talks about the emotional challenges of the Menopause
Dr Michelle O'Driscoll: The emotional challenges of the Menopause (Part 3)
Find your tribe... people who you can talk to during this time.

WELCOME to Part 3, the final installment of the WOW Menopause Mini-Series.

We began in Part 1 by developing an understanding of what menopause actually is, and how to recognise its symptoms. Part 2 explored some practical and pharmacological ways to manage those symptoms, and this week we will take a closer look at why the menopause is so challenging emotionally, along with some ways to change the narrative and empower ourselves during this time.

Apart from the direct effect that menopause has on our mood physiologically; it can also take a significant psychological and emotional toll. It marks the end of our reproductive lives, which can trigger grief in many women to some degree. It throws a multitude of challenging symptoms at us which we need to navigate while simultaneously juggling all the existing balls of daily life, such as raising families, empty nests, career transitions, and relationship issues.

And although the menopause, or “the M word” as it’s so often referred to is thankfully becoming less of a taboo topic, it still very much tends to be shouldered alone.

Most women just “get on with it”, and suffer in silence. Below is some food for thought about how to approach this emotional challenge in a different way.

Reframe your reality

While there is no denying that menopause is tough, is it possible to change your internal narrative slightly on certain aspects of it? Cognitive reframing is a very useful tool used in psychology, used to retrain the brain. It’s a process where negative thoughts are replaced with similar statements of a more positive outlook. Is this “the end of an era,” or perhaps it could instead be viewed as “an exciting new chapter,“ when you get to start planning your retirement, or take up a new hobby.

Is this a time where your body has “begun to fail you,” or is it a time where you get to experience “the delight” of not having to deal with pesky periods anymore? (And two years after your last period, contraception is no longer an issue to be contending with either!)

Seek out the silver linings where you can, and see the beneficial effect that this can have.

Ride the waves

A lot of extra psychological suffering is caused during the menopause by the (natural) desire to push symptoms away and not have to experience them at all. Unfortunately, that’s usually not an option!

Hence, mindfulness-based approaches to menopausal symptoms are being increasingly researched, and some promising studies have found that mindfulness practice i.e. being present to the symptoms as they occur, without judging them, are associated with an overall reduction in their severity. Imagine being able to notice inevitable discomforts such as hot flashes, and allow them to arise, run their course and then pass rather than getting excessively distressed by them. How liberating would that be? Riding the waves, so to speak! Mindfulness practices have also shown particular benefits in easing symptoms of Irritability, depression and anxiety during this time.

Rally the troops

Shouldering this menopause gig alone is no joke, and the stress caused by trying to hide a hot flash or putting on a brave face if anxiety is eating you away only adds to the overwhelm. The best possible thing you can do is to have others on board, taking away that extra pressure of having to always bring your A -game. That doesn’t mean offering a daily update to all and sundry on every symptom you’re experiencing today! But it does mean subtly informing those that you’re comfortable informing so that at the most challenging of times, an explanation won’t be needed; your colleague will recognise that tell-tale blush creeping up your neck and cover for you while you pop to the bathroom to freshen up. Your daughter will understand why Mum is particularly irritable today, and will give you the space (or the hug!) that you need. Your partner will be sympathetic to the brain fog that you’re experiencing, and won’t berate you for forgetting yet again to put out the bins!

And find your “Menopause Tribe” while you’re at it! That may be existing friends who are at the same life-stage, or new acquaintances found through the many available face-to-face and online support groups. Use one another as an emotional balm; a problem shared is a problem halved.

Remember… 

So many women report that during this time of life it can feel like you’ve lost a piece of yourself.

Remember that this is normal; almost every other woman that you know either has or will go through the menopause if she is lucky enough to reach that age. But this too shall pass. Remind yourself that these symptoms are not permanent. There will be life after the menopause. In fact, there is plenty of life during the menopause, life hasn’t stopped and it’s doesn’t have to pass you by.

And most importantly, as challenging as this is, your daily functioning should not be severely impacted by the menopause. Don’t lose precious years to it. Do what you need to do to make it manageable, whether that’s basic practical strategies, or enlisting the help of your GP.

Dr Michelle O'Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company.

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