This past week I held Zagreb’s first Menopause Cafe, an intimate discussion with a small group of women sharing what’s going on with them at this stage of our lives. The Menopause Cafe network was started by Rachel Weiss in Perth, Scotland, in 2017 as a safe space to discuss menopause and all things associated with it. It’s since grown from a local project to a global movement. When I was asked to host, I jumped on the opportunity.
What always strikes me in these small group conversations is how unique the perimenopause and menopause experience is. For some women, it’s a walk in the park. For others, it’s near debilitating.
To kick things off, I asked each woman to talk not just about what brought them to the cafe but also to name a symptom, other than hot flushes and night sweats, they are experiencing or are aware of. I think this exercise is important because, from my research and conversations with women across the globe, I know how few women are aware of the plethora of things they may experience at midlife.
Just in our small group, women named anxiety, sleeplessness, heart palpitations, short temper, dryness, tingling in the legs, depression, weight gain, and uncertainty. A great deal of uncertainty. This is because the peri-menopause to menopause transition coincides with a stage in our lives when we are aging, and the general dynamics of our personal and professional lives are changing. Kids are moving on and out, our relationship with our partners is evolving for better or worse, our parents are ill, aging, or have passed away, our work may be intensifying or winding down, and especially now, with coronavirus, the environment around us has evolved into something unrecognizable.
So how do you know if what you are experiencing is menopause-related or simply a result of the internal and external changes moving within and around you? You don’t. But you can start to weed through and isolate the potential causes when you understand, even at a high level, what is going on inside your body and make the behavioral changes required to meet these new midlife demands. What do I mean by this?
First, I would encourage you to get your blood checked if you haven’t already. A good doctor armed with this kind of information can tell you a lot about what is happening on the inside that you aren’t seeing. Think about it. When you are young, your hormones are responsible for the wild ride your body undergoes to reach sexual and reproductive age. Breasts, hair, menstruation, libido, to name just a few, not including the incredible emotional turmoil of adolescent emotions. It’s a whole body and mind upheaval. So why shouldn’t this next radical change of hormones not be equally as wild? Your machinery is completely rewiring, and it’s unpredictable.
Second, and I am a bit of a broken record on this one, you have to take care of yourself. The demands of aging on your body are a whole new ballgame. We live a lot longer than we used to, and if you want to have any quality of life as you age, you have to have a lifestyle that takes that into consideration. This means everything you already know – eating well, exercising, practicing some form of stress management and mindfulness, and educating yourself so you can be proactive with doctors and regular checks.
Third, you need to introduce simple habits and structures you can stick with. Otherwise, you won’t be able to tap into your body, make adjustments in response to something that isn’t working or understand whether a symptom stems from hormonal change, stressors, or an underlying issue that requires more attention. How would you know if you are constantly changing your diet or are so rigid you don’t listen to your body? Are you aggravated and angry because your kids are being a pain? Or because there is a hormonal imbalance. Are you anxious and depressed because of what’s happening in the world? Or because something inside you needs to be tweaked with a bit of formal healthcare. Are you eating bags of cookies in the afternoon because you are hungry? Or because you skipped breakfast and are just tired.
My one-on-one clients understand the importance of order because this is precisely what we work on. We keep healthy eating simple and add structure, support, and accountability. When my clients are on their feet again, they have the motivation, energy, and food confidence to get back in touch with their bodies. Armed with this knowledge, they go on to identify what is really happening and only then decide if they need medication, a drastic life change, or just to keep doing what they are doing because it’s all ok now. Until we isolate the symptoms, it’s just too chaotic to make informed choices. At the end of this process, many of my clients end up off their medications because what they thought were conditions were actually the result of lifestyle choices.
I am not saying it’s easy. When you feel lousy or out of control, starting is hard. But I can assure you it will only get harder and sometimes, it is near impossible to do on your own. This is why I launched Women Who Lead. I built the group program based on my own experience and training and studying one of the world’s largest action research programs for midlife women. It is specifically designed to inform you about menopause, hormones, and midlife changes, put structure, and teach you how to eat for energy and health to lose unhealthy weight and handle your symptoms. It works on your mind and spirit by helping you understand and incorporate practical, holistic lifestyle changes to ensure you take care of yourself and have the motivation and tools to do it over the long term.
Please don’t put yourself off. Time is not on our side, unfortunately. You deserve to feel good not just today but also long into the future.