Menopause, midlife - it is NOT a crisis even if it feels like it
When Menopause Feels Like a Midlife Crisis
Menopause can be a challenging time, but it doesn't have to be the end of life as you know it. Taking control of your symptoms and reframing your state of mind can make midlife easier or even enjoyable.
By Amy Paturel
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Hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, insomnia, hair loss — no wonder so many women dread menopause. Just as you experienced dramatic physical and emotional changes when your hormones turned on during puberty, you'll go through another set of major shifts when your hormones start to drop off, driving you into menopause.
"Mood changes can be caused by sleep changes, which can be related to the frequency of hot flashes," says Anne Ford, MD, ob-gyn at Duke University Medical Center. "A thermoregulatory mechanism that estrogen has on your brain helps to regulate your thermostat." Unfortunately, when estrogen levels start to decline in menopause, your body temperature shifts, causing the domino effect of menopausal symptoms to set in.
Add to that the increased stress of midlife — aging parents, demanding jobs, and child care responsibilities — and it’s no surprise that so many women struggle during their menopausal years. In fact, one recent study found that middle-aged women have the lowest well-being of any age group or gender. But that doesn’t have to be the case for you.
Knowing What to Expect Can Help You Cope
Menopause doesn't have to mean a midlife crisis, but how you deal with it does depend on the way you look at it. You can see midlife as a time to panic, or you can see it as a transitional time, an opportunity for personal growth. Some cultures actively embrace menopause, and the transition actually elevates a woman's social status. Imagine that! Hit menopause, and instantly you're treated with greater respect.
But in the United States, the constant bombardment of images and media focused on youth, perfection, and beauty can lead many women to view menopause — and the changes that go along with it — as a crisis. It's no wonder that studies link the menopausal transition with major depressive episodes in women living in the United States.
Indeed, when menopause sets in, you may feel a little off balance, like you're not dealing with a full deck. Some women even have trouble remembering where they put their keys. "There's a little slowing of memory, which for professional women can be very disturbing," says Geoffrey Redmond, MD, director of the Hormone Center of New York. "That sudden loss of well-being can be difficult if women don't know what's going on."
Talking to a counselor or to other women going through menopause can help. Over time, you might even look at the menopausal transition in a positive light. After all, there are a lot of good things that come with menopause — you're done raising babies, you can enjoy your own life again, and you don't have to worry about pregnancy prevention (once you're officially in menopause). Menopause, at least in that sense, can be very liberating.
Tips for Taking Control
Here are a few ways to manage menopause more successfully.
Exercise and stay active.One way to continue feeling physically and emotionally fit during menopause is by taking steps to get moving. "If you get 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, five days a week, you'll have a much better time dealing with your menopausal symptoms than if you don't," says Dr. Ford. Exercise also improves mood, increases energy, and can help you sleep better. Studies have shown that exercising regularly reduces hot flashes by 50 percent and improves heart and bone health to boot — both of which become compromised as estrogen levels drop.
Focus on your diet.It's also important to pay special attention to your diet in menopause. What you put in your mouth has a profound effect on your hormones (and by extension symptoms such as hot flashes, depression, anxiety, low libido, and insomnia). The last thing you want to do is give your body inappropriate fuel when it's already running a bit sluggishly. Studies show, for instance, that increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids and folate enhances mood and staves off hormone-related depression. Eating a healthful snack or meal every few hours (preferably one containing folate-rich leafy greens and/or fatty fish) also helps keep blood sugar levels in check, which helps reduce irritability, mood swings, and other menopausal side effects.
Ramp up your sex life.Chances are, the better you eat and the more you move, the sexier you'll feel — and that may lead to a more active sex life. Getting busy between the sheets is associated with a slew of benefits, ranging from improved circulation to enhanced mood. If sex is painful, use a water-based lubricant or ask your doctor about vaginal estrogen creams.
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