The first time I heard anyone discuss menopause publicly was while watching an episode of Sex and the City. In season 3, episode 8, the vivacious character Samantha is waiting on her missed period, panicking that "her time is up." In a show dedicated to the youthful ideal of living fast and carefree, menopause was suddenly painted as the inevitable enemy of being young and limitless. While I applaud the show for exposing menopause as a natural part of a woman's life, menopause became the monster hiding under the bed - the most undesirable thing a woman could face. It may not be today, and maybe not tomorrow, but someday, it will one day come to get you. That's the thing about menopause; it's one of the predictable events of a woman's life.
It's been 13 years since that episode of Sex and the City aired, and the acceptance of menopause feels like it's been lumbering along at an awkwardly slow pace. It was only when the characters aged and two Sex and the City movies were released that menopause started to get some notice. If characters as vibrant as those on Sex and the City can experience menopause and still be glamorous, interesting, and successful, then it can't be all that bad. However, there still isn't much room for ageing women in a world that's hyper-fixated on the attainment and maintenance of youth. Because of this, we're often swept to the side while society secretly hopes we will politely have our hot flashes hidden at home.
I'm determined to change that. I think women can look forward to a brilliant future, even with menopause. As Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City said, "Enjoy yourself. That's what your 20s are for. Your 30s are to learn the lessons. Your 40s are to pay for the drinks." I would add that your 50s are for being vibrant and confident in your skin. The best way to achieve that is to support women with the knowledge and resources they need to make better decisions about their health and wellness.
When you think about it, menopause isn't technically scary; it's just the first anniversary of not having your period. Once you miss your cycle for an entire year, you can say that you've graduated into menopause - congratulations! Your prize for living this long and experiencing the cessation of your cycle is obvious; you'll have no more period to contend with.
We may think that menopause is one single event. However, perimenopause is your body's lingering journey towards menopause, which can start as soon as your early forties and stick around for up to ten years. It's why women as young as their early forties may be left bamboozled as to why they are experiencing strange new symptoms when they are "too young" for menopause and still have their period.
Although technically not scary, menopause can get downright uncomfortable with the sometimes unpleasant physical signs of hormonal change, but it's worth saying that every experience is unique. Some women can experience insomnia, difficulty sleeping, mood changes, chills, night sweats, hot flashes, and/or weight gain. The degree to which a woman experiences these symptoms depends on the woman.
Here are some practical ways you can deal with your menopausal symptoms head-on
Talk about how you feel
How you feel about menopause can be complex and variable. For some women, menopause might be a hallmark of bliss, a time when they feel liberated and free. The pressure to conceive has lifted, or it's when they are confident and feel comfortable with their position in life. For other women, it can be an emotionally difficult time where they feel depressed or grieve as their body changes and becomes unfamiliar. Whatever you feel, it's your journey, and normal to be unsure how to process this life-changing event. If you notice those feelings spiralling or growing in volume, it's wise to seek a support group of friends or a licensed professional who may be able to help navigate this road with you.
Get some sleep
Getting more sleep is a peculiar piece of advice because most of us think we are doing everything that we can get our shut-eye. However, bad habits like staying up late to watch movies or scrolling on our phones can disrupt our melatonin production, making it difficult to feel sleepy. The result is the extra dose of caffeine the following day, which can, in turn, disrupt your sleep. Even one night of disrupted or minimal sleep can lead to burning fewer calories the next day - which, over time, can impact your waistline.
You can create better sleep habits by creating a routine that you follow each night. Walk your sleep time back to see what bedtime will give you eight hours of rest before your morning alarm. Then, thirty minutes before that bedtime, dim the lights and turn off all screens thirty to encourage the release of melatonin. Next, calm your mind by either practising some breathing or meditation and get into bed.
Stress is the evil twin to lack of sleep. The less sleep you get, the more stressful things feel the day. The more stress you experience throughout the day, the worse your sleep might be at night.
Stress can encourage a state called "hyperphagic," which means you tend to eat more when stressed and trigger the perfect storm for emotional eating. If you're interested in keeping weight gain to a minimum, reducing your stress is a great place to start.
Some activities that help you reduce stress are meditative breathing and meditation, yoga, Pilates, walking outdoors, and spending time with friends. These forms of activity not only reduce your stress but also boost your mood and help you sleep better at night.
Include mood-boosting foods in your diet
If foods can make us feel unhealthy, sluggish, and guilty, it's only logical that there are foods that can add some pep to our step. Mood changes are a hallmark of menopause, so finding ways to incorporate these foods will do your body some good. Whole grains boost our serotonin which is the crucial hormone in feelings of well-being, and Vitamin B can calm the nervous system, which can improve our moods. Some foods containing vitamin B are wild rice, leafy greens, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, polenta, and whole grains.
Other useful nutrients to consume are calcium-rich foods, Omega 3, and probiotics. At the same time, limit foods that wreak havoc on your body. These foods are processed and high in sugar, salt, or fat, which can encourage you to eat more and increase inflammation. Minimize caffeine, which can disrupt sleep, cause heartburn, and trigger hot flashes. Unfortunately, alcohol is a depressant, so if you're experiencing shifting moods, it's best to avoid something that will impact your mood.
Find hot-flash-friendly foods
Approximately 75% of women experience hot flashes. Soy-based foods have been "reported" to help, as they can contain something called isoflavones. Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen, which can act like estrogen found in your body. Consuming 50-100 mg/day of isoflavones from food seems to be a safe amount that helps to relieve hot flashes. This would be equivalent to consuming one of the following:
• 1 to 11⁄2 cups soy milk 4-5 oz tempeh
• 4-5 oz tofu
• 1⁄2 cup edamame
• 3-4 tbsp miso 1⁄4-1/2 cup soy nuts.
Jen Thomas is a Chennai-based weight-loss coach