Embracing the menopause
Time waits for no woman, but that doesn’t mean change comes easy – let alone the change. That’s why we spoke to our Expert in Residence, Dr Rhian Lewis, to better understand the psychological impact of menopause.
By Becky Hardy
Whatever we may say to our friends, however many jokes we crack about the ‘flushes’, or the faux (or real) relief we may express that there definitely won’t be any ‘surprise packages’ now, the menopause is a scary time.
It’s the most definitive end of an era that we get, physically speaking. It’s our bodies saying to us, beyond a shadow of a doubt: ‘you’ve changed. And you can’t go back’. We’re forced to confront this change whether we like it or not – not whenever’s most convenient, but when the menopause tells us we have to. For some that can be as early as in their thirties or, occasionally, even their twenties. And more than the physical changes we experience, we also have to confront one overriding fact above every other: that our youth is now officially behind us.
In a society where youth and beauty will get you anywhere you want to go, menopause can bring with it a period of grief. And that’s ok. We’re allowed to grieve for our past; for the futures we dreamed of that may now never happen, and for the choices we’ve made in our past that we may regret. But what is often (we’re tempted to say, purposefully) overshadowed within our culture is that growing older brings with it new opportunities. And these opportunities can be just as incredible, if not more so, than the ones we’ve experienced when we were younger.
Whatever our personal standpoint on the menopause, we all have to confront ‘the change’ one day – so, best to be prepared when we do! That’s why we’ve enlisted our Expert in Residence, Psychologist Dr Rhian Lewis from The Clearing, to help us better understand the impact that the menopause can have on our mental health, as well as the pressures we – and our youth-dominated society – put on ourselves. So if we can’t grow older gracefully, at least we can do it happily!
What impact can the menopause have on our mental health?
The psychological impact of the peri-menopausal and menopausal phases of life can be enormous. The hormone shifts alone can trigger major mood swings and leave many women experiencing significant depressive episodes. This, in tandem with the losses that we may feel in relation to our physical appearance, fertility and perceived value in society, can make this time really emotionally challenging and therefore incredibly potent when it comes to our psychological growth.
Which do you think has the most significant impact on our emotions – the physical changes of the menopause or society’s perceptions around women getting older?
Both are significant. The hormonal changes that our bodies must adapt to are widely known to impact mood and most women will have already noticed this throughout their usual menstrual cycle. The extent to which we’re affected by peri-menopausal hormone changes will vary from woman to woman. Some women won’t notice any particular mood fluctuations, whereas others can be taken to the point of suicidal thinking because the hormone shifts have caused them to feel so low.
Alongside this, how we think and feel about the fact that we are peri-menopausal or menopausal will also determine how our mental health is affected. The menopause is absolutely a confrontation with the ageing process for any woman. In a culture that prizes youth so highly, embracing ageing is no easy task.
How we feel about getting older and importantly, how we feel about how our lives have panned out so far, will play a role in how challenged we are by the menopausal process. For example, if we always wanted children but, for whatever reason, that hasn’t come to pass, it’s likely that peri-menopausal symptoms are going to be really emotionally triggering, as they force us to grieve that hoped-for future.
What professional support would be most useful to women struggling with the changes that come with menopause?
Whilst many women choose pharmacological support to help them weather the physical changes of menopause – whether that be HRT or more naturopathic options – there is a growing body of literature that suggests that, with the right support, this transitional time in a woman’s life can be both psychologically and spiritually enriching. In these circles, rather than seeing the menopause as an end point, they see it as a rebirth into the second phase of life; a powerful transformative time that can liberate women from the internalised rules, insecurities and value judgements that imprisoned them in their youth.
For those women who are interested in leaning into this transformation to find out what it means for them, or who are open to using this life phase to clear out the psyche so they can embrace post-menopausal life, depth psychotherapy would be a great option.
What can women do themselves to approach this stage of their lives more positively?
Knowledge is power, so do some research. Understanding what you’re going through is half the battle and it’s amazing how much easier it is to withstand a depressive or irritable spell when we know that it is hormone related and will, therefore, pass.
I’d also recommend that you start tracking your symptoms to help you get a feel for any patterns and see if any lifestyle changes would help make a difference. Exercise and nutrition are really important and can help to level out the impact of hormone shifts. There are some great yoga sets and breathing techniques that can help you to feel more balanced during this life phase that you can find on YouTube. Taking a magnesium supplement is also thought to help reduce menopausal depression, anxiety and insomnia, so that’s definitely worth a try.
There can be a lot of negativity in the discourse around the menopause. Reframing it in your mind will help you to embrace this time and work with the changes instead of working against them. One of the best books I’ve come across for this is Joan Borysenko’s A Woman’s Book Of Life. She offers a new way of approaching the menopause, as well as helpful tips on how to care for yourself during this time.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the support available at The Clearing, visit their website