You're hot, you're cold, you're mad, you're sad. So you ask, how could menopause not stress you out?
"Menopause, itself, is a stressful life event because of the various types of change that occur," says Dr. Jeff Brown, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive for Great Health.
Hot flashes are tightly linked with stress and anxiety, according to a six-year study published in Menopause. Researchers found that anxiety and stress preceded hot flashes among perimenopausal and post-menopausal women. Women with the highest levels of stress were more than five times (I repeat, five times!) more likely than normally stressed women to report hot flashes.
But what exactly is the deal with stress? Stress is your body's reaction to any kind of demand -- good or bad. While acute (aka brief) stress can make us more efficient and effective (think: deadlines), too much stress -- called chronic stress -- can be harmful to our mental and physical health.
"Chronic stress comes out of conditions, relationships or health issues that don't have an identifiable termination point or extend beyond the timeframe of what would typically be expected," Brown explains.
What's more, chronic stress can compromise our immune systems, making us more prone to illness. Between 50 and 60 percent of all medical issues originate from stress or stress-related events, he says.
So how can you tell the difference between a stressful situation and a real stress rut? Signs that you've hit your acute-to-chronic tipping point include changes in appetite and sleeping patterns, headaches, crying, irritability and even panic attacks, according to Brown.
"When it comes to stress and menopause, it's crucial to keep your finger on the pulse of physiological, psychological and relationship aspects of your life. Change is occurring and knowing yourself well is vital," he says.
Of course, you likely won't feel the exact same way pre-menopause as you do post-menopause, and some of that is natural. But there's no need to feel like a totally different woman, especially if that woman is stressed all of that time! You can slash your stress levels. Remember though, while your youth's stress-busting tactics (like bubble baths, exercise and meditating) still work wonders, you might have to go above and beyond them to beat stress during menopause -- especially when menopause is the actual stressor!
"Each woman who deals with menopause may find that her typical stress-coping strategies may need to be adjusted because of the high levels of stress that may be occurring as a result of physical changes during menopause," Brown says.
Here are the top three tips for fighting menopause-induced stress:
1. Take charge.
Don't let menopause and its symptoms take control of your day-to-day life, says Brown. Commit to an open and close relationship with a perimenopause and menopause specialist, healthcare provider or therapist who can help you manage your symptoms and find hormone happiness. "The alliance you have with a physician or therapist can mean the world to you during tough times," Brown says.
2. Invest in friends.
Misery loves company -- but so does happiness. Recognize the people in your life who are healthy for you and invest in those relationships. Healthy people are the ones you want to hang out with, and who make you feel better about yourself, Brown says. It is especially helpful spending time with the women in your life that have already traveled the menopausal road you're currently cruising. The support, understanding and even learning opportunities can help make this time in your life a little less stressful, he says.
3. Say no.
I know, this is a hard one for us people-pleasing, I-can-do-it-all types. While we women are famed for multitasking, it takes a huge amount of time and cognitive energy, and adds unneeded stress to an already stress-filled time of our lives, Brown says. During menopause we often don't have the same amount of energy we did in our twenties! For your health's sake, scale back a bit. Say no from time to time, and don't feel guilty about it afterward.
Don't let menopause stress suck the joy out of this amazing chapter of your life! Having conquered falling in love, raising children, launching a career and so much more, we have plenty of reason to be confident -- and most importantly, happy -- in our lives right now. Mourning the past and worrying about the future just deprives us of the joy in the present moment. And trust me, there is plenty of joy to be had in menopause!
Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
Time to Party! Join Ellen the first Monday of every month at 8 p.m. EST/ 5 p.m PST for her Menopause Mondays Google Hangouts: Where the Sisterhood helps the Sisterhood. You can ask Ellen your menopause questions at this free online event! Sign up here.
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Ellen Dolgen is an outspoken women's health and wellness advocate, menopause awareness expert, author, and speaker.
After struggling through the silence that surrounds menopause, Ellen resolved to help women reach out and end the confusion, embarrassment and less-than-lovely symptoms that come with "the change." Her passion to be a "sister" to all women fueled Ellen's book, Shmirshky: The Pursuit of Hormone Happiness. As a result of her women's wellness journey, and in response to the overwhelming thirst of her ever-expanding audience for empowering information, Ellen's weekly blog, Menopause Mondays™ was born.
Menopause Mondays™ allows Ellen an expansive platform from which she broadens her discussion of menopause, women's health and life as a menopausal (and fabulous!) woman. Her weekly Menopause News Flash provides a one-stop shop for the latest menopause and women's health news and research, allowing women the access and know-how needed to take charge of their health and happiness. In addition to Ellen's ever-growing social media presence, EllenDolgen.com has fast become "the place" on the web for informative and entertaining women's menopause and wellness engagement. In 2012 EllenDolgen.com was named first on the list of the "Best Menopause Blogs" by Healthline. Ellen is also a regular contributor to over a dozen leading women's health blogs.
Her motto is: Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
"Exercise is absolutely critical," says Susan Moores, a registered dietician. Exercise can be a powerful sleep aid, combating the sleep disturbances many women complain about. It has been shown to improve the whole gamut of menopause symptoms from hot flashes to mood swings. She says not to just focus on aerobic exercise, but also try strength training and relaxation techniques, such as yoga.
"Flaxseed falls in the same camp as soy for the phytoestrogens," says Susan Moores, a registered dietician. One study by the Mayo Clinic found the incidence of hot flashes was reduced as much as 50 percent by consuming flaxseed. It is also thought to be very promising because, along with phytoestrogens, it also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can aid in mood stabilization. According to A.D.A.M., an online health content provider, when compared to hormone replacement therapy, 40 grams of flaxseed was reported to be equally as effective in reducing hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood disturbances.
Two German studies have shown black cohosh to be effective in reducing hot flashes, according to A.D.A.M. One study in particular showed 80 percent of women saw a decrease in hot flashes while using black cohosh. However, no long-term studies have been done and there have been reports of side-effects including upset stomach and low blood pressure, caution the experts at Harvard Medical School.
This over-the-counter cure uses progesterone or progesterone-like compounds as the active ingredient. "Natural progesterone is a hormone and it works," says Dr. Marcie Richardson, obstetrician and gynecologist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. "Skin creams that contain extracts of Mexican wild yams have been widely promoted for natural menopause relief for years," says Harvard Medical School. However, because of variation among products and the individual nature of skin's responsiveness, this method is not recommended by the North American Menopause Society, says Harvard. There's no safety data on this hormone, Dr. Richardson cautions. Learn more about the risks and benefits here.
Red clover is often used to reduce vaginal dryness and decrease hot flashes. The effectiveness of red clover is thought to be due to a plant-chemical, isoflavones, which has an estrogen-like effect in the body. However, according to Harvard Medical School, research results have been disappointing. Two studies published in the journal 'Menopause' found that women fared no better with red clover than a placebo for both hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Learn more about red clover here.
Fish isn't just delicious; it contains a valuable ingredient that may help stabilize your mood swings too -- omega-3 fatty acids. There have been some good studies to attest that omega-3 can help improve mood, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. There's also growing research that omega-3 fatty acids help fight heart disease. The best way to add this key ingredient to your diet is by eating fatty fish like salmon, tuna and trout.
You wouldn't necessarily think that sticking needles in your body would be a helpful way to cure menopause symptoms, but when combined with other treatments, it can be helpful. Some controlled studies have shown some effectiveness in some woman for hot flashes, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. According to A.D.A.M., "both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful part of a treatment plan" for many illnesses, including menopausal symptoms.
There has been a study, which showed a slight effect in decreasing hot flashes for women using vitamin E, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. Along with reducing hot flashes vitamin E may carry with it extra benefits, such as fending off macular degeneration, lowering blood pressure, and slowing the aging of cells and tissues according to A.D.A.M.
Who hasn't felt the negative effects of drinking too much alcohol, such as trouble sleeping or feeling flushed? This goes double for women during menopause. The thing about alcohol is: women metabolize it worse than men and we metabolize it worse as we age, says Dr. Marcie Richardson. According to Harvard Medical School, alcohol can act as a trigger for hot flashes. And if that wasn't enough to ward you off the bottle, studies show that consuming alcohol regularly ups your risk for other conditions like breast cancer and stroke.
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