09/12/2014 01:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Best Birthday Gift You'll Ever Receive: Self-Compassion

Compassionate Eye Foundation/Katie Huisman via Getty Images

2013-12-27-Ellen_Dolgen_Menopause_Monday.jpgAt this time of life, hormones are on the way down... or already there. After years of feeling like yourself, you feel different. What happened?

Meet the new normal, with its accompanying hot flashes, anxiety and sleepless nights. How to handle it all without going all... menopausal? The best place to start is within. Be kind to yourself and give yourself a break. Things, they are ‘a changing.’

As I turn 61 this month, my gift to myself is self-compassion. Now that I’m actually post-menopausal, I am paying more attention to my own needs. Sound selfish? It isn’t. While navigating the tricky waters of menopause, thinking of yourself first helps you be kinder to others. Besides, most of us are much more self-reliant than we were when the menstruation journey began and our moms or older sisters lent us a hand.

A friend of mine swears that the Miss Deb booklet left on her bed by her mother was the best dollar her mom ever spent! It was a pamphlet for ‘little girls who would mature soon and pretty much took the onus off her mother having the ‘birds and the bees’ talk.

Perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause are far more difficult to comprehend, and even Miss Deb wouldn’t be able to explain their ins and outs in a small pamphlet. One thing is for sure -- charting your own destiny can be extremely liberating providing you first lighten up -- on yourself! Have some self-compassion.

Be All You Can Be

This simple slogan used in U.S. Army commercials for 21 years inspired a generation to seek its full potential. 

Menopause triggered that same desire in me -- to be the best I can be -- right now! Meaning, you can either shrink away into nothing or decide that you’re still young enough to remain relevant. Hmmm... decisions, decisions!

Adversity can only keep you down if you let it or, as Henry Ford put it, “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”

Make the decision to live a purposeful life using the tools you own now and not the ones from 30 years ago.  The only constant in life is change.

My own purposeful life led me to a wonderful project called, Notes to Our Sons and Daughters: A Celebration of Wisdom. In this I shared my own menopausal transition.  I found out above all else, that changing adversity into strength begins within me.

Embrace Who and What You Are

Embracing who you are without fear of judgment or rejection is a beautiful side effect of the change. One scientific study found women wait until elder years to let go of, “I’ve got to look and be perfect,” self-talk. Why not start a little sooner? After all, is how you look in a swimsuit really that critical? Ease up -- especially on yourself.

It’s OK to Be Vulnerable

My best approach to embracing vulnerability was to bring menopause out in the open, and that in turn opened all kinds of doors to new opportunities. It was the foundation of my own slogan: “Suffering in silence is OUT!  Reaching out is In!”

Bottling up your emotions is dangerous. Embrace the change through shared experiences, whether with a good friend or even at a dinner party with new acquaintances. Talking about menopause will surely affect someone in the room and might even change their life. Now, that’s powerful!

When Things Aren’t OK, You Don’t Have to Hide It

It was incredibly liberating for me to realize that after years of ‘soldiering through,’ caring for kids, aging parents, house and career, that I could actually say out loud, “Everything is not always ok,” without worrying about sounding like I was whining.

Suppressing emotion has a powerful negative effect on your body called oxidative stress.  Free radicals form when you’re anxious or stressed out.  If you combine those free radicals with hormonal deficiencies, then low-density lipoproteins, for which you need anti-oxidants to fight at the cellular level, are diminished.

Caregivers, Not Care Receivers

Try devoting as much time to the woman in the mirror as you do to everybody else.   Studies show that society expects women to do the majority of caregiving--there’s a surprise.  AARP actually did the math and found that collective caregiving is worth more than $450B a year.  So, it stands to reason that if it’s worth that much to society, then so my dear, you are worth the effort, as well!

New research says being kinder to you at the very least helps suppress hot flashes, which might be triggered by stressful situations.  This seems to be a gender-related psychological marker as according to the study, “Women typically have lower self-compassion than men. Our research indicates that midlife women may benefit from including themselves in the circle of compassion.”  

Do Well By Doing Good

“The world loves a cheerful giver,” as the old saying goes and giving back begins with how nicely you treat yourself. 

For me, this ‘self-compassion,’ begins with loving myself and that’s exactly what my gift to myself will be on my 61st birthday. It’s been a fun ride so far, but the path has taken a new turn and I’m ready to take that first liberating step to a new, more joyful me!

Suffering in Silence is Out!  Reaching Out is In!

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Ellen Dolgen is an outspoken women's health and wellness advocate, menopause awareness expert, author, and speaker.

After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through-before, during, and after menopause-with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a "sister" and confidant to all women fueled Ellen's first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers' requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen's weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

Menopause MondaysTM is a platform from which Ellen reaches the true needs of her readers through varied and substantive discussions of menopause, women's health, and the modern woman's life today as a menopausal woman. Her weekly newsletter provides readers the most current menopause news and research. With her updates, women gain access and the knowledge needed to take charge of their health and happiness. Her motto is: Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!

In addition to Ellen's ever-growing social media presence, has fast become "the place" on the web for informative and entertaining women's menopause and wellness engagement. Ellen is #1 on Dr. Oz Top 10 Social HealthMakers on Menopause. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, / Menopause Mondays 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.

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