Menopause. Yep, we’re really going there.
If I had to describe menopause in a word, it would be, Seriously?! So, when tasked with the request to write a blog about it, my tactless inner reply was, “Seriously?!” Then my slightly more evolved inner voice had a mindful moment. Menopause has worked diligently to kick my ass every day for almost two years—and I have tried a handful of things to combat the aftermath—so I knew in my heart I had something to offer on the subject. At the very least, I could share my experience and offer some holistic suggestions that may help to ease the transition and unlovable symptoms!
I’m a writer, yoga teacher, and wellness coach who, for the most part, walks the talk. I meditate (not enough), practice yoga on and off the mat, and eat well (except for that ice cream problem). I’m 56 and it’s been about twenty months since my last period. After two four-month breaks over the course of two years, I thought it would never end. I experienced perimenopausal symptoms for a while so I couldn’t wait for menopause—particularly after waking up drenched in sweat from head to toe beside a fairly new beau. Not fun (or attractive). Vanity aside, despite what I knew anecdotally, I had no clue how my journey would unfold.
Some women have no symptoms (who are you and what is your secret?!) and some check every box. Often, the apple doesn’t fall far—many women report having a similar experience as their mothers had, which is helpful regarding expectations. My mom had a huge fibroid followed by a hysterectomy and years of HRT (hormone replacement therapy). This kind of forced menopause results in fewer common symptoms from estrogen loss, although the HRT may have undesirable side effects. Since my experience was different than my mom’s, I had no compass.
If you haven’t yet hit menopause, and you’re not sure what to expect, a list of the most common menopause symptoms looks something like this: hot flashes, chills, night sweats, insomnia, depression, irritability, slower metabolism and weight gain, vaginal atrophy and dryness, thinning hair and nails, and dry skin.
I check a few of these boxes and, while it hasn’t been a walk in the park, it’s manageable. And, I LOVE BEING A WOMAN! There’s nothing like a good challenge to both humble and empower us, right?! More good news: You may not experience any of these symptoms, or just a few and mildly, or you may be finished with the whole she-bang! Either way, here are a few holistic tips that may help you to navigate the often choppy waters of The Pause.
Hot Flashes: While it may be hard to predict when they’ll occur, hot flashes are often triggered by alcohol (particularly red wine), sugar, caffeine, spicy foods, hot beverages, heavy clothes, clothes that don’t breathe and, of course, hot weather. Not surprisingly, chills often occur after a hot flash has passed. To dress for success, think light, breathable layers so you can nonchalantly peel them off when flashes hit—and put them back on when chilly. Also, certain combinations are a recipe for disaster. In my experience, cashmere sweater + down jacket = human furnace—and clothes that lack air circulation, like fitted blazers and pencil skirts, are a non-starter. And pantyhose! Just say no.
Night Sweats: Swap the down or other heavy comforter for light blankets or a cotton quilt that can be removed as you warm up—and use a top sheet. There are also bed pillows designed to keep you cool (unlike down) if the nape of your neck tends to get sweaty while sleeping, as mine used to. Avoid pajamas or heavy nightgowns, opting for loose, lightweight garments, preferably without sleeves. Lastly, avoid consuming wine, sugary sweets, and spicy foods too close to bedtime.
Insomnia: Turn off all screens at least an hour before retiring for the night—TV, laptop, tablet—and opt for reading a good old-fashioned book or magazine. If you’re tired, your eyelids will get heavy soon enough. If you have a TV in the bedroom, your #1 first move should be to get it the heck outta there. Something serious on your mind? Get it off your chest. Write about it, for your eyes only (it’s cathartic). Then take a few sniffs of lavender essential oil, massage a dab into your temples, and start counting sheep. One more thing: I am not a medical practitioner and you should always consult your doctor before taking even over-the-counter supplements, but there are a few that are backed by science and really work, such as melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium.
Depression & Irritability: You can take the edge off a less than stellar mindset by literally increasing “happy hormones” in the body—endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. How? Practice yoga, take a meditation class, stick to your workout, listen to music, get outside, get sunshine, laugh, spend more quality time with friends and family, treat yourself to something beautiful, tidy your desk, organize your closet, get enough sleep, make love… The list is endless. But if you’re really feeling out of sorts and it’s getting in the way of daily life, don’t rule out speaking with your doctor about a low-dose antidepressant. The stigma is ridiculous. Your brain is a body part just like the others and deserves the same TLC you’d give to any physical condition. Despite my regular wellness practices, I started getting weepy on a daily basis during the onset of menopause. After months of feeling like a weirdo, I listened to my doctor’s advice and took the lowest dose of Lexapro. It took the edge off and I felt great—with zero side effects and my full range of emotions intact. After two years, curious if my hormones had balanced out, I stopped taking it. And I’m fine. The glass is half full again.
Sluggish Metabolism & Weight Gain: As with any aging process, it’s important to stay active! Be sure to get exercise daily, which boosts metabolism and keeps you fit. Cutting out excess sugar and refined carbs (which turn into sugar) can also help, while doing double duty to diminish hot flashes. Sugar cravings? Crowd them out by adding more sweet veggies to your repertoire, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and winter squash. Feeling noshy between meals? Hydrate! A tall glass of water works wonders to quell hunger pangs. Also, chew your food well. Not only will it metabolize more quickly, but its nutrients become more bioavailable. Win-win.
Vaginal Atrophy & Dryness: I went straight to mayoclinic.org to learn more about this… Vaginal atrophy is thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls caused by reduced estrogen levels. For many, it not only makes intercourse painful but may lead to urinary symptoms. If you’re experiencing discomfort that’s not resolved by a vaginal lubricant, or you’re having any other related symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor asap. There is no need to suffer or be embarrassed, as there are solutions (including natural supplements). You can discuss them with your doctor and decide what may work best for you. PS: You can find healthy lubricants in your kitchen cupboard—unrefined avocado, coconut and olive oils are perfectly safe to use!
Dry Skin: Two words—coconut oil. I’m sure you all have your favorite products. Me, too. But truthfully, these days, nothing works better than coconut oil to hydrate my dry skin. I slather it on while my pores are still open after showering and it sinks in fast, keeping me silky-smooth all day. I even use it on my face to remove makeup. Beyond moisturization, drink plenty of water.
Thinning Hair & Nails: Biotin is an essential water-soluble B vitamin used to support healthy hair and nails. In addition to supplement form (consult your physician), biotin-enriched hair products are available to help stimulate hair growth. I don’t have thinning hair, but I’ve been taking biotin for my nails and after a year, they have truly grown stronger. PS: Gel manicures damage the strength and integrity of your nails. If bare nails isn’t your thing, consider sticking with regular polish—or better, a non-toxic brand, such as Zoya, Butter London, Pacifica, Orly or Côte. Your nails will thank you.
Thank you for pausing to “talk” menopause. I hope this post offers not only a little insight, but for those in the midst, makes you feel less “woe is me” and more empowered to try some simple home “remedies” or lifestyle changes that just may make a world of difference!