Self-care

Why self-care in your 40s is a must for a happy, healthy menopause

Self-care isn’t selfish, nor is it an indulgence reserved for those with time on their hands.  In fact once you reach your 40s and 50s it becomes essential for managing the symptoms of menopause.

October was World Menopause Awareness Month and it is encouraging to see that this life stage, along with its myriad symptoms, is finally getting more airtime.

I know from my clients and from conversations in various menopause support groups, that many women put up with their symptoms for too long or they struggle to get the help they need.  One of the reasons is they wrongly assume they are too young to be experiencing menopause symptoms.  – and that’s probably not helped by the terminology we use.

You officially reach menopause when you have gone twelve consecutive months without a period and the average age is 51.  So it’s actually the perimenopause that most women struggle through – that’s the transition through to menopause, when your hormones begin to fluctuate.  That can last anywhere from two to ten years until your last period – the average is around four years though for some it can even start in their 30s.

What are the symptoms?

As well as the more talked about symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats, there are a lot of others that can affect different parts of the body.  These include missed or heavy periods, PMS, thinning hair, dry skin, joint pain, digestive problems, weight gain, low libido and urinary infections.  And that's not all.  There is a whole range of symptoms that affect mental health, including stress and anxiety, low mood, irritability, brain fog, poor concentration, sleep difficulties, lack of motivation and low energy.

Stress, cortisol and perimenopause

During perimenopause levels of oestrogen rise and fall erratically, before gradually declining.  At the same time levels of progesterone fall, creating an imbalance between the two.

As levels of these two hormones decline, the adrenal glands take over their production to try and maintain hormonal balance.  These glands also produce, and will prioritise, the stress hormone cortisol.  If you’re constantly stressed (and chances are you will be, with all this going on), your adrenals may struggle to produce adequate levels of oestrogen.  This can contribute to that weight gain around your tummy as those fat cells can also produce a form of oestrogen.

Cortisol increases your blood glucose levels in readiness for you to fight whatever stressor you might be facing.  Insulin (that's the fat storage hormone) is then released to enable that sugar to be taken up and used for energy and if it's not needed it gets stored as fat.  Cue more weight gain and more stress.  It’s a vicious circle.

Other changes affecting your mental health

Your hormones are interconnected – they need to work together in harmony – like a finely tuned orchestra – to keep your body in balance.  When an instrument is out of tune, too loud or too quiet, then the whole performance is affected.

Continually elevated cortisol levels, along with fluctuating and declining oestrogen and progesterone levels, creates an imbalance in your brain’s neurotransmitters.  It has been shown to lower levels of serotonin – the ‘happy’ hormone, dopamine – the ‘pleasure’ or ‘reward’ hormone, and noradrenaline – the hormone that helps you wake up in the morning, take action and stay focused.

Progesterone also stimulates the brain’s GABA receptors.  GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the brain and promotes a feeling of sleepiness.  As progesterone levels fall sharply, so do levels of GABA.

Testosterone levels drop as we age – and women do need some.  Low levels are associated with sleeplessness, fatigue, sluggishness and decreased sex-drive.

The effects of all these changes can lead to feelings of depression, low mood, poor sleep, increased anxiety and lack of motivation.  It’s not uncommon for women to be prescribed anti-depressants rather than be offered menopause support.

What does “self-care” even mean anyway and how can it help?

One of the best things you can do during your perimenopause years is work on managing your stress levels.  Easier said than done, I know, and that’s why building in self-care is a must.

Self-care is about replenishing your spirit, taking care of your own happiness and taking a little time every day just for you.  Self-care isn't selfish.  It’s the key to improving your mood and reducing anxiety.

Most people are so busy juggling stressful jobs and home life; they are constantly ‘connected’ on one device or another. They don’t plan in time for themselves – or they feel guilty about doing so.  By focusing on your own wellbeing you’ll feel more positive, you’ll stop procrastinating and you’ll be more productive.

Of course eating healthily – and by that I mean eating real, unprocessed food, plenty of rainbow coloured fruits and veg – is a form of self-care.  That can go a long way to keeping your hormones balanced, as can cutting back on caffeine and alcohol.

Other self-care activities need to be actively planned in to your daily routine – even if, or especially if it’s just a 10-minute slot to have a cup of herbal tea in the garden.  If it’s not in the diary then suddenly it’s six o'clock and time to start thinking about dinner.  Schedule it in EVERY DAY so that it becomes a habit.

8 self-care activities to calm the mind and lift your spirits

1) Daily meditation

There are so many benefits to meditation; it calms the mind, reduces anxiety, increases focus and awareness, improves sleep and can help lower blood pressure.

Try starting your day with a 10-minute guided meditation. There are a ton of apps out there, like Headspace, Calm and Breethe and lots of meditations on Youtube.

 

2) Mindful breathing

This is a great exercise to do at any time of day, and especially before you eat.  It triggers your parasympathetic system and puts you into ‘rest and digest’ mode instead of ‘fight or flight’.

Try box breathing: breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, breathe out for four, then hold for another four. Repeat 4 times per session.

Or 4-7-8 breathing: breathe in for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, out for eight seconds. Repeat for a maximum of 4 rounds per session.

 

3) Get outdoors

Spending time in nature has been shown to promote relaxation and calmness.

Go for a walk, or just sit in the garden, listen to the birds and watch the trees

 

4) Start a gratitude journal

It helps lower stress levels, increases positivity, happiness and improves sleep

Spend 15 minutes at the beginning or end of each day to write down anything for which you are grateful, no matter how small.

 

5) Read a book

Studies show that reading reduces stress levels, improves sleep and strengthens brain function.

Try turning off the TV and reading for 30 minutes before bed.

 

6) Resurrect an old hobby or find a new one

Spending time on an activity that you love can reduce stress and improve your mood and acts as a distraction from feeling of depression.

Drawing, knitting, colouring, jigsaws, gardening, flower arranging, dancing – whatever you love doing will be good for the soul.

 

7) Pamper yourself

Pampering yourself with a manicure or facial can be relaxing and make you feel good about yourself.  A long soak in the bath with some lavender infused Epsom salts can help you unwind at the end of the day.  The magnesium in the bath salts may help calm the nervous system, reducing stress and inducing sleep.

 

8) Have a digital detox

Taking a scheduled break from your devices can help lower stress levels and improve sleep.  You’ll feel calmer and be more productive.

Try switching off your phone, tablet and laptop in the evening and focus on being present.

 

If you’d like some more support navigating the perimenopause or with any health concerns book a FREE 30 minute consultation and we can discuss how I can help

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