“Perimenopausal women don’t make eye contact, don’t want to be touched, they slouch, they scuff, and avoid any social interaction if possible.” ~ Marie Hoag
When I read this quote it made me chuckle, not because it’s particularly funny but because this woman is describing me perfectly and somehow I don’t think I’m alone.
As a Stress Consultant I’m often contacted by women fighting endless and debilitating battles with menopause, and I completely understand them, because it’s no easy ride.
It’s definitely me in the mirror, but my body feels invaded by nasty aliens on a mission to make life as hellish as possible. First came the hot flushes, then the endless nights without sleep, the looming black moods and forgetfulness—not to mention the unbearable itching under my skin like a frantic army of ants. It’s something we ladies of a certain age can all identify with.
Recently I set myself upon a little experiment to see if focusing more on the mind would help with some of these weird and wonderful symptoms. And ladies, I’ve been totally amazed!
As a Buddhist, meditation and breath-work are a key part of my everyday life, but I never really appreciated how powerful the mind could be during menopause. The technique I use isn’t difficult and it doesn’t take much time—great for those of us who lead busy lives. If you’re new to this kind of thing, however, it can all seem really baffling and the last thing you need to hear is lots of long-winded jargon.
So I’m here to give you the straight goods.
To be honest, it’s really all about diverting the mind away from the discomfort and focusing it in another direction—which is why meditating on the breath is so effective. Using our breathing as a focal point stops the mind from wandering, subsequently reducing panic and anxiety levels.
But why do these symptoms happen?
First, we should understand that our minds aren’t used to being relaxed. Over the years we’ve taught them beautifully to fly off in all directions. So it’s normal to expect a little bit of resistance—but here’s what finally worked for me.
Find a quiet place to sit for five to 10 minutes undisturbed, close your eyes and just breathe. For some this may feel uncomfortable—most of us never stop for a moment to be still or quiet, but if you persevere, you’ll eventually relax into it.
Listen to the breath flowing back and forth, but don’t change anything, and soon you’ll begin to experience a sense of calm and inner peace. By untangling the mind of stressful thoughts, we are also helping to reduce blood pressure and regulate our heart rate, two vital factors in maintaining physical well being. If you don’t feel like you can relax, then try lying down. The most important thing is not the position you’re in, but that you get the most effective results.
This is an exercise originating from ancient Buddhist meditation practices and it can make such a difference when you’re experiencing menopausal symptoms. Like most instruments, however, the mind needs ‘fine tuning’ to work at its best, so we must practice regularly and with patience. Try not to get anxious and if thoughts creep in. If you start to feel aches and pains, remember it’s only your mind trying to take control. Let them pass and keep returning to the breath.
The female hormone oestrogen (also known as estrogen) is a factor in our brain function during menopause. Oestrogen not only affects the reproductive system and periods, it also affects the part of the brain known as the hippocampus—responsible for memory and learning. The hippocampus needs oestrogen to protect its receptors, but during menopause, our levels start to drop which is why our memory often becomes less sharp.
These are physiological factors and contributors to mental discomfort during menopause, but the rest, believe it or not, stem from the mind. The mind is a peculiar thing. I’ve heard it said: “if you don’t control your mind, it will definitely start to control you,” which is what often happens.
For me it was like a domino effect—forgetfulness resulting in frustration and fear, subsequently bringing about a rise in blood pressure and resulting in hot flushes. All these symptoms arise from just one natural chemical change, but it’s amazing how the mind can suck you into a state of confusion, leaving you feeling trapped and alone.
When I finally experienced just how powerful the mind can be in alleviating menopausal symptoms, I was completely amazed and now I use this simple meditation exercise with those who visit my practice. So far, 95 percent of my patients claim to have experienced some kind of benefit from it.
Throughout the centuries, attitudes and approaches to menopause have changed dramatically. Nowadays, more people are exploring meditation and the mind as a way forward, which is a major leap. In the early 1800’s, however, it wasn’t unusual to have opium or maybe a little cannabis prescribed by the doctor to cure the symptoms of menopause. The early 1900’s brought the Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade) plaster being stuck on the base of the stomach, which I imagine was the twentieth century equivalent of the modern day HRT patch. Only in the 1930’s was menopause acknowledged as a deficiency disease.
While these weird and wonderful facts provide interesting reading, they bring little consolation to those still going through the discomfort and worry that menopause creates. For me , meditation continues to be the perfect way to create equilibrium in my physical and mental health.
Meditation changed my life and I know it can change yours.
Author: Julie Kelly
Volunteer Editor: Keeley Milne / Editor: Nicole Cameron
Photos: Bill Strain/Flickr