Change is coming to how we tackle menopause symptoms
HRT, CBT, nutrition, hypnosis, self-compassion, self-care – with so many options on the table, women can now decide what menopause treatment works for them.
I quietly slid into my 50s during the pandemic with a small celebratory brunch at home with family and friends. I found it hard to contemplate that I was of an age that I remember looking at my own mother and thinking she was so old – although the fashion and styling from when my mother was 50 compared to now are poles apart, thankfully.
My mother had a full hysterectomy in her early 40s and I remember her mood swings, not understanding then that it was undoubtedly menopausal. Perhaps she didn’t understand the full extent of all the personal changes herself. The knowledge, support and education around this shifting time wasn’t as transparent and public as it is now.
My symptoms began in my 40s also but generally they were quite mild. I largely felt the same as I had always felt with a hectic life as a solo parent to young twins and a teenager. I couldn’t really differentiate menopause symptoms from my life as a busy mother of three children. Looking back now, I probably had a double dose of hormone changes and also the shock of having twins naturally in my 40s.
While the effects of menopause change as you get older, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what stage you are at by observing the symptoms. There are well over 40 symptoms with menopause which include physical, mental, emotional and psychological indicators. I am lucky I only ticked a couple from the symptom tracker on the Menopause Hub, which is a great place to start researching it all.
A change in my menstrual cycle and mood swings were my red flags. As I drifted through my 40s, the mood swings, in particular, were my main imbalance. But I didn’t even think about taking HRT. Why? I had a fear of the connection we thought was there between breast cancer and HRT. I had discovered there was breast cancer in my genes and I never thought to investigate it any further, accepting that the connection was accurate. We now know from the many TV documentaries and menopause conferences that the increased risk is minimal (as low as 0.5%), but it does take time to shift that mindset and have confidence in something that’s the complete opposite of what you believed.
The best way to find out more on menopause and HRT is to research and weigh up your options with the help of a medical professional. For me, the priority has always been about what fits in best with my lifestyle and how that will ultimately affect my family.
Late last year, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence issued draft guidance to the NHS to help women explore the option of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to manage menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, and sleep and mood changes.
Self-hypnosis can also be used as a valuable tool in managing menopausal symptoms. Rachel Gotto, a midlife coach and hypnotherapist, explains, “By inducing a state of focused relaxation, women can help alleviate hot flushes, anxiety and the stress associated with menopause. Through utilising positive suggestions and mental imagery, self-hypnosis helps promote a more positive mindset and strengthens one’s ability to cope with the hormonal changes. Many of my female clients find incorporating self-hypnosis into their routine provides a sense of control and can contribute to an improved overall experience during this transitional phase of their lives.”
Henny Flynn, a certified life coach and retreat host, is another holistic practitioner with a special interest in supporting women experiencing menopause as the founder of the Compassionate Menopause support group.
Henny’s experience was similar to my own, in the sense that I was too busy with two new babies and parenting my teenager to look after myself properly. Her health and symptoms were also suppressed by working harder until it all got too much.
Henny had three bouts of pneumonia in 2016 and she knew then something had to change. She said, “I created a bedrock of self-care which led to an even deeper sense of self-love which I had been missing all my life. It was the decision to care for myself, on the deepest level, that enabled me to move forward.”
Henny made the changes through nutrition, self-talk, mindset, opening up to new people and new experiences, accessing new knowledge and allowing herself to be completely self-aware and self-compassionate. It has worked well for her and she is now building a retreat for people to come, stay and receive one-on-one coaching in a remote setting near Hereford in the UK.
I have gone down a similar holistic route, unintentionally, by implementing sea swimming and being outdoors in general. Like many others during COVID, I needed an outlet to think, breathe and manage everything throughout the isolation periods. I have always loved the sea and have always lived near the sea. Sea swimming all year round was a new challenge but the benefits, for me, far outweigh the chilling thoughts of swimming in the ice-cold water.
I cannot adequately explain the rewards of sea swimming, particularly in the cold winter months. It completely keeps me on track and able to cope with my busy lifestyle. If I can’t get to the sea twice a week, I can feel my mood take a downward turn. And so, it is planned into my diary as a necessity for my work and life balance.
This type of holistic approach works for me but it might not be everyone’s solution, which is why HRT works very well for others. I have heard transformative stories from friends around me who swear HRT has changed their lives and, from the outside, it certainly looks that way.
I was also astonished to learn how making simple but effective changes to our diet can vastly help menopause symptoms. “Embracing all the other non-medicalised options can really build a very strong foundation for your health and will enhance the benefits of HRT if you do decide to opt for that at some point,” says nutritional therapist Rachel Graham. Her book, The Menopause Kitchen, is a 400-page cookbook with a difference. It focuses on eight key nutrients that are important for women at this life stage to effectively balance their hormones and futureproof their health.
“Menopause is not a static experience and often our symptoms change, so it’s important to keep an open mind in terms of your treatment approach,” says Rachel.
This made me think of how I had been feeling in my late 40s and then as I advanced into my 50s. Suddenly, I was coming out of the haze of changing 80 nappies per week and preparing just as many bottles, and sleepless nights that were the norm were slowly beginning to reach five to six hours of sleep. I finally began to look at myself in the mirror again and think, ‘I need to support me now.’ Perhaps we should actually call this time in women’s lives ‘mam-on-pause’ as, ultimately, it’s about reconnecting with ourselves.
Outdoor remedies and nutrition alterations have worked for me, along with mindset mentoring and keeping busy in the career that I have been gradually cultivating over the years. Thankfully, for those interested to learn about holistic and non-medical solutions for coping with menopause, many information events have taken place over the past few years here in Ireland, including a National Menopause Summit which returns to Dublin in April.
If you’re interested in learning more about a holistic approach to wellbeing, join us for Eat, Sleep, Breathe, Repeat, a live event you can join remotely on 8 February 2024. Presented by the the esteemed Dr Carla Devlin, this online workshop will help you to explore the pillars of a healthy lifestyle.