In this series we will talk directly and honestly about subjects that are too often only whispered about, if not ignored: perimenopause and menopause. Why? To empower you not just to survive, but thrive, because with (the) change, comes opportunity. Are you ready?
Starting with perimenopause, according to Dr. Christiane Northrup, “…our bodies – and specifically our nervous systems – are being, quite literally, rewired. Our brains are changing.” Changes in the levels of estrogen and progesterone affect the limbic area of our brain, which is responsible for emotions, memories, and arousal, and the temporal lobe, an area of the brain important for memory, language, and hearing, along with many other vital functions. So, basically, the areas that make you, you.
Your estrogen levels, a vital component of most organs in your body, are beginning to decline in perimenopause. Eventually, once you hit menopause (in future posts I’ll explain when you can honestly say you are “there”), you are no longer producing estrogen. This is a shock to your system. My friend Ann Bartlett says, “everything, and I mean everything, dries up.” Skin, eyes, hair, vital organs, vagina, everything. NEWS FLASH: the last time our bodies change this much was during puberty. To ignore this fact is to be, well…short sighted or, worse, miserable.
So let’s get to the nitty-gritty. I’m fairly certain my mom’s fairly constant irritability in her 40s was what we now know as perimenopause. As a “single mom” of four, she wanted to do it all. She didn’t want to reduce her activity level nor allow herself to take a break. She certainly had a lot of stress. (Sound familiar? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) Fast forward to a well-documented fact: what your mom experienced in terms of menopause and its symptoms, you are likely to as well.
The Stress Connection
We know that repeated episodes of stress (to get caught up on our stress series, click here, here, here, and here) are behind many hormonal changes in the brain and body. I have written and spoken at length about the effects of stress on your health and wellness. (Email me if you want to chat about simple ways you can find relief.) During perimenopause and menopause, anywhere between 45-65 years old, your body is undergoing massive hormonal and nervous system change and stress. Pile on top of that all we do in our daily lives…and, yikes. Your challenge is to tackle your stress, especially during this time of your life.
Because your body is changing so much, it is begging for a “new” approach. If you don’t take stock and reevaluate, it could mean the difference between living your life in denial and enduring truly disruptive physical effects, or, worse, continuing to feel frustrated, anxious, and suffering from “comparison syndrome,” and choosing a life filled with exploration of and focus on your wellness, your relationships, and, really, enjoying the rest of your beautiful life!
In my early perimenopause years, I was addicted to “doing” and being busy. I had a very difficult time conceiving. I experienced major “ups and downs.” Night sweats were a regular part of my life. Sleep was a distant memory of the past. Our son had multiple conditions like night terrors, high anxiety, and learning challenges. My social circle was shrinking. Oh, yes, and my family life was in the tank. And, I still wanted to make Fitness on the Run the BEST gym in Old Town. The gym was growing exponentially. Add to this, my body was in a constant World War III with me…and IT was winning.
Emotions are controlled by your circumstances or your character.
— Joel Osteen
What I now realize is that all of this was a gift. I learned then that I could no longer approach my life nor my wellness as I did before. I needed to change the way I lived my life…literally. I needed to take stock, first of my stress, then my sleep, my relationships, my fitness, and how I “fueled” my body overall. I experienced overall a mindset change. I needed to care for me in order to be the parent I wanted to be.
Because I am thankfully wired to treat my body well, I yearned for answers from experts. Trust me, I, too, tried the herbal route with about 20 different herbs and potions. Over time, though, it became obvious: I needed to dig deeper due to continued bouts with menopause symptoms, even after spending a bunch of time and money on alternative therapies.
Before I dig deeper into this series about the multitude of approaches at our fingertips for relief, I’m inviting you, too, to get on top of your stress, the biggest condition exacerbated by “the change” in your body. No matter what remedy you choose, the first line of defense now is stress tolerance. Because of the massive change in your body, adding stress on top of it is a non-starter, my friend. It makes matters worse and can contribute to weight gain, illness, and much more…and worse.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve found a handful of “go-to’s,” simple strategies for stress I use every single day, starting with getting ample and quality sleep. Skipping ahead, yet giving you the “nuggets” now before the end of my menopause series, I embraced several new concepts I ignored before: boundaries, “no is a complete sentence,” and to own my identity. I dug deeper into my Faith and found others who were or who had suffered. I also found perspective. Knowing that my life was great and that God has blessed me with a vocation to teach others about how they can also live a life filled with health, wellness, and contentedness. I learned what foods and food timing worked for me. I learned how I approached frequent, high-intensity exercise was backfiring – and why – and the beauty of thinking through every movement. I learned to actually love and appreciate my body. Imagine that.
Looking back in the rearview mirror today at my perimenopause and menopause journey, I am filled with gratitude that I had the wisdom to seek the counsel of experts and others who had traveled this rocky road before me. I sought not only relief but also answers, since I knew I’d be able to help beloved clients through their own journeys. I found coaches and counselors, my support team, who could hold my hand through this journey. Naming by name feels almost therapeutic: Dr. James Simon, Dr. Melissa Thiel, Dr. April Rubin, Dr. Marie Steinmetz, Dr. Christine Kiesinger, Dr. Norm Armstrong, Dr. Marty Skopp, Dr. Tara Allmen, Ann Bartlett, and countless others I interviewed and leaned on so I could make my own decisions about how I would approach the “best years” of my life. Thank you to each of you. With your guidance, with your caring counsel, you helped me map an individualized approach that works for me.
Now I want to do that for you. Living a lifestyle of health and wellness is more important now, during midlife, than ever. Not only are many of us mothers, aunts, bosses, colleagues, wives, partners, we are all also helping to care, in some way or another, for our parents or perhaps siblings. We are feeling the crunch without the hormonal change. That hormonal change is here or coming soon, so hang on and fasten on your seat belt! This series will provide guidance and answers. Up next: All About Perimenopause.