I recently spoke with a woman who is in her late 40s who exclaimed “menopause is destroying my life!” My initial response was one of sincere compassion. Although I have not yet gone through menopause, I’ve had my fair share of hormonal issues and can absolutely relate to the feeling of being out of control of my body.
My second response was one of curiosity. I wish I could say that this was the first time I’ve heard this statement, or something similar from a woman going through menopause, but it wasn’t. Why are so many women feeling this way?
The sad truth is that thousands of women feel as though menopause and the hormonal symptoms that come from it are ruining their ability to live their lives to the fullest. From relationship strains and weight gain to mood swings and worse hot flashes at night, it’s as if everything in life starts to spiral out of control for some women when they reach menopause.
I reached out to a few leading menopause and women’s health experts to get to the bottom of why women are feeling this way and how they can take back control of their lives during menopause.
In this article, you’ll learn from the following menopause and women’s health experts and educators:
Why Is Menopause So Hard For Some Women?
Speaking with Andrea Donsky, she shared that “the reason we hear that is because it's related to their symptoms - how they're feeling - as they go through the menopause transition, which is also known as perimenopause, and then menopause. Many of us don't feel like our "old" selves, whether that be mentally, physically, or both. So it's hard for any of us to see the positive sides of menopause when we're suffering with oftentimes multiple signs and symptoms.”
“When I first started experiencing menopause symptoms I heard there were 34 recognized symptoms, but I've been personally tracking symptoms over the last five years and have discovered there are 85+ signs and symptoms of menopause, so you can imagine how many of us are feeling during the time.”
With so many different ways that menopause can present itself, it’s easy to see why being thrown into menopause can wreak havoc on our lives. The symptoms we experience are vast, however, there are a handful of trademark symptoms that seem to bring us the most trouble during this transitional time.
“Many women struggle during the menopause transition because they are especially affected by weight gain, hot flashes that are severe and/or frequent, mood swings, brain "fog," joint pain, vaginal dryness, and a lower libido. Your skin can also become drier and itchier”, says Elizabeth.
She adds that “Hot flashes can be debilitating and disturb a woman's sleep, which, in turn, decreases her energy levels during the day.”
I don’t know about you, but when my sleep is off and I’m not getting enough of it, I certainly feel like my life is ruined. Without the energy and restoration that good, quality sleep provides us with, it can feel like a struggle just to get through the day. But that’s not the only way that menopause is destroying our lives…
“Weight gain is probably the top issue that we (my co-author and I) hear from women. It can be mystifying because it's possible to put on weight without changing your eating or your exercise routine as you get older. Part of that gain may be attributable to age, but menopause often increases belly fat gain, so a woman's shape may change and she may have trouble accepting that”, says Elizabeth.
Of course, we also face issues like brain fog that interferes with our ability to perform our work tasks and we feel saddened when we realize that our sex drive is nearly non-existent. But the cherry on top is that we’re severely lacking in formation, which can cause us to feel as though we’re totally blindsided by menopause and that we’re completely alone in our journey. And when this happens, our perception of our symptoms and current life circumstances tend to feel worse.
How Does Menopause Make You Feel?
“Menopause can take its toll on us mentally and emotionally, especially when we are transitioning from perimenopause to menopause. Many women have told me they feel like an alien has taken over their body, or they don't recognize themselves anymore, or that they've been told they should 'stop exaggerating and being dramatic to get attention.' Being dismissed when they share how they feel, and/or gaslit is a very real thing and needs to change,” says Andrea.
From a feelings perspective, feeling as though our symptoms, which feel very real to us, are not acknowledged and understood by our practitioners can leave us feeling empty, lost, and discouraged. For many women, this leads to anger and resentment, which is further perpetuated by the rapidly shifting hormones our body is experiencing.
Meghan shared that “as our hormones, mainly estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone fluctuate and then decline many women can experience mental and emotional changes that are common in perimenopause and menopause. Many of my clients experience an increase in stress, irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and even depression.”
While there are a handful of hormone shifts at play during menopause, the main hormone responsible for most of our menopause symptoms is estrogen.
“Menopause is all about lower estrogen levels. Nearly all tissues in the body, including the brain, have estrogen receptors, so a loss of estrogen can affect the entire body, including the skin, joints, and muscles, as well as mood,” says Elizabeth.
Knowing that estrogen plays a role in nearly every tissue of our bodies, it’s easy to understand how a decline in those levels can produce negative side effects both from a mental and physical perspective. Mentally and emotionally we might be feeling bad, but beyond that, our entire physical body can feel completely different and out of sync with our normal status quo.
Do Women “Return to Normal” After Menopause?
According to Elizabeth, “the menopause transition is exactly that - a transition to a new phase. Perimenopause lasts an average of 4 years but can be as long as 10. Menopause - that one day after you have not had a period for 12 months in a row - is fleeting and it is something that you pass through to get to the post-menopause phase, which can be 30% to 40% of your entire life.”
“Women do not return to their former selves because their bodies have far less estrogen in the post-menopausal stage of life, and that change is permanent. The decline in estrogen may make weight control more difficult and it increases the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. However, the body finds a new balance that becomes normal for you,” she adds.
Essentially, there’s no such thing as going “back to normal” once you’ve transitioned into this new phase of life, but that doesn’t mean that your reaming days are destined to be a struggle. There’s light at the end of the tunnel!
“Many women feel better once their hormones are in menopausal ranges. However, we all experience menopause differently. Some will feel much better, while others may feel the same or worse. That's where nutrition, lifestyle, supplements, and/or hormones come in. There are certain things we can control, and other things that we can't, so I like to focus on what we can like nutrition, lifestyle, and supplements,” says Andrea.
As we age, it becomes more important than ever to care for our bodies and to make smart lifestyle choices that are conducive to us looking and feeling our very best throughout the rest of our lives. In short, self-care is a must during menopause.
How Can a Woman Take Care of Herself During Menopause?
To minimize your feelings of menopause completely destroying your life, you can implement some easy, manageable lifestyle habits starting as soon as possible to help you get a grip on your symptoms.
Meghan recommends “starting in perimenopause prioritize sleep! It is foundational to overall wellness and helps to balance hormones and protect your brain health.”
She adds that we should also aim to “move daily - both cardio like walking and strength training are important for bone health and preventing insulin resistance.” Plus, exercise can do absolute wonders for our mental health! Not to mention the fact that moving our bodies daily will help to minimize the weight gain many of us experience during menopause.
When it comes to our nutrition and diet during menopause, “focus on a whole foods diet, prioritize protein and healthy fats. Limit processed foods and alcohol.” These seem like no-brainers, but executing is difficult in the fast-paced, convenience-based world that we live in. With all of us constantly on the go and our busy schedules, finding the time to plan and prepare meals is tough, however, it’s not impossible, and doing so can make a dramatic difference in our menopause symptoms and our feelings towards them.
Finally, Meghan shares that we should, “manage stress - this can help to lower cortisol levels and keep your adrenal glands healthy as they take over after your ovarian function ceases.”
Stress is so hard on the body, especially when we’re already experiencing the tumultuous ups and downs related to menopause. Implementing some stress management techniques into your life will serve you well as you navigate menopause and gain a firm hold on your new body and life.
Elizabeth added that women who have medical conditions or take prescription medications should “talk with their doctor or nurse practitioner about managing any conditions that you have, such as high blood pressure or elevated blood cholesterol levels, and let them know if you had any problems during pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, or pregnancy loss (these and other complications may be linked to a higher risk for cardiovascular disease). If you're feeling sad or anxious, seek professional help. You are not alone.”
Should Women Try Menopause Supplements for Symptom Relief?
Menopause supplements seem to be popping up everywhere recently, which is amazing as it’s bringing awareness to the largely underserved menopause population, however, it’s also a slippery slope and one that needs to be navigated safely. The FDA doesn't regulate supplements, which means that there can be (and are) some products out there that make lofty claims that simply aren’t supported by research. That said, there’s plenty of evidence that certain supplements absolutely help with menopause symptoms.
According to Meghan, “There are many supplements and adaptogens to help women through the perimenopause transition and into menopause. For example, something like GABA or L-theanine may help with insomnia. Ashwagandha helps with one's stress response. I'm also a huge proponent of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Women are living much longer in a menopausal state. Trying to function and stay healthy without our hormones can be challenging. Look at the statistics for increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer's. Bioidentical hormones like estrogen can continue to protect our bones, brain, and heart.”
Here at FHM, we’ve done quite a bit of research into bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, and the evidence is quite clear that this treatment method is highly effective for many women struggling with life-altering menopause symptoms. We recommend Alloy and Winona for HRT.
The most important thing you can do if you’re considering trying HRT or even a menopause supplement is to speak with your doctor to get their advice, recommendations, and the green light to proceed with treatment. Furthermore, keep in mind that a healthy diet and exercise plan should always be the foundation of your healthcare and symptom management routine.
Final Thoughts: Menopause Doesn’t Have to Destroy Your Life
Although it can sometimes feel as though menopause is destroying your life, there are steps you can take to diminish those feelings and to be able to come out on the other side triumphant.
With hormones declining and your whole body feeling foreign and unfamiliar, it’s easy to see how so many women feel like their life is spiraling out of control.
The good news is that there are ways to minimize the effects of menopause so that you can not only get through this period of your life but also enjoy it. Menopause is a right of passage and one that, unfortunately, comes with many ups and downs. But by arming yourself with the right information and tools, you can work towards coming into alignment with your body again.
Our experts recommend that you take a hard look at your lifestyle habits and make sure that you’re controlling all of the controllables in your life as a first step. This means ensuring that you’re prioritizing your sleep, eating a balanced diet, moving your body in a way that feels good, and managing your stress. With a solid handle on these lifestyle habits, you can then look to your doctors for advice regarding what supplements or hormones might help you to relieve the very real, very life-altering symptoms you’re experiencing as you go through menopause.
Ladies, there’s so much light at the end of the tunnel. Take care of yourselves now and rest assured that this too shall pass and that you’ll come out on the other side with a new appreciation for your aging body and a fresh vigor for life and all that it holds for your future.
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