Let’s talk about…….Menopause
Menopause and perimenopause are at long last getting their spotlight moment. Well, it’s taken long enough! A taboo subject no more thanks to high profile celebrities such as Davina McCall sharing their menopause stories, busting common menopause myths and empowering women to gain the support they need during this period.
What are menopause and perimenopause?
Menopause is a time of profound transition in a woman’s life, that usually starts in the early to mid 40s and can last up to 10-15 years. Perimenopause on the other hand is the period of time in which the body is transitioning to menopause. Perimenopause may begin as early as the mid 30’s or as late as the mid 50’s. Some women experience perimenopause for a short time, but for many it can last between 4-8 years.
Fluctuations in hormonal levels (Oestrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone) give rise to a number of changes that can trigger physical and psychological symptoms of various magnitudes.
What are the physical symptoms of perimenopause and menopause?
It is really important to highlight that there are huge individual differences in the nature of symptoms women experience. It can feel very different for everyone. Common physical symptoms can include:
Hot flushes - when you have sudden feelings of hot or cold in your face, neck and chest which can make you dizzy
Difficulty sleeping - which may be a result of night sweats and makes you feel tired and irritable during the day
Heart palpitations - when your heartbeats suddenly become more noticeable
Headaches and migraines that are worse than usual
Muscle aches and joint pains
Changed body shape and weight gain
Skin changes including dry and itchy skin
Reduced sex drive
Vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort during sex
Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
The physical symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, quite rightly, receive a lot of attention, especially within the medical profession but it is equally important to consider the psychological symptoms many women experience during this transitional period.
What are the psychological symptoms of perimenopause and menopause?
Common mental health symptoms of menopause and perimenopause include:
Changes in mood such as: low mood, anxiety, mood swings, frustration, low self-esteem,
Problems with memory (e.g. word finding) or concentration (brain fog).
These symptoms may be caused or compounded by the sleep disruption that hormonal imbalance produces, and can be mislabelled as a Depression or an Anxiety Disorder. As a result many women are incorrectly prescribed antidepressants, despite evidence that antidepressant medication is rarely helpful to treat the psychological symptoms of menopause (NICE 2015).
Knowledge is power!
Menopause and perimenopause symptoms can have a significant impact on daily life, including relationships, social life, family life and work. Furthermore, the onset on perimenopause and menopause often coincides with other stressful life events (e.g. parental illness, divorce, children entering the adolescent period) making it hard to separate what is stress and what is due to menopause. The icing on the cake of complexity is the fact that blood tests to track hormonal changes are notoriously unreliable.
As a result, women often suffer in silence, have experiences of being dismissed or of not being listened to, and over time this can take a toll on confidence and emotional well-being. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone!
There are approximately 13 million peri or post menopausal women in the U.K
There are more than 30 recognised symptoms of menopause
1 in 4 will experience very few symptoms
3 in 4 will experience some symptoms
1 in 4 will experience debilitating symptoms
Gaining knowledge about perimenopause and menopause and having a clear idea of your individual symptom profile is an important first step. Consider completing a perimenopause / menopause checklist. These are freely available online. Also take a look at online resources from reputable sources such as the NHS and UK based charitable organisations such as The Menopause Charity, Menopause Matters or Menopause Support. This will help you to focus on yourself and reflect on the impact the symptoms are having on day-to-day functioning. Knowledge is power!
Once armed with the knowledge and a sense of your individual experience, the next step is to book a consultation with your GP.
How can psychological therapy help?
Psychological therapy can be used effectively to help with a range of emotional difficulties that women encounter while navigating this stage of life. Therapy can offer a supportive space to reflect on your individual experiences and empower you to find ways to improve your wellbeing. Therapeutic modalities that include elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT) and Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are widely recognised as an effective interventions for treating mood swings, depression, anxiety, irritability, sleep problems, low self-esteem and confidence. These therapeutic interventions can be helpful alone or used in conjunction with medical interventions such as HRT and other recommended lifestyle modifications during the menopausal period (NICE 2015).
If you feel that you are struggling with any of the psychological symptoms associated with perimenopause or menopause, and would like support to manage these, please feel free to reach out or book an initial consultation so we can see if we would be a good fit to work together.