Elizabeth Joseph Lifts The Lid On The Perimenopause
Even those of us who think we know what to expect from the menopause may be surprised by what comes before it
Many women do not realise they are in perimenopause; many have never heard the word. We have heard the word menopause, and have some idea what to expect – hot flushes, periods coming to an end, maybe a bit of rage. But what takes many of us by surprise is what can precede this.
Aches and pains, insomnia, anxiety, itchy skin, mood swings, digestive issues, loss of libido, burning tongue, night sweats, brain fog, the list does rather go on. Take a deep breath though, don’t panic, each of you will experience perimenopause differently – you may get some, all, or none of these symptoms.
Perimenopause took me completely by surprise, which is why I am so keen to get women talking to eachother about it. Finally realising I was in perimenopause didn’t change anything, and yet it changed everything.
Once I knew where I was, I became determined to navigate my way through, boldly and bravely, and have some fun trying out all the natural approaches available out there (and also some really ‘out there’ approaches). Hopefully, everyone who read last month’s column has taken gleefully to cold showers and has seen a positive impact on all their symptoms! Or did you all wimp out?
As promised, in this month’s column we will be looking at meditation and exercise – including face yoga. Yes, really.
Meditation is an absolute game changer when it comes to tackling your symptoms. As with everything I have tried, I always start from a point of total scepticism – I was convinced there was no way I could quieten all the thoughts banging around in my head. The key, it turns out, is to follow a guided meditation – whether that is down at your local Buddhist centre or on an app, or even with Alexa.
Meditation can help you tackle mood swings, feelings of anxiety, irritability, rage, hot flushes and disrupted sleep. Your perimenopausal body is on high alert, inflamed and pumping out cortisol (the stress hormone), which is usually held in check by oestrogen. Your sympathetic nervous system is working overtime – ‘fight or flight’ baby. Not a great place to be. Meditation activates your parasympathetic nervous system and calms everything right down. Less ‘fight or flight’ and more ‘tend and befriend’. More ‘rest and digest’.
Which brings me to my personal favourite symptom – epic wind. I have known the horror of the perimenopausal bloat and deflate. I have known the horror of a school mum knocking on my car window, before pick up time, asking to jump in for a chinwag. A cold day, the windows had been up for the full 20 minutes I had been sitting there reading and happily pumping away. She asked if I had a stomach bug, I said I had.
So when I read that meditation can aid digestion I decided it was definitely worth a try. Whilst meditation has greatly eased my mood swings and anxiety, I keep forgetting to do it until I get so anxious and wound up that I really can’t do it. Having two reasons to meditate felt like it might well be the answer.
I had already tried sitting still for 10 minutes after food but it had made no difference whatsoever. So this time, I just popped my meditation CD in the machine and instead of imagining my body was filled with white light, I imagined the Gaviscon firemen in there with their hoses. Try it – the difference is immediate and extraordinary. Just 10 minutes a day after food. You can even do it at your desk at work, after your pork pie and can of pop.
Another game changer is exercise. It’s not going to make all your symptoms magically disappear; it will, however, help to alleviate stress, which definitely makes all of your symptoms worse. It will also help to keep your weight in check and have you feeling fitter, healthier and calmer.
Aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day – exercise that gets your heart rate up. Find activities that you enjoy. There is no point forcing yourself to go swimming if you hate getting your face wet and worry about verrucas. Similarly, you don’t have to do Zumba if your two left feet make it a miserable experience.
One form of exercise that is essential though, and was something I had never tried, is strength training. Our risk of osteoporosis becomes very real in perimenopause and beyond, as oestrogen is essential for healthy bones. Give it a go. You will need to start using dumbbells and resistance bands at home and/or the weight machines if you go to a gym. This will ensure you increase bone density and preserve muscle strength. It will also make you feel great – I have a lot more energy and feel like a bit of a badass doing strength training.
Another kind of exercise that I had never considered, or indeed heard of, is face yoga. We exercise our bodies. Why not exercise our faces? Mine needs all the help it can get. I don’t understand why people refer to it as the ageing ‘process’. I distinctly remember the morning I woke up, looked in the mirror and genuinely thought I’d had a mini stroke in the night. Now when I flip the mirror over to extra magnifying, so I can actually see to put on my mascara, I look like Al Pacino.
Face yoga is a holistic approach, which involves massage and exercises to relax, soften and tone your facial muscles. You can find information and demonstrations online. You can even see me having a lesson on my Instagram page. If you are consistent and practise face yoga for about 20 minutes a day, after about a month, you will notice your skin is plumper, your complexion improved and your wrinkles and lines smoothed. It won’t eradicate wrinkles (I prefer the word twinkles) but you really will notice a difference. You can also use fabulous facial tools such as jade rollers and gua shas. Very exciting.
So this month give meditation and strength training a go and turn the water to cold at the end of your shower – see if you can last 30 seconds. Next month we will be looking at tapping, taping, turmeric and Tabasco. No, really.
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