How to be Calm, Content And Confident During Perimenopause
Living North columnist Elizabeth Joseph is back, guiding us through the perils of the perimenopause
I trust that you entered this journey with your eyes open, fully informed as to what to expect and happy in the knowledge that you are just passing through. That you will come out the other side of this calm, content and confident.
After all this is just another, natural, stage in life isn’t it? We’ve been through others haven’t we? We were all mostly aware of what was happening during puberty and there were people around to inform and guide us – mums, aunts, sisters, friends, healthcare professionals. The same was true for those of us who went through pregnancy and childbirth – plenty of literature, advice, support, input and opinion etcetera.
Just another life stage which we all entered fully cognisant and clued up?
I hope you are nodding away in agreement. I truly hope that was your experience. However, I strongly suspect you may be shaking your head. And possibly gritting your teeth. Some of you may even be raging a little.
Or a lot.
I believe many of you began this journey in a similar way to me. Stumbling into a frightening and confusing time of aching joints, itchy skin, mood swings, epic wind, sleepless nights, decreased libido and brain fog – completely and utterly clueless as to what on earth was going on.
For at least two years, I wandered around completely lost, putting my ever-increasing number of symptoms down to stress. To be fair, life was throwing a fair few challenges and curve balls in my general direction so stress made some sense. I didn’t know all my varied symptoms added up to perimenopause and neither did any medical professionals I reached out to. So it got put down to stress.
Which was rather, well, stressful.
When I finally worked it out for myself, with a little help from Google (other search engines are available) I initially felt great relief. Promptly followed by white-hot rage. How had no woman warned me? How had my doctor not been trained to recognise the symptoms of perimenopause. Why was I surrounded by such a deafening wall of silence? And then…
How was I supposed to control this rage I had unleashed?
But here’s the thing, the rage was caused not just by the fact that no one had warned me about perimenopause but actually by perimenopause itself.
Let me explain.
In the build up to menopause our levels of oestrogen fluctuate. Oestrogen regulates the production of cortisol – the stress hormone. Oestrogen is also responsible for the production of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins – the chemicals that make us feel good. So, just when we most need to feel calm and happy we find our bodies flooded with the stress hormone and denied the feel good chemicals. These changes, coupled with hot flushes, disrupted sleep and other symptoms can have us feeling absolutely, uncontrollably full of rage.
I have been known to loudly mutter: ‘You’re welcome!’ and ‘Don’t mention it, oh, wait, no, you didn’t!’ when I have opened doors for poor unsuspecting members of the general public who have failed to thank me quickly enough. I have shouted: ‘You don’t look cool!’ at kids in school uniform puffing away on cigarettes. Worst of all, during a lockdown.essential-shopping-trip in a busy supermarket I was so incensed at receiving no thanks for moving aside to let a gentleman get past me, that I actively passively aggressively curtsied at him! There are, unfortunately, many many similar stories of me losing my temper.
Zero to full blown rage in less than 60 seconds.
This is not normally how I like to conduct myself. This is not how I used to behave before my hormones started on the rollercoaster. Now a little rage can be a good thing, a little rage can be quite the motivator but full blown effing and jeffing at the school gates is not the way to comport oneself in public.
How then to control this rage?
Those of you who have accompanied me on this journey so far will no doubt be feeling the numerous benefits of cold-water therapy. Whether that is open-water swimming or ‘just’ turning your shower to cold for the last minute. As you know this will aid you in reducing hot flushes, lessening night sweats and itchy skin. It will also help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the system that helps you to ‘rest and digest’, to ‘tend and befriend’, to basically calm the eff down. So, too, will meditation. Spending just 10 minutes a day meditating will help to dampen down that rage.
In fact, any activity that encourages you to slow down and calm down and concentrate on your body and your breathing will help to lessen the rage. This month I decided to try yoga for the first time to see if I could feel a difference to my mood. Many women have told me that yoga helps them to calm their minds and reduce stress, especially when combined with mindful breathing.
I had my first ever yoga class via the wonder of the internet. A lovely lady taught me five, simple, restorative yoga poses via Zoom. They were simple and easy and each one lasted no longer than five minutes. Poses I could easily do in my front room, using some cushions for support. Poses which were easy to remember and replicate, whenever I had a spare 20 minutes or half an hour to indulge in some self care. Or if I desperately needed them to help calm me down right there and then. I definitely feel a lot less irritable and wound up after going through the poses.
Perfect for those of us who are constantly busy and don’t have the time to fit a daily yoga class into lives. For all we know we need to include an activity such as yoga, to calm the cortisol, we just don’t have a flexible enough timetable. This way, there is no need to bend over backwards to fit self care into our day. See what I did there?
If, however, you do have a little more time or if you know that for all you should do yoga at home you lack the motivation and willpower, at the end of a busy day, then why not try out a class? I tried out a couple of yoga classes at Newcastle Pilates Studio and loved every minute. For a start, it is a lot cleaner and far, far more pleasant than my front room. All the mats and headrests etc. are brand spanking new, which is not always the case believe me! They even have classes at 6.30 in the morning to help you include yoga in your busy day. Maybe I’ll see you there?
Or maybe you don’t need to calm the rage in quite the way I do. Remember with all perimenopause symptoms not every woman will be affected in the same way. The taboo around perimenopause is starting to lessen but in some ways some of the information out there can be a little daunting. Please don’t ‘get the fear’ that you are definitely going to suffer a dreadful time. Many, many women have few or no symptoms – it is not all doom and gloom.
And, as I said earlier, a little rage is a good thing. Harness that rage – make it work for you. This can be a time where you look at what serves you in this life and what doesn’t. What you want going forward and what you don’t. It can be a time of realisation, reinvention and revolution. If I had not felt that initial white-hot rage I would never have been motivated to write this column, to write a book and to reach out to other women. Control that rage and maybe just maybe think how you might use it!
You can follow @elizabethjosephnavigating on Instagram.