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The menopause is a time of change. This can be negative or positive, or a mix of the two. Here are a few tips to help you navigate through this changing – and sometimes difficult – time in your life.

This article was included in issue 87 (winter 2020/21) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

Be kind to yourself
This is a hard time for anyone and can coincide with other life changes. Make sure you give yourself space and kindness. Look at ways to reduce stress, such as relaxation, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or yoga, and make time for yourself. Try something new, such as taking up a hobby. It’s good for stress and keeps your brain active (helping with brain fog).

Be aware
Know the symptoms of the menopause and perimenopause, so you can work out whether you’re going through them. Then look at your symptoms and find some strategies to handle them. There’s no one-size- fits-all approach – it’s individual and very personal – and sometimes it takes trial and error to find the right combination of measures that will work for you. So try and be patient.

Keep a diary
Make a note of your symptoms, how you’re feeling and changes in your body. Then look to see if there’s a pattern and what makes them better or worse, such as stress, diet, work, family, environments and alcohol. Don’t put up with troublesome symptoms – seek support.

Keep cool
Dress in layers and choose fabrics that take moisture from flushes away from your skin. Try Chillow pillows at night, and use facial sprays and fans as needed. Using face masks can increase flushes, so use bamboo or cotton ones rather than synthetic ones. Keep wet wipes or a facial spritz in the fridge to cool your skin. Keep hydrated and use a good and rich skin moisturiser.

Move and keep moving
Regular exercise (such as walking) is important for your overall physical health (heart, bones and weight) and your mental health. It can also help to reduce how many menopausal symptoms you have and how bad they are. Your joints may hurt, but try to keep moving.

Check your diet
A good balanced healthy diet (fewer sugars and processed foods, more protein and fewer fats and salt) is good for your general health, heart, bones and weight. But some foods can trigger symptoms such as hot flushes.

  • Limit alcohol – it may increase your symptoms and is bad for your heart, bones and sleep.
  • Limit caffeine – it may trigger symptoms and affect your sleep.
  • Keep hydrated – drink plenty of fluids.
  • Try foods containing plant-like oestrogens (phytoestrogens), such as lentils and chickpeas.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids can be good for your skin, joints and mood.
  • Eat three meals a day at regular times to avoid reduced (or a drop in) blood sugar levels, and eat healthy snacks in-between if you need to.
  • Make sure you get enough vitamin D, calcium and magnesium for bones.

Keep your weight down
Being at a healthy weight is good for your general health and heart, reduces joint pain and pressure on your pelvic floor, keeps your weight down and reduces the risks of some cancers.

Think about your sex life
Your vagina and bladder respond to reduced oestrogen. This can lower your sex drive and cause vaginal dryness, which can put a strain on a relationship. Some women feel a change in sensation and being too close can bring on a flush. Sex can be painful if your vagina is dry, so be honest and talk about any issues. Try vaginal moisturisers, lubricants and vaginal oestrogen if you need them. Remember to use contraception until you’ve had no periods for one year if you’re over 50 or two years if you’re under 50. Vaginal dryness can cause pain when walking and moving, while bladder changes can make you need to pee more often or feel like you have an infection. Vaginal oestrogen can help. Remember to do your pelvic floor exercises too.

Make work changes
Look at your work environment. You may need to change your work patterns and clothes. Keep drinking fluids when you’re at work, and go to the loo when you need to. If you think you’ll benefit from memory aids and fans, discuss this with your manager.

Try sleep hygiene
Relax before bedtime and go to bed at the same time each day, with no TV or phone in your bedroom. Try sleeping with a cold hot-water bottle in a cool room with cotton sheets. Look at sprays and smells that help sleep. If you’re waking up anxious, try cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Try dealing with anxiety with acceptance. Be aware of what you can control, while letting go of things you can’t control.

Stop smoking
Smoking is bad for your overall health. It can also make the menopause earlier and your symptoms worse.

Look at alternatives
Some herbal supplement s and complementary and alternative medicines may help. Discuss this with a pharmacist, especially if you’re taking other medicines. Try a suitable product for three months. Don’t try several things at the same time as you won’t know what helps and it’s expensive.

Don’t be afraid of HRT
There’s a lot of negative press but all medicines have side effects, risks and benefits. HRT can be very helpful for some women with symptoms. Often women say they feel more like themselves again. Talk to a healthcare professional, do your research and don’t be afraid to try HRT if you feel you need it.

About the author
Debby Holloway is a nurse consultant in gynaecology whose clinical workload includes procedure clinics and menopause clinics. She teaches widely, and has published books and articles.

Created Winter 2020

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