Menopause: Processing Change
Menopause or “The Change” (as it has been called) represents much more than just the physiological changes women experience as they come to the end of their childbearing years: It involves a psychological process as well. Symptoms — be they sleep disturbance, mood swings, night sweats, cold or hot flashes, irregular periods, loss of libido, vaginal dryness or any of the myriad of other symptoms — are ready reminders to women that they are aging.
In our youth-obsessed culture this can present a particular emotional challenge if you have not yet resolved related fears, attitudes and hang-ups around self-image and growing older. Will I be wanted, attractive and desirable? Will I be loved? Will I still be valued and competitive in the workplace?
This season of a woman’s life may also stir up thoughts and apprehensions about her own mortality and the degree of satisfaction she has with what has been accomplished so far in her life.
Menopause and Other Life Changes
To make it even more “interesting” (shall we say), the timing of menopause may coincide with other significant life changes, such as achieving an empty nest, divorce or other relationship adjustments, being thrust into the “sandwich generation” (caring for aging parents while raising kids), as well as other health changes and career revisions.
In combination with hormonal shifts it can be dizzying to adapt. You may feel at times as if your whole identity has been thrown onto a Tilt-A-Whirl. This can be true for anyone, but it may be especially true if you have not dealt optimally with previous life transitions (such as past traumas or a relationship break-up) and are still carrying around more than your share of emotional baggage.
Tips for Coping with the Challenges of Menopause
First of all, it is vital to keep (or develop) a sense of humor! Humor eases stress and can help pave the way forward with a bit of grace. (If you need a little help in the humor department maybe you can get to a performance of “Menopause the Musical“, which has had terrific reviews.)
Secondly, if you haven’t already figured out that all of our supposed “control” is really an illusion, you might as well surrender now. Life has a way of driving that lesson home, and going through these physical and psychological changes is a prime example. Acceptance of “what is” and keeping a focus on gratitude at this time are simple approaches which can work wonders.
You may (or perhaps “will” is more accurate) go through some grief and anxiety during this time — Either about menopause itself or parallel changes in your life. As is so often true of transitions, the more loving and self-affirming you can be and the more self-care you can practice, the better.
In fact, ratcheting up your self-care efforts several notches may do you a world of good. Get a massage. Step up physical well-being through walking or other forms of exercise. Increase your inner peace through yoga, tai chi or another healing practice. Tend to your spirit. Commune with friends who are going through the same stage of life.
And you might consider talking with a therapist about all of these feelings to ease the transition and stabilize your self-confidence.
If you allow yourself to learn the lessons of this rich chapter in life you may discover — as so many women already have — that menopause can actually be a change for the better.