Coping With Menopause
MENOPAUSE is “a uniquely individual experience” and “the beginning of a new and liberating chapter in your life,” say the authors of Natural Menopause—The Complete Guide to a Woman’s Most Misunderstood Passage. Research shows that the better you feel about yourself and your life—your own sense of worth and identity—the easier the transition will be.
Granted, it is more difficult during this time of life for some women than for others. If you are having difficulties, this does not mean that you have self-esteem problems or that you are losing your mind, your femininity, your intelligence, or your interest in sex. The problem, rather, is generally biological.
“Even women who suffered terrible symptoms during menopause say they emerged on the other side with a new sense of purpose and vigor,” reports Newsweek. In the words of one 42-year-old: “I’m looking forward to the calm, to having my body quit playing tricks on me.”
When Women Cope Better
How older women are viewed is an important factor in how well they cope with menopause. In places where their maturity, wisdom, and experience are valued, the menopausal time is attended by far fewer physical and emotional ailments.
For example, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Health and Natural Healing reports that in African tribes “where menopause is embraced as a welcomed passage in life, and postmenopausal women are respected for their experience and wisdom, women rarely complain of menopausal symptoms.” Similarly, The Silent Passage—Menopause says: “Indian women of the Rajput caste do not complain of depression or psychological symptoms” during menopause.
In Japan too where elderly women are highly respected, hormone treatment for menopause is virtually unknown. Further, Asian women apparently have fewer and less severe symptoms of menopause than those of Western culture. Their diet appears to be a factor that contributes to this.
Maya women actually looked forward to menopause, according to the studies of one anthropologist. To those women the menopause meant relief from continuous childbearing. Undoubtedly, it also brought them freedom to pursue other interests in life.
At the same time, the fears associated with menopause should not be lightly dismissed. In cultures that stress the value of youth and youthful appearance, women who have not yet experienced menopause often fear it. For such individuals what can be done to alleviate the difficulties of transition?
What Women Need
Janine O’Leary Cobb, author and pioneer in menopausal education, explains: “What a lot of women need is some sort of validation for the way they are feeling—that they are not alone.”
Understanding, as well as a cheerful outlook, is vital. One 51-year-old mother going through menopause said: “I honestly believe that it’s your general outlook on life that will guide how you go through menopause. . . . I know aging is there. Whether or not we like it, it is going to happen. . . . I decided that this [menopause] is not a disease. This is my life.”
So as this new chapter in your life approaches, make time for deep reflection on new, challenging interests. Not to be overlooked are the physical effects of menopause on the body. Doctors and other authorities recommend following general principles of good health in preparing for the transition—wholesome food, sufficient rest, and moderate exercise.
Diet and Exercise
The need for nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals) does not decrease as a woman gets older, but her need for calories decreases. It is important, therefore, to eat foods that have a high concentration of nutrients and to avoid sugary, fatty foods that are “empty calories.”
Regular exercise enhances the ability to cope with stress and depression. It increases energy and helps keep weight off. The basal metabolic rate gradually declines with age, and unless boosted by exercise, the tendency is to gain weight gradually.
It is most important for women to know that exercise combined with calcium supplementation can slow the development of osteoporosis, a bone condition producing porosity and fragility. The book Women Coming of Age states that “properly performed studio aerobics, walking, running, cycling and other aerobic sports, as well as weight-training,” are thought to be especially good. Interestingly, osteoporosis is not found in certain remote communities where people remain physically active far into their old age. In such places women routinely live well into their 80’s and 90’s. Before commencing any exercise program, however, it would be wise to consult your doctor.
Coping With Hot Flashes
For most women, hot flashes are a nuisance. For some, though, these become a real problem because either they are very frequent or they constantly disrupt sleep. What can be done?
First of all, don’t panic. Adding anxiety to the situation will only worsen it. Regular vigorous exercise is beneficial because it helps the body learn to cope with excess heat and to cool down more quickly. Also try the simple measure of drinking a glass of cold water or placing your hands in cold water.
In addition, make a practice of wearing loose clothes in layers so they can easily be removed or added. Cotton and linen allow perspiration to evaporate better than synthetic fabrics. At night try the layered approach, with several blankets that can be individually added or removed as needed. Keep a change of sleepwear close at hand.
Try to determine what seems to precipitate your hot flashes. Consumption of alcohol, caffeine, sugars, and hot or spicy foods can trigger them, as can smoking. Keeping a diary of when and where hot flashes occur may help you identify the foods and activities that precipitate them. Then avoid these things.
Physicians that specialize in nutritional medicine recommend various remedies to reduce hot flashes, such as vitamin E, evening primrose oil, and the herbs ginseng, dong quai, and black cohosh. According to some doctors, the prescription medications Bellergal and clonidine provide relief, but estrogen pills or patches are said to be the most effective.a
Vaginal dryness can be remedied by the application of vegetable or fruit oils, vitamin-E oil, and lubricant gels. If these prove insufficient, estrogen cream will help the vaginal walls thicken and lubricate. Before starting any regimen, it is wise first to consult with a physician.
What About Stress?
At the same time that a woman must deal with the hormonal and physical changes that come with menopause, she often must face other stressful events, a number of which were mentioned in the preceding article. On the other hand, positive things like the birth of a grandchild or the pursuing of new activities after the children have left home can counterbalance negative stress.
In their book Natural Menopause, Susan Perry and Dr. Katherine A. O’Hanlan give some practical suggestions for handling stress better. They point to the need of identifying the sources of stress and then taking a break from time to time. This may mean getting help in caring for a chronically ill family member. “Pace yourself,” they urge. “Try to avoid overscheduling . . . Listen to your body.” They add: “Providing a service to others . . . can be a great stress-reducer. . . . Exercise regularly. . . . Seek professional help if the stress in your life gets out of control.”
Family Members Can Help
A woman experiencing menopause needs emotional understanding and practical support. Describing what she would do when beset with periods of anxiety, one wife said: “I would talk matters over with my husband, and after his sympathetic understanding, I would see that the problems weren’t as big as my anxious state of mind made them.”
A sensitive husband also recognizes that his wife will not always be able to keep the same pace while going through menopause. So he will be alert to take the initiative to assist with family responsibilities, perhaps doing the laundry, shopping for food, and so forth. Compassionately, he will put his wife’s needs ahead of his own. (Philippians 2:4) He might suggest going out for a meal occasionally or in some other way make a pleasant break in the daily routine. He will avoid disagreements to the extent possible and support her efforts to maintain healthy eating habits.
Most of all, a husband will fulfill his wife’s need to be regularly reassured of his continued love for her. He should be discerning and should recognize that this is not a time to tease his wife about personal things. A husband who treats his wife in a loving way is following the Scriptural admonition to ‘dwell with her according to knowledge, assigning her honor as the feminine one.’—1 Peter 3:7.
Similarly, children should make a genuine effort to understand the reason for their mother’s emotional swings. They need to recognize her need for private time. Exhibiting sensitivity to their mother’s moods will send a reassuring message that they really care about her. On the other hand, joking about her unpredictable nature will only aggravate the situation. Ask appropriate questions to understand better what is going on, and help with household duties without being asked. These are but a few ways to give a mother support during this stage in her life.
Life After Menopause
When this chapter in a woman’s life concludes, many years often lie ahead. The wisdom and experience she has gained is priceless. Author Gail Sheehy’s studies of “sixty thousand adult Americans established that women in their fifties, by self-report, had a greater sense of well-being than at any previous stage in their lives.”
Yes, many women who have gone through these transition years find renewed spirit. Their creativity is revitalized. They get on with living, involving themselves in productive activity. “I keep my mind active. I keep looking into new things and studying,” said one woman who is past menopause. She added: “I may be a little slower, but I don’t feel that this is the end of my life. I’m looking forward to many more years.”
Significantly, in interviewing women, Sheehy found that those “who enjoy a boost in postmenopausal status and self-esteem are those who perform roles in which intellect, judgment, creativity, or spiritual strength is primarily valued.” There is a throng of such women who are happily devoted to expanding their knowledge and understanding of the Bible and are teaching others its worthwhile values.—Psalm 68:11.
Besides keeping a positive outlook on life and performing meaningful work, women of all ages are wise to remind themselves that our loving Creator knows our feelings and truly cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7) Indeed, Jehovah God has made provision for all who serve him to enjoy life eventually in a righteous new world where there will be no more sickness, suffering, or even death.—2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:3, 4.
Therefore, you who are going through menopause, remember that it is a stage of life. It will pass, leaving years of life that will be richly rewarding if used profitably in serving our loving Creator.
a Awake! does not recommend any particular form of medical treatment.
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What About Estrogen Replacement Therapy?
Estrogen may offer protection against heart disease and osteoporosis, two main causes of illness in postmenopausal women. As the estrogen levels decline, these illnesses start to develop and become manifest in five or ten years. Estrogen replacement therapy or hormone (estrogen and progesterone) replacement therapy has been recommended to prevent these diseases.
Estrogen replacement can reduce the rate of bone loss and stave off the onset of heart disease. Adding progesterone to the hormone replacement regimen reduces the incidence of breast and uterine cancer but counteracts the beneficial effect of estrogen on heart disease.
The decision whether or not to use hormone replacement therapy must be based on an evaluation of each woman’s circumstances, health, and family history.b
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What Diet Is Best?
The following suggestions are excerpted from the book Natural Menopause—The Complete Guide to a Woman’s Most Misunderstood Passage, by Susan Perry and Dr. Katherine A. O’Hanlan.
• Reduce your protein intake to no more than 15 percent of your total caloric intake.
• Get more of your protein from vegetable sources and less from animal sources.
• Eat more complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, breads and pastas, beans, nuts, rice, vegetables, and fruits.
• Eat less sugar and fewer foods containing large amounts of sugar.
• Eat more food rich in fiber.
• Reduce your total fat intake to no more than 25 to 30 percent of your total calorie consumption.
• As you decrease your total fat intake, increase the ratio of ‘good fats’ (polyunsaturated) to ‘bad fats’ (saturated).
• Drink six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water each day.
Vitamins and Minerals
• Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
• Milk, dairy products, broccoli, and green leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium.
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What family members can do to help: Show affection, help with housework, be an attentive listener, occasionally do something different