What is Menopause?

I don’t feel like myself.

Could it be Menopause?

If you’re approaching the age of menopause, you may be unsure, or even a little fearful, of what to expect. The idea of menopause has long held negative connotations in our society, largely tied to stigmas of aging, but the transition to menopause can be a time of reflection and inspiration. It’s a normal and natural part of a woman’s life, and a period of life that can be just as well lived as earlier stages.

“But, I don’t feel like myself,” you say. “How do I know if I’m in menopause and how can this period of my life be lived out well?”

What to Expect as you Transition

Menopause is a season, not a disease. It’s not fatal. In fact, it is a good time to take stock. In the same way that a harsh winter is always followed by spring and new life, menopause can be a precursor to a fresh beginning for the rest of your life. Take time to reflect on what you did right the first two-thirds of your life, and care to dream about your next twenty-five years or so.

Menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. The years leading up to that point, when women may have changes in their monthly cycles, hot flashes, or other symptoms, are called the menopausal transition or perimenopause.

The menopausal transition most often begins between ages 45 and 55. It usually lasts about seven years but can be as long as 14 years. The duration can depend on lifestyle factors such as smoking, age at onset, and race and ethnicity. During perimenopause, the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones made by the ovaries, varies greatly.

The menopausal transition affects each woman uniquely and in various ways. The body begins to use energy differently, fat cells change, and women may gain weight more easily. You may experience changes in your bone or heart health, your body shape and composition, or your physical and mental function.

During this transitional time true menopause doesn’t actually occur until one year after a woman’s final menstrual period. For that reason, a woman who does not want to get pregnant should continue to use birth control for at least a full 12 months after her last period.

Menopause Triggers

Menopause can also be triggered by a hysterectomy or surgical removal of the ovaries, which produce hormones. If you have surgery to remove your uterus or ovaries and are not taking hormones, you will experience symptoms of menopause immediately.

After menopause, women enter postmenopause. Postmenopausal women are more vulnerable to heart disease. During this time, it is important to continue to eat a healthy diet, be active and live life to the fullest.

Menopause Symptoms

Along with the “normal” symptoms of menopause, changes in your hormones can greatly impact your mental health as well. You may experience feelings of anxiety, stress or even depression.

These symptoms may include:

  • Anger and irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Loss of confidence
  • Low mood and feelings of sadness or depression
  • Poor concentration – often described as ‘brain fog’ and/or lost words

It may seem like the list of menopause symptoms is long and leave you feeling disheartened. But, be assured, menopause can have a positive impact on your life as well; for one thing, not all physical changes caused by reduced female hormone levels are negative. For another, many of the emotional and social changes can actually be energizing.

For many women, menopause becomes a natural time to take stock of their lives. They decide to take a fresh look at their relationships, their professions, the ways they’re caring for their own health, and the ways they want to expend their energy. Menopausal women start to ask themselves if they’re headed in the direction they want to go, both professionally and personally, and whether the way they’re spending their time is meaningful to them.

So, stop holding back and start living the last half of your life with great anticipation. Take necessary “time outs” to reduce stress and start taking chances on things that you didn’t have time for.

After 50-plus years of life experience, including the ups and downs of relationships, child-rearing, and careers, women are more likely to go after what they want with a greater sense of confidence than ever knowing they can handle whatever comes their way.

When those pesky hot flashes have you peeling off layers of clothing or when you can’t remember what that one thing was that you came to the supermarket for, you’re likely to feel a kinship with any woman as sweaty or forgetful as yourself. Talking and joking with other women about the menopausal symptoms you’re experiencing can be very helpful by reassuring you that you’re not alone, because you aren’t alone. Start to exchange your coping strategies with other women. Have courage to face the world knowing that you’re in good company and that these unwelcome symptoms will not last forever.

Put your shoulders back, stand tall, stick a geranium in your hat and be happy.
Cruising the Menowave together ~

Gwen Harris & Tina McDermott,

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