All a woman’s life, from being a girl to becoming a young woman, to a woman in family-raising and/or career-pursuit years, to menopause and beyond, she’s constantly challenged to embrace and love herself. Loving oneself isn’t easy because there’s so much chatter from the world outside and the mind within.
In menopause, life itself brings on another level of challenge. It may have to do with adult children leaving home accentuating a feeling of emptiness or loneliness; it may have to do with ongoing tension with spouse and/or siblings; it may have to do with inability to be present for elderly parents; it may have to do with increasing limitations of one’s body. Practicing self-love and self-care in menopause is ever more important.
Here are a few self-care reminders on how to best love your changing menopause body:
1. Exercise regularly
Physical activity is a form of self-care that when committed to daily, not only keeps your weight in check, but more importantly helps with one’s overall sense of well-being. If you are trying to lose weight, exercising on a regular basis will automatically make you feel good even before reaching your goal. The increase in serotonin and endorphin levels after a workout raises your tolerance level for stress and further you away from negative thoughts, anxiety, and depression. In other words, if you exercise regularly, it’s easier to feel good overall about yourself and your body. Now, you might wonder, “will I be discouraged and be angry with my body after putting in all that effort and still not lose weight?” I’ll be honest, being a human, you probably will be discontent for a millisecond, but in the long run, you will notice more energy, feeling more upbeat, more grounded, more in control, more proud of yourself, not to mention all the positive impact that exercise has on your sleep, blood sugar, heart, muscles, bones, and balance. Your snippets of discontent with body size will be quickly overtaken by a deep sense of self-appreciation and self-validation.
If exercise isn’t your thing yet, use your creativity and make it fun! If you feel unmotivated, sign up for a class or train for a race with a friend. After all, women thrive on social connections. Choose someone whose company you feel comfortable in and enjoy, best if they are already living an active lifestyle and that you feel accountable towards.
Staying active doesn’t mean only going to the gym and repeating same routines. Rotate on a variety of activities. The North American Menopause Society recommends the following:
- Brisk walking
- Weight training
It’d be helpful to include yoga or stretching to maintain flexibility. Hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, golfing, kayaking, canoeing are also great choices. Keeping your body moving and make time for a new hobby!
2. Deliberately practice self-care
You probably know this from experience. When everyday life consumes all your attention, leaving no time for yourself, you’ll start to be self-conflicted, snappy, antsy, resentful, easily overwhelmed, followed by self-deprecating thoughts and behaviours such as overindulging, overeating, self-shaming, self-criticism, because by default, due to our social up bringing, we’re programmed to hold destructive thought patterns when we’re tired, not heard, and scared. We can overcome these defaults by acknowledging personal needs and being realistic with human limitations.
Stay in touch with yourself. All day everyday you are invested in tasks, responsibilities, and obligations surrounding you, and that’s a lot of work! Similarly, self-care is also work but you must not be stingy with yourself. It’s an investment for which the return is always collectible albeit gradually and subtly.
Take 15-20 minutes everyday before bed to practice being present with yourself by journalling down:
- 3 reasons you like or admire about yourself that particular day and;
- 5 things that you’re grateful for that day
Validate yourself every single day and take every opportunity to be cognizant of the self-deprecating thoughts. Exterminate them as best as you can.
3. Check in with your doctor
If any discomfort or symptom arise, put on your investigator hat. Like you would for your child, bring her to the doctor. Hormonal changes in menopause sharply increase several health risks including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteopenia, and breast, cervical and colorectal cancers. A visit to your doctor discussing with her/him your concern and getting necessary tests done is non-negotiable self-care.
4. Consult a menopause-focused psychologist
If I had the chance to walk with my mom through her menopause again, I would make this a priority. Remember, it’s the brain (hypothalamus) that commands reproductive and endocrine organs (ovaries, adrenals, thyroid, pancreas) orchestrating a symphony of hormonal fluctuation. Even though life events happen outside of our bodies, it’s our brain that interprets and gives these events meaning. When the brain perceives and interprets events as distressing, unmanageable, and overwhelming, it would send “we’re under attack” signal to the body. In turn, the body goes into “ready to combat” mode, resulting in large hormonal fluctuation and ultimately hormonal imbalance.
In essence, hormonal fluctuation is often a result of mind-body interaction. If we have a healthy mindset and the mental skills to cope with stress and past trauma, we can also reduce the intensity and abruptness of which the brain directs the body, making hormonal transitions more gradual and comfortable. I believe that having a good counsellor at any point in life is a birthright because we’re humans and life happens. A well-trained counsellor or therapist can guide us to recognizing our blindspot and also accompany us to understand and develop new, healthier ways of thinking, ultimately strengthening us from within.