You’re entering another dimension. A dimension not only of little sleep and rolling hot flashes, but a dimension of mood swings and weight gain. A journey into the not-so-wondrous land of estrogen scarcity. Next stop, the Menopause Zone! No, it isn’t a science fiction universe from the mind of Rod Serling, it’s a biological reality brought to you by actual science and your changing body. You’re joined in this dimension by millions of new fellow travelers every year, all asking themselves, “Why wasn’t I born in the Star Trek era, when menopause symptoms could be instantly cured by the push of a button?!” Okay, maybe only the menopausal sci-fi nerds are asking themselves that. But, whether you’re into sci-fi, fantasy, or reality television, it was never your fantasy to trudge through this reality. But you’re here, and you deserve some relief. And because there is no magic spell or estrogen-breathing dragon by your side, you’re going to have to slay the symptomatic beast yourself. It’s time to boldly go where the wisest have gone before; you unlock this door with the key of menopause self-care.
What Is Menopause Self-Care?
First things first, what do I mean by self-care? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” In other words, it means prioritizing your own wellness and sanity during an understandably stressful time in your life. In short, having your own back and working out all the tension knots in that back. Even more specifically, self-care is simple lifestyle changes and actions that you can make and take every day or week that will help you care for yourself.
Why Is Menopause Self-Care Critical?
When you put yourself first by doing self-care activities that give back to you and your body, you improve your overall wellness and feel … well … happier. There’s no secret here. The whole point is to feel better! You also show others that you place a value on yourself, which makes them more likely to place value on you.
Self-Care Is a Choice: How to Put Yourself First
All of your life, you’ve probably been busy taking care of others—your kids, spouse, parents, family members, and friends. Maybe you’re one of those people who always puts others first. It can be so easy to lose yourself in the mix when you have so much on your plate. Trust me, I know how it goes. But, now it’s time to focus on you. Not yet convinced? Read on.
Change Your Mindset
You know the safety instructions on planes that tell you to “put on your mask before helping others?” That’s because if you focus on putting someone else’s mask on first, then you might suffocate and end up being no help to anyone. So, if you’re feeling like self-care puts the “self” in selfish, remember that you can’t help anyone if you’re not taken care of. Yes, you can find “Love Yourself” and “Put Yourself First” stitched into inspirational embroidery, but it’s more than feel-good language. It’s basic common sense. You are important. Therefore, caring for yourself is critical.
Create a Menopause Self-Care Practice
Yay you for making the self-care choice. Next up? Take daily actions, even if you need to take baby steps in the beginning to invest in yourself. Start by choosing even just one activity that makes you happy. It doesn’t need to cost money, be laborious, or require new outfits or other gear (though if shopping leads to increased self-care and decreased stress then go for it). Identify, as you practice this over time, how you feel. A great litmus test for whether self-care practices work is to ask yourself: “Is this activity giving back to me? Do I feel energized, confident, and more joyful after doing it?” If you feel numbed out, exhausted (not in a good way), or more stressed out, then uh, time to try something different. It’s called self-CARE, not self-COLLAPSE.
16 Ways to Practice Menopause Self-Care
These 16 tips give you great ideas to care for yourself during menopause and are divided into five categories: emotional, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual.
Emotional Menopause Self-Care Practices
Emotional self-care is about being emotionally stimulated and taking care of your mental health. Emotional self-care practices can include:
1. Pamper yourself.
Do something for your body: Go on a hike, get your nails done, try a new hairstyle, schedule a massage (my personal favorite is a Swedish, energy, and aromatherapy combo!), or treat yourself to your favorite dessert.
Do something for your mind: Plan a trip, join a goat yoga class, read your fav romance writer and/or Atlantic political analyst, or watch all of your favorite Marvel movies back to back.
You do you. You know what’s going to make you feel like a million bucks, or with inflation, ten million bucks. Find a way to pamper yourself that is totally indulgent Like, today or tomorrow. Better yet, today AND tomorrow.
2. Ask for what you need.
For those of us who value independence and pride ourselves on being self-reliant, asking for anything from anyone other than ourselves, may elicit a knee-jerk “No thanks!” But, the truth is that the menopausal life stage brings with it pain, stress, unknowns, powerlessness, overwhelm, and many more unpredictable and unwelcome feelings. Sitting alone while feeling isolated and disconnected without the information, resources, or support you need will turn what can already be a bummer of a time into a major bummer of a time. Asking for help can … well … help. It took The Beatles until their fifth studio album to learn to ask for “Help!” Learn from their mistakes, and start asking for help as soon as you need it.
3. Process your feelings.
I read a post recently that nicely summed up the importance of moving through emotions: “When you process your emotions and allow yourself to feel them in their entirety, you’re giving yourself a clear head to channel them constructively, instead of the self-destructive nonproductive ways we tend to revert to.”
So, write in that journal. Scream into that pillow. Cry on your bestie’s shoulder. Talk the ear off of your favorite family member. As I always say, communication is a key player in your health.
Don’t have anyone you feel emotionally safe with or don’t know what the heck you are feeling or how to process your emotions? Good news! A therapist’s couch or Zoom window is waiting for you. One of the best ways to practice menopause self-care is to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms. The pros can help you identify your feelings and your needs. When I first started seeing a therapist , she handed me a 1-page document with what seemed to be thousands of feeling-related words—all in a 2-point font—to help me recognize what I was feeling. In addition to discovering I needed glasses, I got very good at describing my own feelings.
Intellectual Self-Care Practices
Intellectual self-care is about stimulating your mind. Intellectual self-care practices include:
4. Feed your mind.
Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” asserts that growth leads to happiness: “To feel happy, it’s not enough to have fun with your friends, and not feel guilty about yelling all the time, and feel like you’re working in the right job; you also need to feel growth—a sense of learning, of betterment, of advancement, of contributing to the growth of others.”
One of the fastest ways to grow is to engage in intellectually stimulating activities. You can download crossword puzzles, sudoku, and other brain-stretching games on your phone. You can read books in a wide variety of genres to expand and challenge your viewpoints. You could learn something new like a skill you’ve been meaning to master or a new hobby you’ve been wanting to try. You could dive into a documentary or do some genealogy and capture your family’s history. Maybe you’ve been waiting to watch all 24 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe back to back or re-read the entire Tolkien cannon. Now’s the time!
Friendly Tip About Friends: Coupling intellectual with social self-care activities is as easy as inviting another person to do an activity together or joining an online or in-person group (for example, a book club, a dinner group, a knitting club, a water polo team, a coven, a Trekie forum, etc.).
Physical Menopause Self-Care Practices
Physical self-care is about diet, exercise, sleep, and managing your physical health and wellness. Physical self-care practices include:
5. Get moving.
You don’t need to purchase the latest Insanity workout to experience the benefits of moving. Although you certainly can. Warning: we hear it’s insane. Find a workout program that you enjoy doing. Put on some comfy shoes and walk around your neighborhood. Join a fun league like tennis or pickleball (which is all the rage now, BTW). If it helps, buy cute workout clothes to motivate you.
Get this: Being physically active has a long list of benefits that can help you feel your best during perimenopause and menopause. Physical activity helps relieve stress, gives you energy, improves your mood, builds strength, promotes good sleep, and helps people maintain a healthy weight. Exercise may also help prevent osteoporosis in menopausal people. So why not *milk* exercise for all it’s worth? (Eh? See what I did there? Because osteoporosis is caused by a loss of calcium and milk contains . . . well, you get it.) According to the Office on Women’s Health, women should get at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days during the week. Easy peasy lemon squeezy … and while you’re at it, squeeze some of that lemon juice into a bottle of water. There’s nothing like a stress-relieving activity that leads to refreshment AND helps you build arm muscle.
6. Eat a balanced diet.
Yes, the carbs taste oh so amazing … my mouth is watering just thinking about them. Give me all the fries and bread with dipping oil [insert Homer Simpson drooling sound]. With that being said, it’s important to mix in a salad every once in a while. During menopause, getting the right vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from the foods we eat is just as important as it has always been. According to the amazing people over at Chapel Hill Gynecology, “Part of practicing self-care during menopause should include paying attention to your diet and making good food choices. Eat a varied diet of whole foods with lean protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Avoid processed foods with refined sugar and limit alcohol consumption (which can also trigger hot flashes).” And, let’s face it, we’ll do anything to avoid hot flashes, right?!
7. Find ways to stay cool.
Thanks to those wonderful hormonal changes, you are bound to experience a hot flash or two (or seventy-five). A hot flash is a sudden feeling of warmth in the upper body (mostly in the chest, neck, and face). Your skin might redden and you might become sweaty. More accurately, you may feel like you could burst into flames at any second. (Don’t worry, you won’t though.) Hot flashes vary from person to person and can be very mild or strong enough to wake you up (called night sweats). Most hot flashes last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes (not so much of a “flash” then, is it?!). They can happen several times an hour, a few times a day, or just once or twice a week.
Recent example? I was throwing a backyard party smack dab in the middle of a heat wave. Right as people were arriving, an uninvited hellacious flash came in hot (pun intended). My face and neck turned beet red and sweat started pouring from my forehead. To say I was embarrassed is an understatement. Staying inside right next to my AC vent didn’t do a thing to stop the madness. Then, I had a brilliant idea to dip paper towels in ice water and place them on my forehead and neck and laugh at myself. In mere minutes, I was not only back in action and on my way to becoming the party hostess of the year, but I opened up a dialogue with other menopausal party-goers about self-care during hot flashes. I guess you could say I was the hottest host in history!
Let’s face it: Hot flashes are as relaxing as taking a bath in hot sauce. Give yourself some grace. If you have a hot flash, especially at the worst time ever, then do what it takes to help you feel comfortable, even if it means draping yourself in cold washcloths while sitting in front of a fan.
Because we don’t know when a hot flash will grace us with its presence, it’s important to find ways to stay cool. Here are some ideas:
- Dress in layers. If a hot flash ever strikes, especially when on-the-go, you can remove some layers without feeling totally naked.
- Carry a fan. You can get one of those small, handheld fans at the dollar store. Pick one up and always feel you’re one step away from a Beyonce-inspired wind-blown hair moment.
- Wear breathable clothing. Yes, yoga pants are my best friend. But, some versions just aren’t breathable. Consider clothes made of cotton to allow your skin to breathe in all sorts of fresh air goodness.
- Have stylish hankies or small towels on the ready to combat hot flashes that surface at the most inconvenient times and places.
- Prepare for hot flash’s BFF—night sweats—with linen or bamboo sheets, sweat-wicking pajamas, cooling gel pillows, ice packs, and portable AC units or fans aimed right at your face. Hey, you can get that music video wind-blown hair effect while you sleep!
Figure out a system that works for you. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later for planning ahead.
8. Drink plenty of water.
Water should be your new BFF. Drinking water will help keep you hydrated (and cool), regulate your body temperature, relieve bloating, and avoid dryness. What’s not to love?! According to Healthline, “During menopause, women often experience dryness. This is likely caused by the decrease in estrogen levels. Drinking 8–12 glasses of water a day can help with these symptoms. Drinking water can also reduce the bloating that can occur with hormonal changes.”
Additionally, the fine folks over at Gennev share that, “Drinking more (good) water is the one simple lifestyle change that can possibly improve brain function, make skin, hair, and nails healthier, reduce urinary urgency and bladder irritation, relieve menopause nausea and hot flashes, reduce the intensity and frequency of headaches, and ease menopause cramps
As we age, our bodies don’t retain moisture as well. In youth, we are 60-70% water; after menopause, women may be only 55% water, which is a substantial drop.”
Think that water is boring and tasteless? Because it’s the 21st century, there’s all sorts of options for flavouring your water. Just watch out for artificial sweeteners, as those can contribute to bloating. Or, grab that lemon we recommended two sections ago!
9. Take a deep breath of fresh air.
Get outside and take a deep breath of fresh air. Staying cooped up inside all day might make you feel down and out (of your mind). Figure out ways to go outside periodically throughout the day. You can work in your garden, play fetch with your dog, get the mail, sit in a hammock, read a book on your front porch, play fetch with your very unusual cat, sip a glass of lemonade, talk to your neighbors, take a quick walk around the block, take out the garbage, do yard work, do a craft or DIY project, play fetch with a very precocious squirrel … the possibilities are as endless on the list of animals I’d like to play fetch with.
10. Figure out a sleep routine.
You go through your nightly routine, already feeling exhausted and ready to get a good night’s sleep. You crawl into bed, feeling like you’ll be the mayor of Sleep Town in no time. The next thing you know, you’ve been impeached and the residents of Sleep Town have vowed to make your night a waking hell, emphasis on the “waking.” One thing that may help is figuring out a sleep routine that works. Maybe it’s putting on lavender-scented pajamas and spraying your bed sheets with lavender essential oil spray. Maybe it’s reading a book to make your eyes nice and heavy. Maybe it’s putting on a face mask followed by wearing eye masks. As we all know, sleep is incredibly important, so you need to find ways to at least try to make it happen—night sweats and all.
Sleep disorders during menopause are extremely common. I’m handing it over to the health experts at NIH for some interesting stats: “According to the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), the prevalence of sleep disorders increases with age … ranging from 16 percent to 42 percent in premenopausal women, from 39 percent to 47 percent in perimenopausal women, and from 35 percent to 60 percent in postmenopausal women. Symptoms of sleep disorders that menopausal women complain about include falling asleep, frequent awakening and/or early morning awakening.”
For a full list of ways to help you sleep better, be sure to check out this post. You might walk away with a few tips to help you get some ZZZs as soon as tonight.
11. Look into using essential oils, supplements, or medications.
I feel like everywhere I turn, I see some type of essential oil that can help with all sorts of ailments and moods. I even went out and bought a diffuser. Even if I don’t see the changes right away (or maybe ever), at least my house smells amazing, which makes me one happy person. “Happy and Sweet Smelling ” is better than “Stinky and Stressed Out.” Look into essential oils (no, I’m not telling you to sell them … but totally do it if it makes you happy) and see if they are a good fit for you.
Supplements are another piece of the menopausal treatment pie. For more specific treatment options, learn about medical treatments, and check out over-the-counter options. As always, before creating a health plan or choosing one or more treatment options or products, be sure to chat with your healthcare professional(s).
12. Get help from the pros.
During menopause, your entire body—both the physical you and emotional you—will feel the impact. So, how can you manage these changes? Whether you choose the self-informed healthcare route, see a naturopath or holistic doctor, or visit with your OBGYN or another physician, taking advantage of the many available menopause treatments is critical to enjoying (and simply surviving) the journey.
Social Self-Care Practices
Social self-care is about spending time with and building and strengthening relationships with others. Social self-care practices include:
13. Go outside of your comfort zone to build new relationships and create unique experiences.
The menopausal journey can be amazingly connected or incredibly disconnected. The choice, as with making self-care a priority, is up to you! Only you know your social style, personality, and needs. So, as we always like to say, “You do you!” One way to adjust to the Menopause Zone is to push the boundaries of your Comfort Zone. May I suggest pushing yourself a bit with a focus on building new relationships and embracing unique experiences. This could mean going to a concert, hugging or smiling at people more, and accepting affection from others. It could mean hosting or attending parties, planning regular lunches to get to know new people, or reaching out when you feel disconnected. And, it definitely means saying “Yes!” more often when people ask you to do things.
14. Plan online and IRL outings with friends and family.
Strengthening relationships with friends and family is an investment that pays huge dividends in the connection arena. So, go out to lunch, drop off a cup of coffee, plan a double-date night, send uplifting texts, make an old fashioned phone call (throwback!), have a TV watch party for that new episode of your new favorite Showtime drama, play your phone games with friends instead of alone, get group season tickets to sporting events/the theatre/dance events … the list goes on. Do whatever you prefer to do in order to stay connected. According to the pros at this gynecology clinic, “One of the cornerstones of self-care at any time is staying connected to loved ones. Make an effort to keep up with friends and family. Both extroverts and introverts need some kind of human connection as part of a self-care regimen. If you aren’t able to meet with loved ones in person, then text, call, or schedule video chats.”
Spiritual Self-Care Practices
Spiritual self-care is about finding meaning in your life and in your experiences and doing spiritual activities that are meaningful to you and add value to your life. Spiritual self-care practices include:
15. Nourish your soul.
When most people think of “spiritual practices,” they immediately think of religion. While religious practices may be part of your spiritual life, they only make up a small slice of the spiritual self-care pie. Other spiritually gratifying self-care rituals may include a gratitude practice such as writing in journal, saying positive affirmations, repeating mantras, and having uplifting self-talk; things that calm your body and mind like progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and meditation; spending time in nature; doing yoga (goats optional); and choosing mindfulness in all moments (or at the very minimum, when you are practicing self-care).
If all of this sounds too touchy-feely for you, then that’s fine! Translate the phrase “nourish your soul” to “do things that make you feel fulfilled.”
16. Know your WHY.
In this VerywellMind article, it states: “Finding your purpose is more than just a cliché or a dream that will never be fulfilled. It’s actually a tool for a better, happier, healthier life that too few people attempt to use.” Some spiritual self-care activities that can help you discover your “why” include: creating a bucket list, volunteering, surrounding yourself with positive people, listing your passions and hobbies—things that you are interested in that bring you joy, writing down your dreams/goals, identifying what you want your life’s legacy to be (what you will accomplish and how you will make others feel). Capture what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning, determine your superpowers and how they bring benefit to the world by using them. Then use those superpowers (or regular human powers) to turn that “why” into a “how!”
How to Avoid Self-Care Sabotage
Earlier, I mentioned that self-care is a choice—an investment and a dedication in yourself. Just as menopause self-care starts with you, it also continues with you. I mean, the keyword is “self,” who else would it start and continue with? But, just like any practice or habit, it can be easy to lose momentum. Falling off the self-care wagon can sabotage our self-love journey. Here are some quick tips to help you put yourself first when you feel tempted to slack on your self-care:
- Make taking care of yourself a top priority.
- Schedule your self-care activities by saying no, delegating, or scheduling lesser priorities around “me” time.
- Take regular breaks from electronic devices to give yourself the freedom of uninterrupted time to focus on yourself.
- Assess how your self-care practice(s) are making you feel on a regular basis. Choose only those activities that give back to you, fulfill you, or otherwise make you happy.
- Celebrate the wins! Celebrate everything you’ve done for yourself so far.
It’s a Wrap!
Yes, your body is going through some pretty massive changes. And, guess what? That’s totally normal. Give yourself some grace. While it’s true every person’s menopause experience is different, knowing how to successfully manage the changes of stage of life has the potential to be both frustrating and isolating. That is why menopause self-care is essential.
The self-care options do not have to be major overhauls of your lifestyle. Start small. Go on a 5-minute walk. Did that feel good? Cool. Slowly increase your walk time to a healthy amount that makes you feel good. Meet up with friends for a weekly coffee date. Work in your garden to get fresh air. Make an appointment to get a massage. And then, actually go get the massage. There are plenty of ways to make sure you are paying attention to yourself, making yourself a priority, and practicing menopause self-care. You’re entering The Menopause Zone, but there’s no reason it should be as scary as science fiction.
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