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Stress-Proofing Your Menopause

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Updated November 28, 2007

The years surrounding menopause are loaded with stress. Even if your hormones weren’t bouncing wildly and ever downward, it is a time of life when stressors seem to come out of the woodwork. You may be dealing with a busy job; your partner’s challenges (or the stress of not having a partner); aging parents; teenage children; or health issues for any of your loved ones, including yourself. Once hormones start to change, your body has one more stressor to cope with. It would make you tired just thinking about what this time of life can offer, never mind dealing with it all.

Coping with stress is challenging for women in different ways than for men. First, serotonin is an essential neurotransmitter for handling stress and regulating mood. Women do not produce serotonin as fast as men do, and they use it faster. As a result, when stress uses up a woman’s serotonin, she is then more likely to suffer from a mood disorder like anxiety or depression. Estrogen helps regulate neurotransmitter production, so when estrogen levels begin to slide, these important chemicals are less available to do their job.

A little stress is not necessarily a bad thing. It can gear your body up to meet a threat or a challenge – like public speaking or getting through your daughter’s wedding. But chronic stress that you experience day after day takes a real bite out of you. This constant production of stress hormones can:

  • Make it difficult to lose weight
  • Decrease your estrogen level and reduce your bone density
  • Cause your body to respond with ailments like acid reflux, migraine headaches, and irritable bowel, among others
  • Increase back and joint pain
  • Damage your immune function so that your are more susceptible to viruses and infections

Clearly, finding ways to manage stress will make a big difference in how well you handle menopausal hormone changes, and life in general. Now is the time to develop stress management strategies that work for your life and your nature. Here are some you can incorporate, even into a hectic schedule:

  • Get involved in pleasurable activities. Doing things you enjoy lowers your blood pressure, releases endorphins and dissipates the effects of stress.
  • Talk with friends. Women are good at making and keeping friends. Building a social support network improves your quality of life and reduces stress over time.
  • Eat smart. Do not load up on simple carbohydrates like sugar that will send your insulin surging. Have lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and walk away from fatty meals, sodium, alcohol and caffeine.
  • Exercise every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes. If you can do it outside, so much the better. Take opportunities like walking up stairs and getting off the bus a few blocks from your destination to build walking into your day.
  • Do things for yourself that help you relax and feel good. Hot baths, facials, massage or a pedicure remind you that you are important and that your body deserves tending.
  • Explore some creative activity. Painting, quilting, needlework, acting or any expressive activity that lets you experience the satisfaction of creating something you value.
  • Find a meaningful connection that nourishes your spiritual self.
  • Sleep! Getting enough sleep is not a waste of time. On the contrary: adequate sleep helps you maintain a healthy weight, sharpens your memory, improves mood, and increases stamina for facing your busy life.
  • Learn a stress reduction technique and practice it. Meditation, relaxation exercises, mental imagery, deep breathing or any other technique that you can use during the day to refocus your mind and body away from stress.
  • Join a group that is dealing with an issue that you are facing. Grief groups, parent groups, divorce support groups, weight loss groups can all support you to get though a challenging time.
  • Laugh at every opportunity. Keeping your life playful and not taking yourself too seriously will reduce your stress and help you roll with life’s punches.
  • Have satisfying, relaxed sex with your partner. Penetrative sex and orgasm can release chemicals into your system that reduce stress for days.
  • If you feel you are not managing your stress as well as you’d like, get professional help. You are learning habits to help you live a longer, and more healthy life. Stress management is not a luxury.

Wherever possible try to eliminate stressors altogether. And where you can’t eliminate them, learn how to manage your response to stressful events and keep them in perspective. Learning stress management will safeguard your health, your sanity and your ability to cope.

Sources:

North American Menopause Society, (NAMS), Menopause Guidebook: Helping Women Make Informed Healthcare Decisions Around Menopause and Beyond, 6th Edition , North American Menopause Society, 2006. 10 Oct. 2007.

Cahill, L, “Why sex matters for neuroscience,”Nature Reviews Neuroscience Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Vol. 7, No. 6, 477-484, June 2006. 24 Nov. 2007.

Travella, KO, “Brain Imaging Reveals Gender Differences In How Individuals Cope Under Stress” Medical News Today, Nov. 20, 2007. 24 Nov. 2007.

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