Peri-Menopause - change and how we can manage it?

It feels like I woke up one day and BANG! A middle aged woman stole my body an handed it back with peri-menopause. My mother's generation used to refer to it as 'The Change.' And I can see why.

As women we experience endless shifts in our hormones so we should be used to having to adapt in order to cope, right? But hormonal changes never cease to be confusing. I started my period at the age of 12. As I got into my late teens and early twenties, my blood pressure used to drop so low that I would nearly pass out and often vomit on the first day of menstruation. Contraception caused horrific mood swings and it took a lot of trial and error to realise that I actually didn't want to mess with my body. Pregnancy caused me to burst into tears one minute, feel ecstatic the next, confused and frightened sometimes; oh gosh I'm glad I don't have to go back there!

After having children, I was acutely aware of further changes to my physiology; the most boring one being that I couldn't tolerate alcohol (a good incentive to drink very little). I also started getting migraines just before my period every month. My moods fluctuated with my monthly cycle. Obviously it didn't help that mental illness took hold at this time so sleep never returned to healthy levels.

And now peri-menopause has arrived. The first thing I noticed with hindsight was that I started getting cramp in my feet. Next anxiety reared its ugly head for what seemed like no reason whatsoever. Then I began to wake up boiling hot at around 3am; thankfully not sweaty but so hot that even resting my hand on my chest felt like a furnace! I kept spreading out to find a cool spot in the bed. I maneuvered the duvet so that just my legs or arms were protruding (if my feet or hands stuck out they would get too cold). You can imagine the fidgeting and my poor husband suffered a restless night as a result. My memory has never been great but consistent learning has helped. Now I can't get through the day without writing things down and checking my diary at least three times. Even my children have to write in my diary otherwise I don't know what they are doing from one day to the next! I can't tell you how many appointments I have missed.

You get the picture; non stop change and every person will have a different experience. So NO, you don't really get used to it! But you can learn to manage it. As women, we really need support, especially from one another.

I was thrilled to be invited to the Wild Clinics Open Evening in November. Wild Clinics (Lewes, London and remote appointments) redefines nutrition practice, uniting a functional medicine approach with the fundamental need to view health as a ‘whole-body’ experience, respecting the influence of the mind, body and spirit. This means the practitioners are interested in more than just what you are eating. They examine the psychological and social aspects of your relationship to food and diet and how this informs your choices and habits. They learn about you as a person – what your life is like and how this influences your current health picture and potential to achieve personal health and lifestyle goals. For example, their nutritional therapists care if you get enough sleep, if you are happy in your job or personal life. Their team emphasises how yoga and mindfulness are as essential as having a good nutritional foundation.

"We are living in a generation where time for ourselves can get little validation or opportunity. It is all too easy for our lives to be dictated by the clock, the meeting, the school drop off, cramming all we can into our schedule. Smart phones mean that even our 'down time' can be interrupted by vibrating reminders of an email and perhaps all at the expense of our emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing and our ability to restore and heal. It is my belief that in order to come back into balance and heal deeply and sustainably, it is fundamental to honour the art of stillness at the heart of any healing programme; We are after all human beings and not human ‘doings’. This is even more essential as women move into the peri-menopause and menopause, where a key part of managing physical and emotional symptoms is slowing down and taking time to nurture," says Henrietta Norton, Nutritional Therapist & Nutrition Director, Wild Clinics. Co-Founder of Wild Nutrition.

Through educating myself, I have learned to 'hear' my body. I know that too much sugar will cause me to get a migraine. Eating late at night will make me hot. Alcohol will interrupt my sleep. Stress will make everything worse and I have to allow myself time to manage those things that cause stress. I know that my bedtime routine is vital for me to get those few hours of sleep before my body wakes up at 3 a.m. I know to use mindfulness practices during those wakeful hours. If I have a bad night, I will practice yoga the following day with kindness and compassion. If I have energy I will walk on the Downs and tidy the house. If I have to teach a class at night, I will take a rest during the day; be that a mindfulness exercise, savasana, a pranayama practice or just being rather than doing. This time in our lives brings into focus our past behavioral patterns and our body shouts such that we have to listen. Mine is telling me I am exhausted and so I am listening and doing all that I can to support myself. The Wild Nutrition team have given me some beautiful supplements including Ashwagandha which stopped my anxiety and I have reached out to a wonderfully supportive yoga teacher too (yes, it sometimes helps to have someone else to tell you what to do).

We will all have our own story to tell and our own patterns arising, so if you are peri-menopausal or experience terrible PMS, then I recommend keeping a diary or getting a monthly cycle App. Include as much detail as you can of the following:

  • What you eat and drink and when.
  • Your sleep/wake cycle.
  • Energy levels.
  • Stress levels.
  • Symptoms e.g mood swings, hunger, cravings, bloating, flow, hot flushes, night sweats, brain fog etc...

This might teach you something about yourself that could lead you in the right direction of care; be it self care or reaching out for the wisdom of others. The better informed both you and your therapist are, the easier it will be to advise you.

I am excited to announce that in collaboration with Karen Alexander from Wild Nutrition, I will be offering a half day workshop on peri-menopause in May 2018. Please sign up to my newsletter if you would like to be kept informed of this and other events at Birchwood Yoga.

In the meantime, do get in touch with myself or the Wild Nutrition team for support. I wish you well in your journey.