Mental Health at Menopause - Tips for staying sane!

This month saw Mental Health Awareness week and Wake up to the Menopause week on BBC Breakfast. As both subjects are passions of mine, I couldn’t decide which to write about. So I’m combining the two!

Around the time of the menopause one of the most common symptoms is increased anxiety. It is also true that if you have suffered from trauma and it is as yet unresolved, you are likely to find it rearing its ugly head at menopause.

I’ve mentioned the benefit of Ashwaghanda before but this adaptogenic herb is a wonder. An adaptogen is a herb that supports your body acclimate to stress. Stress is the root cause of anxiety so anything you can do to prevent or manage stress will also help.

Often at the transitional time of menopause, women are at their most busy; running a business or working long hours, managing family life, coping with elderly parents; all of which is stressful. Making time for yourself is the most important thing you can do. Women are notoriously bad at this. We feel guilty if we step away from our family. We feel that we SHOULD be there for everybody else, but this is stressful and you run the risk of compassion fatigue. Yes, it’s a thing!

Doing something that is relaxing, allows you to switch off mentally and that calms your nervous system will benefit. Literally step away from technology for a time.

Research shows that spending time in nature is fabulous for your mental well-being, so why not go for a brisk walk in the park or the countryside. Spending time with others, especially if they are understanding of what you are going through is extremely supportive. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved as they say. Find your tribe and regularly spend time with them.

If you are suffering from depression and finding it difficult to function, there are many things you can do. Rhodiola is another adaptogenic herb that can help with stress, anxiety and depression.

If you are taking ANY other medication, it is always worth speaking with your GP to make sure it is safe to take supplements. However, you might consider speaking with your GP anyway as according to Dr. Rosemary Leonard, author of Menopause - the Answers, anti-depressants can also suppress other menopausal symptoms.

Diet is important. What you eat can effect your mental health. Speak to a nutritional therapist if you need to but the two most important things to cut down on are alcohol and sugar. Alcohol may be your go to when you are stressed but the high you receive from the release of GABA is short lived. You go for another drink and another and soon find that you only feel that same high after a bottle.

Sweets, chocolate and carbohydrates are another choice when stressed but will spike your blood sugar levels and maybe even give you a high, but you will crash down very soon after and feel hungry again. At menopause we tend to gain weight around the middle which usually heightens your risk of cardiovascular disease. Plus the weight gain doesn’t help your self esteem if you are already suffering mentally.

From a yogic perspective, practicing daily will support your mental, physical and physiological well-being. Observe your energy levels and mental state and consider whether to practice some grounding techniques, strong poses or gentle stretches. There is something for every mood and even a breathing technique that cools your hot flushes. Pranayama is magical for mental well-being, as is chanting and meditation. Ten minutes of practice a day is better than one hour a week. If you come to a class, try and practice at home too. You are welcome to photograph my lesson plan to remind you of what you enjoyed.

Cardiovascular exercise really benefits you physically and mentally. I know it can be difficult to fit it in but ask your family to help. Perhaps they can cook for themselves once a week so that you can go to a class . You might take a ten minute walk before eating your lunch. Little and often is better than nothing at all and really boosts your mood.

The most important thing is NOT to suffer in silence. You are not alone. I am a great believer in choice so do your research, never dismiss advice, try something and if it doesn’t work, try something else; whether that is homeopathy, herbs, medication, yoga, meditation or counseling. What works for your best friend might not work for you, so keep an open mind.

Community, support and exercise will greatly benefit. Reach out to me or anyone else who might be able to help. If women are ill informed about menopause, men are going to be less so. TELL your partner and family what you need; it might be the only way you get your needs met.

Talk about the menopause. The more you do, the better educated future generations will be and the easier the transition will be for our daughters.

Go well . Namaste.

Anneliese

Finding Space in a Frantic World - Part 1

When life gets on top of you, do you find yourself feeling mentally crowded, physically tense or emotionally unstable? Often this comes with a sense that we are lacking the space to just ‘be.’

It is at such times that we most commonly switch into auto-pilot behaviours such as snapping at people, eating a poor diet, not exercising or developing chronic physical tension.

The irony is that whilst we may think we are too busy for change, now is the time to press pause before exhaustion sets in and we become less productive or worse still, have to take time out due to illness.

In this two part post, I am going to offer some ideas as to how you can manage your well-being when life is frantic by cultivating a sense of spaciousness.

This month I recommend the 3 Step Breathing Space as a first port of call. This practice invites curiosity into habitual tendencies of mind, helps reduce auto-pilot behaviours and connects us to the body as a way of informing us about our state of mind. This cyclical or hourglass practice opens us up to present moment experiences; the more frequently it is called upon as a resource, the sooner we learn to recognise and switch off auto-pilot.

Read through the instructions and then try it out:

STEP 1 Check in with your thoughts, emotions and sensations in the moment. See yourself through a wide-angled lens to take in how each is a response to the other.

For example, you might be generally feeling pressured and wishing you had more time. You probably find yourself less patient than usual. It is likely that your thoughts go hand in hand with emotions such as anger or frustration. These emotions might manifest as physical sensations like tightening in the throat because we do not feel heard or knotting in the stomach.

Pay close attention to each in turn and to the patterns that weave through.

STEP 2 Your anchor. The term anchor is used to narrow your focus of attention to one thing that holds you in the present moment. Most commonly and easily is the breath. Choose one aspect of breathing to begin with, such as the air entering your nostrils or the rise and fall of your chest or belly.

It may take some time before the thoughts subside. Perhaps you drift from one thought to another with barely a moments space between. What is important is when you do notice that you are thinking, to simply acknowledge the fact and gently guide the attention back to the breath. Try not to judge yourself when you notice the mind thinking; this is a very natural human behaviour.

STEP 3 Once you feel more settled in the present, widen your focus again to take in the thoughts, emotions, sensations and include the sounds around you. Notice how you can focus on your breathing but equally be aware of the comings and goings of the mind. Thoughts, emotions, sensations, sounds are transient unless we choose to cling to them.

By dropping in to the 3 Step Breathing Space frequently throughout your day, you can step away from the clinging and perhaps find yourself some mental space to continue with better focus, concentration and clarity. It isn’t easy when you are new to this, but with practice you can find yourself pressing pause more easily and resetting your current mental state to one that is more spacious.

Next month I will write about ways in which we can address the physical tension and emotional instability.

If you would like to work with me in support of finding more space in your life, please email directly.

Namaste.

5 Reasons to practice Ujjayi.

5 Reasons to practice Ujjayi - Image by Katie Vandyke

5 Reasons to practice Ujjayi - Image by Katie Vandyke

Ujjayi means Victorious Breath. It is warming a calming. If you have never tried this type of pranayama, here's how to do it. Inhale through the nose and exhale through your mouth, making a Haaa sound as if huffing up a piece of glass to clean it. The more slowly you can let the sound leave your mouth, the better. It should sound like the waves of the ocean washing up and down a beach. Some people suggest that it sounds like Darth Vader!

Next try closing your mouth half way along the breath. The sound is first heard aloud and then inside your head. It is a little like trying to push air through a small hole in the base of your throat.

Finally try making the Haaa sound with your mouth closed. You are trying to breathe as gently as if you were blowing onto a baby's face.

It is usually easier to begin with the exhalation alone and to only try Ujjayi on the inhalation when you have mastered the practice.

Here's how you benefit from practicing Ujjayi:

1) You slow the breath down. Physiologically you are tightening the larynx in the throat to restrict airflow. This has the effect of slowing the rate at which you breathe and gives you greater control over your breath. By changing the way you breathe, you can potentially change the way you feel. Slowing down the exhalation makes you feel calmer and more relaxed.

2) The breath moves into the belly. When we are stressed, we tend to pull the breath into the chest and breathe rapidly. This gives the brain the message that we are under threat, that we need to escape the stressor and therefore the body enters the stress response. By slowing the breath down, you can enable the breath to move into the belly, suggesting to the brain that you are at rest and can relax.

3) You have greater control over how and where you breathe. By slowing the breath down, you can direct the breath to specific areas of the body where there may be tension for instance. You can literally learn to breathe the tension away!

4) You gain a heightened sense of self awareness. Because we use Ujjayi throughout our asana practice in yoga, we move more slowly than usual. This heightens your self awareness. It teaches you more about how you move so that you can make changes and improve your posture.

5) It allows us to relax. When practicing Ujjayi, the body enters the relaxation response more quickly. This is because restricting the airflow is thought to 'tone' the Vagus nerve that acts as a brake on the heart, increasing parasympathetic activity such as digestion. 

Ujjayi breathing is particularly beneficial for High Blood Pressure, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or other digestive complaints and in dealing with stress, anxiety or depression depending on the ratio of inhalation to exhalation. Please seek professional help if you suffer from any of these conditions before practicing Ujjayi on your own.