Creating a supportive environment at home
Given the impact that hormonal changes during menopause can have on the individual, physically, mentally and emotionally, it's not surprising that it can also be a challenging time for relationships as well - with partners, children, family, even friends.
For our second Guide in our How to thrive in menopause series, we look at home life and relationships to help you have a positive experience of hormonal change.
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How you feel during menopause
Lots of us have heard about menopause consequences like hot flushes - they're parodied in movies and they're probably the most talked about 'symptom'. However, the mental and emotional impact of menopause, resulting from the physical consequences (tiredness due to interrupted sleep for example), as well as directly related to hormone changes, often take people by surprise.
It also stands to reason that if your emotions and mental health is disrupted, it has an impact on your interactions with your nearest and dearest. For those loved ones, it can also be a disconcerting time as they don't know how to help and don't really understand what's happening.
Common unwanted emotional consequences of menopause include:
- Low mood and feelings of depression
Common unwanted mental health consequences of menopause include:
- Loss of self-esteem
- Loss of confidence
- Poor concentration or brain fog, and lost words
- Feeling stressed
- Lack of motivation
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Menopause and your relationship with your partner
Menopause can affect your relationship with your partner in several ways. The emotional changes can make women feel isolated and alone, which often results in a lack of communication. Meanwhile, partners can often feel bewildered by the changes, and helpless to know what to do.
While some of the self-care tips we have shared will help to ease physical and emotional consequences of menopause, and therefore help to ease the impact menopause has on your relationship, the most important thing at this time is to communicate with one another, and for the other person to listen carefully and compassionately, to help prevent/minimise those feelings of isolation and reman cognisant of the other person's experience.
The second area in which relationships with partners can be impacted is due to a dwindling libido. Many women find that they are no longer that interested in sex, and in addition suffer from physical consequences of hormonal change that make sex uncomfortable or painful, such as vaginal dryness. However, there are things that can help and lots of people find that there’s a process of rediscovering their own bodies and sex.
On a physical level, you can speak to your GP about oestrogen creams and lubricants. Other things that can help, include:
- Make time for things that make you feel good about yourself, whether it’s pampering, painting your nails, moisturising with beautiful creams, having a massage or buying new lingerie that you feel good in.
- Explore phytohormones (plant hormones) in your skincare - we love evening primrose oil, soy and geranium oil
- Make sex fun again by organising date nights and talking to your partner about what you enjoy.
- Clear your head - for women, so much of sexual pleasure is in the brain. So, do things to clear your head and calm anxiety, such as yoga, meditation or having a bedtime (or morning!) routine that helps you to feel great.
Menopause and your relationship with your children
Raising children of any age and at any time is a blessing but a challenge. If you're not feeling yourself then all those things that are usually a little trying can become even mores. Perhaps you have started menopause comparatively early and your children are still fairly small - between energy levels and mood changes like irritability, it can become overwhelming. Meanwhile, everything that goes with having teenagers or even grown up children can make women feel stressed, isolated or misunderstood.
As with partners, after self-care, communication can be a game changer for helping your children, particularly older ones, to understand what's happening and that you may need a little more support. While you are indeed superwoman, you don't have to prove it all the time - it's ok to take time for yourself and to let a couple of things drop a peg or two on the perfection scale. Setting boundaries and carving out non-negotiable time for yourself is also important - that might just be a 15-minute walk on your own to help clear your head, or it might be a regular massage but that time can pay dividends for helping you thrive at home.
- Talk to your children and help them to understand how you're feeling
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine to support a good night’s sleep
- Try meditation or yoga to help clear your mind
- Try regular holistic therapies including acupuncture, massage and reflexology
- Make sure you spend time with friends
- Allow time for yourself
- Incorporate aromatherapy into your home and take a moment to breathe when you’re feeling overwhelmed
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Menopause and your relationship with your friends
When we're feeling low or out of sorts it's so easy to become separated or isolated from friends. However, we also know that our friendships with other women are also some of the most rewarding, restorative and powerful relationships of our lives. In the words of American feminist journalist and social political activist, Gloria Steinem:
"We may share experiences, make jokes, paint pictures, and describe humiliations that mean nothing to men, but women understand."
The key to this, and the running theme of this article, is to talk to our friends about what we're experiencing. That also means making time to pick up the phone, have that coffee (and cake), and talk. The miracle of modern communications (while no substitute for an actual conversation), can help you to stay connected from one week to the next, whether it's little messages of support or a tongue-in-cheek meme to make someone smile.
However, make sure to get that quality time together booked in. Contemporaries will likely be going through similar things, helping you to feel less isolated, or they might have tips for things that have helped them. For real gold-star time and something to look forward to, you could even book a mini break together - hiking in the Cotswolds, a beach break in the sunshine, or a spa day/weekend somewhere special perhaps.
Some of the things that can help you to gain strength from your friendships, support other friends in menopause, and also maintain healthy friendships during hormonal change, include:
- Lean about the unwanted consequences of menopause and the different options that can help.
- Keep the lines of communication open.
- Adjust your expectations - of yourself and others - sometimes everything becomes too much.
- Let people talk when and how they want to talk.
- Spend time somewhere with an adjustable thermostat.
- Try not to take things personally - obviously it's not ideal to be ratting with your friends, but sometimes it happens - try not to do it yourself, but also try not to take it personally if a menopausal friend does it to you.
In our next article, we will be looking at how to thrive at work during menopause, including handling your relationships with your boss and your colleagues.
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