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Hot flashes, anxiety and sleepless nights are part of the package and I'm the first to admit it can be hard to handle. That's why as I turn 61 this month I'm giving myself the gift of self-compassion. After all, living a joyful life and by extension being kind to others depends upon how kind you are to yourself.
Part of this new normal of being postmenopausal is that I've learned to pay closer attention to my own needs. Traveling down this road through the jungle of menopause, I've adapted by becoming more self-reliant, making me feel more fulfilled. That's very different from how the menstruation journey began years ago.
A friend of mine swears that the Miss Deb booklet left on her bed by her mother was the best dollar her mom ever spent! It was a pamphlet for 'little girls who would mature soon and pretty much took the onus off her mother having the 'birds and the bees' talk.
Perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause are far more difficult to comprehend, and even Miss Deb wouldn't be able to explain their ins and outs in a small pamphlet. One thing is for sure—charting your own destiny can be extremely liberating providing you first lighten up—on yourself! Have some self-compassion.
Be All You Can Be
This simple slogan used in U.S. Army commercials for 21 years inspired a generation to seek its full potential.
Menopause triggered that same desire in me—to be the best I can be—right now! Meaning, you can either shrink away into nothing or decide that you're still young enough to remain relevant. Hmmm...decisions, decisions!
Adversity can only keep you down if you let it or as Henry Ford put it, "When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it."
Make the decision to live a purposeful life using the tools you own now and not the ones from 30 years ago. The only constant in life is change.
My own purposeful life led me to a wonderful project called, Notes to Our Sons and Daughters: A Celebration of Wisdom. In this I shared my own menopausal transition. I found out above all else, that changing adversity into strength begins within me.
Embrace Who and What You Are
Embracing who you are without fear of judgment or rejection is a beautiful side effect of the change. One scientific study found women wait until elder years to let go of, "I've got to look and be perfect," self-talk. Why not start a little sooner? After all, is how you look in a swimsuit really that critical? Ease up—especially on yourself.
It's OK to Be Vulnerable
My best approach to embracing vulnerability was to bring menopause out in the open, and that in turn opened all kinds of doors to new opportunities. It was the foundation of my own slogan: "Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is In!"
Bottling up your emotions is dangerous but sharing this menopausal experience with others will surely affect someone else and might even change their life. Now, that's powerful!
When Things Aren't OK, You Don't Have to Hide It
It was incredibly liberating for me to realize that after years of 'soldiering through,' caring for kids, aging parents, house and career, that I could actually say out loud, "Everything is not always ok," without worrying about sounding like I was whining.
Suppressing emotion has a powerful negative effect on your body called oxidative stress. Free radicals form when you're anxious or stressed out. If you combine those free radicals with hormonal deficiencies, then low-density lipoproteins, for which you need anti-oxidants to fight at the cellular level, are diminished.
Caregivers, Not Care Receivers
Try devoting as much time to the woman in the mirror as you do to everybody else. Studies show that society expects women to do the majority of caregiving--there's a surprise. AARP actually did the math and found that collective caregiving is worth more than $450B a year. So, it stands to reason that if it's worth that much to society, then so my dear, you are worth the effort, as well!
New research says being kinder to you at the very least helps suppress hot flashes, which might be triggered by stressful situations. This seems to be a gender-related psychological marker as according to the study, "Women typically have lower self-compassion than men. Our research indicates that midlife women may benefit from including themselves in the circle of compassion."
Do Well By Doing Good
Giving to others is an admirable quality, but that starts with treating yourself with a healthy dose of kindness.
Self-compassion starts within, so I've decided my best birthday gift this year won't be in bright shiny paper. Instead, I'm making a promise to myself to practice self-acceptance and self-love before ever walking out my front door to help others.
And, you know what? I feel better already. I like the new me and now I'm ready to live the rest of my life with a wink and a smile.
I really do deserve a break today!
Suffering in Silence is Out! Reaching Out is In!
As we get older, it seems like our visits to doctors become more and more frequent. An ache here, a pain there. Truth is, one way to reduce the number of doctor visits in perimenopause and menopause is to actually schedule a few crucial medical tests. That way, you can nip any pending medical conditions in the bud and get on with your, "I'm-not-gonna-let-this-hold-me-back" life.
Please note: This is not intended to be medical advice. Consult your menopause specialist about the best course of action to take, as every women has unique needs.
Did you know that menopause symptoms can mimic those of other conditions? According to the North American Menopause Society, these symptoms are similar to those of thyroid disease, for instance. Depending on your medical history, it may make sense to undergo medical tests to rule out such conditions.
Am I really in menopause?
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels are sometimes measured to confirm menopause. Because these levels vary, you can't rely on a single test. If, after several tests, your FSH blood level is consistently 30 mIU/mL or higher, and you haven't had your menstrual period for a year, you're probably a member of the menopause club. Note: If you're using certain hormone therapies (such as birth control pills), an FSH test is not valid. Some doctors prefer to test the Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) levels instead, because they are not affected by birth-control pills. During menopause, AMH levels are decreased.
If you're still menstruating, your hormone panel (blood test) should be done during the first three days of your period. It can test for the following hormones:
If you're already in the midst of perimenopause or menopause, here are other important tests to consider:
This test, also called a bone scan or DEXA scan, can reveal whether you have osteopenia or osteoporosis. When you enter perimenopause and menopause, the drop in estrogen can do a number on your bone mass. Don't worry; the scan is quick and exposes you to very little radiation.
CA-125 (cancer antigen 125) is a protein best known as a blood marker for ovarian cancer. It may be elevated with other malignant cancers, including those originating in the endometrium, fallopian tubes, lungs, breasts and gastrointestinal tract. If your test comes back positive, don't panic; this test is notorious for producing false positives!
Like your moods, cholesterol levels change in perimenopause and menopause. An excess of cholesterol can build up artery plaque, narrowing blood vessels and potentially causing a heart attack. A cholesterol panel usually includes checking your HDL (high-density lipoprotein or the good cholesterol), LDL (low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol) and triglycerides (molecules of fatty acids). You'll need to fast for 12 hours before this test (a perfect time to step on the scale!).
This vitamin helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, keeping your bones strong.
A friendly reminder
I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you about your monthly breast self-exam and your annual mammogram. You also should schedule an annual checkup with your general physician, and an annual pelvic exam with your gynecologist. And, I hate to tell you, but if you're 50 or older (45 for African Americans), you need to schedule a colonoscopy, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.
And don't forget to floss. Seriously. Regular dental checkups are important, too, as untreated gum infections can lead to more serious health issues. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal (gum) disease are almost twice as likely to have heart disease.
Remember that, when you're in perimenopause and menopause, it's important to not only focus on "down there," but on your body as a whole. That includes your mental and emotional health as well. Now, more than ever, you need to take time to take care of you. So schedule your tests... then schedule a spa appointment.
Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!
September 7th is Grandparents Day!!!!!!!!!!!! On August 8th in Seattle, Washington, our daughter Sarah and her husband Sol, brought a beautiful pink bundle of joy into this world. I am now a Grandma! Now, I understand why grandparents go on and on, bragging about their grandchildren.
I'm proud, and not the least bit embarrassed to be a Grandmother. I don't think that being a grandmother ages me. In fact, it's just the opposite! When I hold my Granddaughter Aviva in my arms and look into her eyes, I feel overjoyed and energized. (The fact that I'm not the one getting up in the middle of the night to feed her may help account for that!)
I didn't make up Grandparents Day just so I could have an excuse to brag about Aviva. (Who needs an excuse?!) National Grandparents Day originated with Marian McQuade of Fayette County, West Virginia. She wanted to champion the cause of lonely elderly in nursing homes. She also wanted grandchildren to tap the wisdom and heritage of their grandparents. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter, proclaimed that National Grandparents Day would be celebrated every year on the first Sunday after Labor Day.
So, getting back to my granddaughter.... Actually, most of my conversations these days somehow end up back on the subject of Aviva. I guess I could blame it on my menopausal, forgetful mind, but the truth is I wake up each morning anxiously awaiting a morning text flooded with pictures of her sleeping, or a mini video of her bath. Yesterday we had lunch together, thanks to FaceTime!!!
You know, it's interesting how our instincts kick in. As parents and grandparents, we go into protector mode when it concerns our babies. Even my daughter and son-in-law's dog, Jazz (their 14 year old Golden Retriever), is jazzed about the baby and eager to protect her.
When I became a mother for the first time in 1980, there was no "use and care" manual that came with a newborn. Most of us just winged it. However, today's parents do have the Internet and even apps to help them prepare for and cope with the responsibilities of parenthood. But no website or app can teach you how to love your child. That simply comes with the territory. The flood of love and tenderness that is unleashed with the birth of a baby is beautiful to watch and share.
My daughter, Sarah, created a blog to share her pre-Mommy thoughts and feelings. I was so proud of how honest she was about her pregnancy. She shared the good and the difficult times. I had her blog made into a book for Aviva. I think it will be wonderful for her to read her Mommy's thoughts while she was growing inside of her. I titled the book, Smiles Curls and Baby which is the name of Sarah's blog. By sharing our own stories we help others.
Welcome to the world, Aviva! I hope you will help to make it a kinder, more caring and gentle place. Grandma is going to encourage you to embrace your role as a female in this world. Learn the delicate balance between cherishing your femininity and embracing your power to do anything that you set your mind to. Oh, and yes, I shall teach you to be prepared for perimenopause and menopause.......but for now I need to teach you spa etiquette. You aren't supposed to poop during your bath.
While Sarah and Sol are sleepless in Seattle, I stare at her lips, tiny fingers, every sound on the videos and rejoice that I have finally joined the Grandparents Club. I am madly in love!
Gotta go – time to book my next trip to Seattle!
Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!
Right up there with hot flashes, insomnia, grumpiness and weight gain, forgetting what you were going to say, when only half the words are out of your mouth, can make you feel out of your mind! Is what was once crystal-clear now just a tad fuzzy?
Welcome to brain fog. It can be frustrating because it impacts how well you perform everyday tasks such as adding up a tip after a restaurant meal, paying attention during long drives or plowing through a challenging book.
Here's What Gives
As hormones fluctuate in your body during menopause, cognitive functions are affected. Doctors say self-reported memory problems are common in women 33-55. Additionally, the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN) showed that the cognitive decline you think you feel is real, coupled with the fact that it is also more difficult to learn new things as you go through menopause. However the good news is that the study suggests that this cognitive decline might be time-limited, so as you near the later stages of menopause, you do feel more clarity. The study says hormone replacement therapy works better when you begin early on, say before your last period or by 53 years of age and might have a detrimental effect if you begin hormones much later in the game—three or four years after your last period.
The University of Rochester Medical Center released information that shows what women perceive as memory problems, may actually be related to your ability to learn new information. This is called 'encoding' and can lead you to believe that your memory is going, going, gone.
Plus, there can be underlying issues such as depression that affect how you encode new information during menopause. Turns out your mental state of well being has an impact on your mood and even disturbances in your sleep. More evidence that treating your depression is even more critical during menopause.
Study or no study, I can tell you once I went on bioidentical HRT my brain fog lifted and I was a fully functioning again!
Fight or Flight: Trouble Around Every Corner
You know those signs you see in gift shops everywhere that say, "Keep Calm and Carry On?" There is a reason they're so popular. It is extremely important to settle down, stay focused and remember the critical information, while letting go of the other stuff.
We're overloaded with activities, which can send our bodies into 'fight or flight,' which in turn sends corticosteroids into overdrive. These are the hormones we all secrete during adverse events. They're okay for a while, but if you stay in high alert, they hang around like a bad dream. Best not to get stressed over every little thing because memory is connected to the very way that we funnel our emotions. Each time you process, encode and retrieve information, it is based on emotions and anxiety.
Let it Go
Spending your precious time worrying about everything can be dealt with through mindfulness based stress reduction or MSBR. You can reach that state through meditation and it's extremely helpful in lowering blood pressure and minimizing the effects of depression.
Here are some other great tips to help you remember:
Bottom line—help yourself as best you can by staying physically active, mentally active (think crossword puzzles or word games) and learn to let go of things over which you have no control.
I recently spoke with Ruth Curran who is the author of Cranium Crunches about embracing perceived weaknesses, and treating them as strengths. This has to do with metamemory, which requires you to recognize your 'failings' and turn those 'deficits' into greatness. If you acknowledge which parts of the memory process affects you most, such as focusing on tasks or keying in to the point of a story, you'll understand what needs work. Pay attention to what mental tasks are challenging for you and incorporate brain teasers into your daily routine.
Finally, take a deep breath and relax! Just as soon as you remember!
Suffering in Silence is Out! Reaching Out is In!
This stage signifies a new chapter in a woman's life. Don't write yourself off! Instead, many women simply decide to rewrite their entire book. For example: More than 60 percent of divorces are initiated by women in their 40s, 50s or 60s — the menopause years — according to a survey conducted by AARP Magazine.
We're all too familiar with the physical changes that accompany the change of life — weight gain, mood swings, hot flashes, etc. That's why many of us menopausal women seek to find balance, often focusing on the spiritual as well as the physical. Our priorities often shift as we take this opportunity for self-reflection and inner focus. We may find a renewed sense of purpose.
Two Key Attributes of Living with Purpose
Contemplation and activation are two core practices for living with purpose, according to an article by expert Richard Leider for the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. Contemplation means seeking answers about who you are, how you should live, and where you belong. Activation is living your truth.
How can you achieve these goals? Start with these exercises:
What's Your Purpose?
If you don't have a clue, ask yourself the questions below and following the steps to help uncover your purpose, according to a Psychologytoday.com article by Dr. Brad Klontz.
Mindfulness Benefits Your Mind
While we're told that word puzzles, dancing and other exercise can help our aging brains, the same can be said for living with purpose. Research from the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago revealed that individuals with high purpose scores were 2.4 times more likely to remain free of Alzheimer's than those with low scores; they were also less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor. In a study of 246 people who died at the center, autopsies found that many of those with high purpose scores also showed the distinctive markers of Alzheimer's.
Living a purposeful life also appears to protect people from developing disabilities. Purposeful people also had a lower mortality rate than those with low purpose.
A purposeful life also can lead to a longer life. Another study, by Dr. Patrick Hill, Department of Psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, found that purpose in life promotes longevity. Both the Rush and the Carleton teams controlled for numerous other factors correlated with well-being — social relationships, chronic medical conditions and disability, work status — and found that purpose in life alone appears to improve and extend lives.
I'm keeping my promise to myself to living life more fully, with greater meaning. I challenge you to do the same. How can you give your life more meaning, make your life more purposeful? Are you up for the challenge?
Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!
Hot flashes. Mood swings. Weight gain. Osteoporosis. Just a few of the many symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Add breast tenderness to that never-ending laundry list. For some women, "tenderness" is a gross (and I mean gross!) understatement.
It's ironic, isn't it? From our "tender" preteen days, most of us couldn't wait until that first sign of womanhood. We couldn't wait to buy — and wear — our first training bra.
Of course, you've got to be careful what you wish for. My daughter, Sarah, was a late bloomer and prayed for boobs. They didn't appear on the scene until she was about 18 or so. Fast forward 16 years, Sarah now writes a wonderful blog called, smilescurlsandbaby – lessons, joys, and laughs in baby making and life! She found pregnancy took her breasts to a whole new letter, "Ain't Nothin' But a G-Thang....Baby...."! Now if only we could train our breasts to not be so sore all the time!
Now if only we could train our breasts to not be so sore all the time!
Pregnancy is not the only life cycle phase that can affect intimacy. During perimenopause, sore breasts can cause marital intimacy to suffer as well. "My breasts are off-limits to my husband when I'm mid-cycle" said one perimenopausal friend. "He can't even look at them without getting the 'evil eye' from me! My breasts are so painful that sometimes I can't even bear to have the shower head pointed toward them."
Another woman told me there's no way she can sleep on her stomach. And mammograms are out of the question. She suggested that clinics make accommodations for women who suffer from painful breasts. She said she'd probably pass out if she had to undergo a mammogram when her breasts are tender. Since her periods (and thus her sore breasts) are unpredictable, she wishes a few appointment slots could be kept open each month. That way, women like her could make last-minute appointments when their breasts are not tender.
Can you relate? Are you yearning to go back in time to the '60s, when bra-burning was popular? Throughout our lives, MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This" appears to be a recurring theme. It's important to note that breast tenderness is manageable and is unlikely to indicate a serious problem.
A Different Kind of Fluid Retention
As your period nears, extra fluid in your breasts can make them feel more tender, lumpy, or swollen than other times of the month. Without a normal cycle to count on, it becomes pretty much impossible for perimenopausal women to know when those breasts are going to start throbbing, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Your hormone levels change in perimenopause. This can make your breasts feel tender, even when you are not having your menstrual period. Your breasts may also feel more lumpy than they did before.
If you're taking hormones (such as menopausal hormone therapy, birth control pills, orinjections) your breasts may become more dense. This can make a mammogram harder to interpret. Be sure to let your health care provider know if you are taking hormones.
The Shape of Things to Come
To make matters worse, without regular estrogen supply, your breasts can become dehydrated, inelastic, shrink, and lose their shape, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Blame it on hormones. Say ta-ta to perky tatas, and hello to sagging breasts! (It gives a whole new meaning to the term "floppy discs.")
Come perimenopause and menopause time, those hormonal ebbs and flows can become a veritable rollercoaster ride. Some post-menopausal women also experience breast discomfort. Your breasts don't have to hurt, however. Following are several treatment options to consider:
The Progesterone Approach
Estrogen levels typically fall as you approach menopause. During perimenopause, however, they can increase. Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior, an authority on menstrual cycles and the effects of hormones on women's health, notes that in perimenopause, estrogen is high but progesterone is not.
Progesterone treatments can keep estrogen peaks from over-stimulating the breasts and causing discomfort, according to Dr. Prior. If you're still menstruating (even haphazardly), progesterone treatment is typically prescribed for use during only a certain portion of the cycle, usually for about six months.
How about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)?
Natural progesterone can also help alleviate breast soreness. Natural progesterone, identical to the hormone the body produces, is often easier to tolerate.
A word of warning: If you are on hormone replacement therapy and suddenly experience breast tenderness be sure to go back to your menopause specialist and have your HRT tweaked a bit. It is possible that you are on too much estrogen.
Perhaps It's Primrose Oil
Prefer natural remedies? Try primrose oil. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), primrose oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the inflammation associated with breast swelling and tenderness. Simply follow the directions on the back of the bottle. Vitamin B and E supplements also can help alleviate breast inflammation — and pain.
Breast tenderness/pain is a common symptom of perimenopause and menopause, and you should know it's unlikely to signal anything more serious, such as breast cancer. However, if you suspect that something is not right with your breasts, see your doctor. And don't forget to schedule your annual mammogram.
Remember the days when your breasts were a beautiful symbol of your womanhood, of motherhood? With a little TLC and treatment, you can again feel good about your body — from head to toes... to tatas.
Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!