Perimenopause and menopause affect our brains.
That includes the emotional part of our brains. We can find ourselves becoming depressed or anxious or prone to tears or rage. We can find ourselves becoming all of these in a short space of time. And we become more susceptible to stress.
So it’s really important in menopause and perimenopause that we look after ourselves emotionally and manage our stress levels.
Just how do we do this?
Consciously create time and space for relaxation
It won’t happen on its own. We might assume that when we’re not working we’re relaxing but often that’s not the case. We can still be thinking about work, or carrying the emotions that we brought home from work.
We can also find that time eaten into by other people’s demands and by our own ‘life administration’. And if we’re the driven sort of person we can find that we can distract our self from our own relaxation.
And relaxation needn’t be sitting in a chair doing nothing — I always find that’s never as much fun as it looks. It might be doing something completely different — just for the sake of it. It might be having a laugh with the people you love. It might be connecting with nature, or enjoying pets.
You know what it is that gives you that switched off feeling. You just have to commit to doing it. If necessary block it out in your diary the way you would with a work commitment.
Don’t let work leak out into non-work time
It’s unrealistic for most of us to imagine we’ll never bring work home. But if you have work to do when you are at home, try to set a time and place to do it. It’s tempting to nibble at it over a whole weekend, or even a whole holiday — but that leaves you feeling as if you’ve never switched off.
And be very careful about checking your work emails during time off. You may think ‘oh it’s fine, I’ll just check and not do anything about it till later’ but you probably will find you’ll be thinking about all those emails. You may find your phone allows you to hide those apps .
And if you’re working at the weekend or holidays give some thought to your colleagues. They may not be able to ignore an email till work time, so do them a favour by utilising schedule-send.
I find it’s a really good way of hiding the fact that I’m sad woman working on Sunday because even my cats are ignoring me.
Try mindfulness and meditation
After a recent course for mindfulness and mediation with Manchester Mind, I’m convinced of the virtue of these practices when we’re in menopause and perimenopause — or any time of life, in fact.
It’s not relaxing. It’s not even easy. But it is worth it. It has a positive effect on our wellbeing through the rest of the day — and if we practice regularly, long term. The science backs it up. All those parts of the brain that are negatively affected by the changes in our oestrogen levels are positively affected by mindfulness and meditation.
Have someone to talk to rather than bottling things up
I don’t know about you, but I’m the ‘put on a brave face’ kind of person. That’s not such a bad thing. It keeps me going and helps me feel better when things are tough. But it means other people don’t always realise when I’m finding life hard.
But it’s not other people’s job to mind-read when we need support. It’s our job to let the people who care about us, what’s going on. And because they care about us, they do want to know.
Take time to know who those people are. The people who will drop everything if you need them. The people who don’t need you to be brave. The people who don’t need you to explain yourself, but will listen to whatever you need to say.
And let them know how you are.
See if diarying helps
Going to be honest here. I started a practice of free writing three pages every morning and it made me so miserable I stopped. Writing things down doesn’t work for me. But keeping a diary works for many people — especially those who make it pretty and create indices and tabs and generally have fun with it.
Diaries have helped all sorts of people cope with life, all through the ages, so I’m certainly not going to knock it — and perhaps it’s worth a try for you too.
It’s also incredibly useful during perimenopause in particular to have a record of how you are feeling and to be able to look back and see patterns.
Establish healthy boundaries
Which is psychology-speak for being able to say ‘no’ and saying it when we need. And that’s something that’s often harder than we realise. We like helping other people. Sometimes we like it that other people need us, or are grateful to us, or make us feel purposeful.
But we have to think realistically about how much time and energy we have and how much of it we need to spend on doing the things that make us feeling better — the diarying and the sharing of our stuff, and the mindfulness and meditation and the relaxation. Not to mention the getting our medication, diet and exercise right.
Having a healthy perimenopause and moving into healthy post-menopause can take a lot of effort! One important lesson it can teach us, is when to put ourselves first.
And if you need a ‘self-less’ way to think about that. If we don’t we will be unable to support all the people we support. And if we’re not careful we will end up needing them more than we’d hoped.
How can we help our colleagues in peri/menopause?
By understanding they need time to switch off.
By being reasonable with demands for their time and attention.
By not being too surprised if they start saying ‘no’!