Stress and Menopause
Stress doesn't cause menopause. Aging causes menopause, and that's just the way it is. Remember that adage about changing the things you can change, accepting the things you can't change, and having the wisdom to know the difference? This is one of those things you can't change. If you are a woman, eventually you'll go through menopause.
If stress is often about change, then they don't call menopause “the change” for nothing. Menopause can be very stressful to both mind and body. Menopause is marked by plummeting estrogen levels, and the results can be hot flashes, depression, anxiety, a feeling of flatness or loss of emotion, wildly fluctuating emotions, vaginal dryness, loss of interest in sex, loss of bone mass, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, increased cancer risk … and the list goes on.
Could there possibly be a positive side to menopause?
Menopause is more than just a hormonal adjustment. Fortunately, many of the changes associated with menopause are temporary. While your risk of certain diseases will remain higher after menopause, the hot flashes, the depression, the mood fluctuations, even the loss of sex drive are all temporary.
Stress management techniques can help to alleviate or reduce many of the temporary side effects of menopause. Meditation and relaxation techniques coupled with regular moderate exercise including strength training are just the one-two punch your uncomfortable symptoms need.
If you seek hormone replacement therapy (it's controversial, so talk to your doctor), you may be able to further alleviate many of the temporary symptoms of menopause, too. This will free you to focus on the good stuff: the new you!
You are still you after menopause, of course, but there is something liberating about moving to the next stage of life, post-childbearing. Even if you never had children, knowing you are past that stage in your life when people will ask you when you are going to have them is a freedom. You've also moved to a stage in life where you can be the center of your universe again. That doesn't mean that you need to become selfish. You can still devote time to helping family, friends, children, and grandchildren.
For many seniors, however, this isn't so easy. Just when your life was about to become your own again, you find yourself sandwiched: caring for elderly parents and primary baby-sitter to your grandchildren. Chances are increasing that your own adult children are even moving back in. Help!
Maybe you love helping your family, but as you enter your post-childbearing stage of life, it is crucial for your own happiness and sense of well-being that you also devote some time to yourself. It isn't selfish. If you are happier, calmer, and more fulfilled, you'll also be more helpful to others in a productive (rather than a codependent) way.
Make yourself a top priority, as you continue to love and support your parents and offspring. Don't let your life slip away without fully appreciating what you've accomplished. Keep your eye on the big picture.
The older you get, the more loved ones you will lose. With loss comes grief, and grief is extremely stressful. Keep in touch with your own feelings of loneliness and sadness when you lose people you love. If you've lost a partner, try not to let yourself become isolated. Finding companionship and others to love is one of the most important things you can do to help yourself.
Stress and the Senior Woman
Once you've passed the childbearing years, life begins to open up. You feel more secure, you know who you are, you have time to yourself. But the golden years can be stressful for women. Beloved children move out, and the house seems empty. Bodies get achier and less agile.
If you've worked most of your life and are now retiring, you may find yourself suffering from stress just when you thought you were taking a load off by leaving your job. Jobs are often a great source of self-esteem as well as money. Now, money may be tight after retirement, and the house may seem tight, too, when you and your partner are suddenly at home all day together.
Even if you have plenty to do, you may feel like your work is less important because you aren't being paid for it or because you aren't getting direct feedback from a supervisor. You aren't used to being your own supervisor!
If you are far from relatives and friends, life may get lonely. Health problems are stressful, and depression is common in older women. What can a senior woman do to combat the negative effects of stress?
Stay engaged. Participate in activities outside your home, whether volunteering, exercise classes, art classes, language classes, book groups, church, cooking classes, or social groups. You'll stay fired up about what's going on around you, and you'll keep your mind active, which helps to keep you feeling young.
Don't lose touch with friends. Make an effort to stay connected. Maintain a mix of friends your own age — and younger friends, too.
Consider getting a pet. Pets are proven to reduce stress and can provide you with a lasting and satisfying relationship. Small dogs and cats are easy to handle and give back tenfold what you give them. Birds can also be rewarding companions, and you can teach them to talk!
Stay active. Take a walk or do some other kind of exercise every day. Walking alone or with friends is beneficial physically and emotionally.
Pay attention to what's going on in the world. Talk about events with your friends and/or your partner. Work on being open-minded; make sure you can back up your opinions with good reasoning.
Try yoga to help keep your body flexible and less prone to injury.
Eat nutrient-dense foods with plenty of calcium, protein, and fiber. Soy foods may also help with the effects of menopause. Try vanilla or chocolate soy milk.
Lift weights to keep your bones strong and to combat osteoporosis.
Keep drinking lots of water and getting enough sleep.
Consider qualified holistic health care practitioners, who may be inclined to put you on fewer medications and help you to adjust your whole lifestyle for better health.
Meditate daily to explore the universe of the inner you. Get to know yourself all over again!
Keep your mind busy. Take up a new hobby. Learn a new language. Read books in a different genre. Do word puzzles. Have intellectual discussions with your friends.
Do things for other people. Service to others will make you feel good about yourself as well as help other people.
Start working on writing your life history. You'll enjoy sorting through the memories, and your manuscript will be a valuable family treasure.
A recent, widely publicized study described the differences in the way men and women handle stress. While men tend to react with aggression or by leaving the situation (a kind of “fight or flight” response), women are more likely to “tend and befriend,” or protect their young and seek help from others. The hormone oxytocin, which helps to stimulate the maternal instinct in women, may be responsible.