I’m a forty-something woman in the early stages of perimenopause. I also happen to be raising teenagers. My friends and I sigh and half-heartedly laugh at our predicament. Just what were we thinking? Are we in the throes of a hormonal experiment bound to go wrong?
The cognitive and physical load that comes with juggling many roles and worries can sometimes take its toll. It’s a full-time job raising busy, sports-crazed teens—soon to be young men—as they learn their boundaries and work through challenges. Being in the prime of my own career, I also want to learn more and grow more to ride that wave.
But I’m realizing that aging is real. It takes more discipline and effort to stay in shape nowadays. I need to go to bed earlier after a long day to recharge and refresh, especially if I want to exercise in the morning. But nighttime is when my boys finish up with sports and want to talk about all the important stuff. The good stuff. The stuff that supports their growth and makes me feel like I’ve earned my parenting badge of honour.
We are taught to put on our own oxygen mask before assisting others. But the window of parenting seems to shrink as my kids hit the teen years. I can feel it slipping away.
Nonetheless, in order to stay sane and do my jobs well, I’m learning that I have to acknowledge and adjust to my own changing needs. For many women, menopause and perimenopause—the five to ten years leading up to menopause—are not only a rite of passage but a wrench thrown into a system already working at maximum capacity. In The Women’s Brain Book, neuroscientist Dr. Sarah McKay shares that “about twenty per cent of women will have symptoms so severe that they significantly interfere with daily life; another twenty per cent will sail through with no symptoms at all, leaving sixty per cent of women experiencing mild to moderate symptoms.”
And it’s not just about our bodies. Perimenopause happens in our brains too. In their article “Perimenopause as a neurological transition state,” Brinton et al. state, “Although primarily viewed as a reproductive transition, the symptoms of perimenopause are largely neurological in nature. Neurological symptoms that emerge during perimenopause are indicative of disruption in multiple estrogen-regulated systems.”
Nobody can predict their individual journey with 100-percent accuracy. But knowledge is power. And instead of suffering in silence—or, worse, wondering if something is dreadfully wrong—we can apply everyday strategies outside the scope of medical intervention to help normalize the perimenopausal experience. I’ll share three of them right now. At the very least, they will show that you are not alone in this important stage of life.
1. Nurture Social Connections
We are social beings. When we undergo big changes in life, it’s important to feel like we aren’t alone. I have a few good friends I talk to regularly, who are also raising teenagers and managing added stress, sleep disruption and hot flashes. One in particular I run with. I always feel better afterward because our conversations and similar paths normalize how I’m feeling.
Perimenopause is not a time to isolate. It’s a time to get real with your gal pals and widen the conversation. Chances are your friends are also experiencing changes and challenges. They might even know some healthy coping mechanisms you haven’t tried. It’s in our shared experience that we find our common ground and sense of belonging.
If you don’t have close friends within reach, look within local or online communities to connect with others who can support and share in your experience during this mid-life transition.
2. Tend to Physical Health
Our habits around health and well-being impact how we feel in the present and lay the foundation for how we feel in the future. When we don’t feel our physical best, added cognitive stress can become more challenging.
We can take matters into our own hands by creating and maintaining healthy habits during perimenopause: staying hydrated, adding regular movement into our day, maintaining good sleep hygiene as best we can, and fueling our bodies with nutrient-dense food.
It’s not going to be perfect—sometimes you’ll trade eight hours of sleep for a late-night chat with your teenager, or a hot flash might inconveniently wake you in the night—but establishing healthy physical habits will help you better manage the cognitive challenges of perimenopause.
3. Employ Methods of Relaxation
Methods of relaxation like box breathing, yoga and meditation are helpful strategies to reduce stress during any phase of life. Over the years—whether I’ve been working through a tough half-marathon, a personal crisis, or childbirth—I’ve used breath work to move through moments of heightened physical stress or anxiety.
As it turns out, methods of relaxation come in handy during perimenopause too. Let’s take the most famous face of perimenopause: the hot flash, also known as the hot flush. As Women’s Health Concern states, “Flushes can be accompanied by sweating, and palpitations or sometimes shivering, and can cause embarrassment, anxiety, discomfort and sleep disruption.”
However, the same article reports, “At the onset of a flush—relax your shoulders—breathe slowly from your stomach—concentrate on your breathing. Paced breathing involves focusing on your breathing, accepting that the hot flush will pass and just letting the hot flush flow over you.”
The wonderful thing about intentional breathwork is that we don’t have to wait for a hot flash or stressful moment to get started. We can build regular mindful breathing into our daily routine.
After we sail, walk, or stumble through perimenopause, our symptoms generally ease. As McKay notes, “The good news is that once you move from peri-menopause … into post-menopause, hormones level out and symptoms typically settle.”
Armed with at least that certainty, instead of wishing it all away, a gentler approach to perimenopause might be to lean in and embrace the ride. I, for one, am in no big rush to reach the finish line of any stage of life. When the seas settle and everyone is launched, my hormonal household will become quiet, and I’ll miss this. So, for now, I embrace the storm! Whatever size the wave.
What about you? How might you normalize this challenging yet precious stage of life?