For women there is something else as inevitable as death and taxes; there is that stage of life where, for the unwary, the body seems to take on a will of its own directly contrary to that of its owner.
Just at the age when a woman should be able to feel most empowered and in charge of her world nature seems to conspire to undermine any notion of self-control by initiating a process of change which is accompanied by physical symptoms ranging from the irritating to the downright debilitating.
In a recent survey of women conducted by the Daily Mail over three quarters of the respondents felt there was nowhere near enough information or support available to women facing menopause.
Part of the reason for this lack of information is that it is such an intimate and personal experience, which varies from one individual to another.
Many of the manifestations are embarrassing and difficult to talk about, even to friends and partners.
It is also a self-perpetuating circle of silence, as each woman feels isolated and ‘unusual’ in her own experience, some go as far as to say ‘weird’, not realising that they share the same symptoms with millions of women all over the world.
There is no doubt that the more dialogue and shared information about the subject, the more prepared younger women will be and the more reassured current ‘sufferers’ will feel.
So here is a list of five common symptoms about which you should know, but your mother probably never told you.
No matter how good a sleeper you might have been, menopause will mess with your night’s rest.
You might fall sound asleep only to wake up in the small hours.
In part this will be due to physical effects of ‘hot flushes’ which don’t stop just because you are asleep.
Your body temperature might rise as high as six degrees more than normal in a few seconds, more than enough to wake you in discomfort, especially if you have cocooned yourself in a thick duvet.
Be prepared to adapt your sleeping patterns to allow more time to rest, get used to the idea of ‘napping’ when the opportunity or need arises; you need your down time.
Menopause isn’t suddenly going to turn a smart, multi-tasking woman into a useless imbecile, but it is going to compromise your short term memory.
This can often mean struggling to find words and losing the thread of conversations, but don’t panic, your natural wit and articulation will return.
Embrace lists and diary entries as your friends, set alerts on your mobile to remind you of key appointments well ahead of time.
Planning can be the key to keeping track of your day, patterns and routines will get you to the right place at the right time, even if you can’t remember why.
Anxiety and Depression
For many years medical professionals failed to take the mental impact of menopause seriously, particularly in the male dominated medical establishment of the past.
What was once written off as ‘mild hysteria’ or ‘moodiness’ brought on by hormones is now recognised to be a genuine psychological reaction to subtle physiological changes in the body’s chemistry.
Of course general lack of sleep and frustration at the more limiting aspects of menopause contribute to negative feelings and uncertainty over the length of time these symptoms have to be endured as well as anxiety about what more may yet develop before the process has run its course.
Recent psychological research has shown that women who suffer from anxiety or depression prior to menopause find this condition heightened and magnified during it.
It is important to recognise this as a “normal” part of the change and be prepared to look seriously at support strategies like counselling, meditation and exercise, which can all prove effective.
There is strong evidence to show that menopause can play havoc with a woman’s libido, not least because she no longer feels in total control of her own body and certainly worries about becoming less sexually attractive which can only heighten anxiety, which is the bane of sexuality.
Even more limiting, however, is the inevitable onset of vaginal dryness, which is the result of decreasing oestrogen levels.
This dryness can be shocking to women, especially if they still possess an otherwise healthy libido and have the sexual desire but no longer react in the way they would expect.
It can make sex a very painful experience for both the woman and her partner and is not easily explained away if not mentioned beforehand.
There are a range of lubricants readily available off the shelf to help combat this problem and, however embarrassing it may feel, communicating openly and early with your partner will reassure them that it’s your body that is changing, not your feelings for them.
It’s not entirely clear why, but the way the body processes and deals with fat appears to change during the menopause.
Even if you have been practising a successful regimen of diet and exercise before, you will find it necessary to adjust your fitness programme to cater for the increased propensity to gain weight.
During menopause women tend to ‘thicken’ around the midriff which may mean changing the type of exercise that you use to keep in trim.
Unlike most of the other symptoms of the change, this effect will be permanent if not addressed, it’s not right and it’s not fair, but it is a fact of life.
This list is by no means exhaustive but if you can discuss these and other effects of menopause with other women who have experienced it you will be able to develop coping strategies much more easily.
And remember, no-one teaches men any of this stuff either, to men the whole subject is a thorny mystery shrouded in half-baked lore and embarrassed ignorance.
Letting your partner, male or female, into the discussion and asking their help in dealing with the challenges you face can only help in the long run.
You’re not alone, you’re not a freak, and you can cope with whatever is thrown at you, but don’t be afraid to seek advice and help where you can.
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