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  • Writer's pictureAlexander James

Managing Menopause Mindfully

There are many challenges in life that some face but not others, including depression, stress, anxiety and persistent grief. But there are many that are unavoidable.

For women, the primary case is the menopause. Unless a woman has a particular medical condition that brings it on earlier, this will normally occur in middle age between 45 and 55, marking a significant change in both physical and emotional terms.

Primarily, it means the end of the potential child-bearing years, which is a physical fact but one that can have significant psychological effects. While the negative elements of the monthly cycle will no longer be an issue, some can feel a sense of loss at no longer being able to have children, even if they had actually decided against having any more years earlier.

The physical effects of the menopause can be treated with medical solutions ranging from creams to hormone replacement therapy, but the psychological impact can also be profound. Low mood and anxiety are particularly common effects.

This is why mindfulness therapy based in London can offer help that just taking what the GP prescribes can’t.

Mindfulness is based on the belief that focusing on the here and now is the best way of dealing with all of life’s challenges. It is about not worrying about what comes next or even ruminating on the past, but finding happiness and acceptance of one’s present moment experience. This offers an alternative to cluttering the mind with thoughts about everything that happened yesterday or is happening tomorrow, thus reducing stress.

This is achieved through the practice of mindfulness and meditation, where we spend time watching the wanderings of the mind and the thoughts that come up. With practice, we can move to a place of awareness achieving a sense of distance from my thoughts and realise thoughts are not facts, they are just mental events that we can learn to respond to skilfully giving us a place to choose our response instead of running off the old habits of the mind.

More directly, research has indicated that mindfulness can even impact positively on the physical effects of menopause. In 2013-14 a study based on research in Hong Kong found that mindfulness techniques helped reduce symptoms like hot flashes as well as curbing the psychological symptoms of menopause like insomnia, anxiety and depression.

As the published details of the study noted, there had already been some research to indicate that hot flashes could be reduced by mindfulness. However, these previous works had been undertaken without control groups, making it harder to verify the results. The 2018 study, however, did have a control group, with just under 100 in each cohort.

Studying the effects of 20-minute sessions over a period of intervals ranging up to eight months, the research found there were demonstrably better levels of outcome in the patients who had undertaken the mindfulness sessions compared with those who had not.

Menopause is like so many other times of change in life. They can breed anxiety and worry because they are novel and the future can seem uncertain. The fact that it is the passing away of something - in this case fertility - plus the knock-on effects on the brain of the sudden reduction in hormones, means the potential for troubling psychological effects is significant.

However, nobody should see this as something to be merely endured. Instead, by practising mindfulness, you can live in the moment, take everything one day at a time, and make what can be a challenging period of life into something far more manageable.

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