Across the world, perceptions regarding menopause, and the known symptoms tend to be understood differently due to cultural and ethnic influences. Even more, menopause is often viewed through a constructive lens that isolates many women, leaving them feeling uninformed, and often scared about the changes they will embark upon once they’re older.
Saying that women aren’t informed enough isn’t an exaggeration. One recent study found that most women weren’t completely informed about menopause, or had some knowledge regarding the changes they may experience before the age of 40.
So, is menopause scary? It doesn't have to be. Proper education and support can demystify it and dispel misconceptions, making it a less intimidating experience.
Common Misconceptions & Stigma of Menopause
While times have changed, and more is now known about menopause than ever before, society’s fixation regarding youth has kept many aging people in the dark when it comes to addressing menopause and menopausal symptoms.
Women Don't Want To Talk About Menopause
One significant stigma surrounding menopause is the reluctance of many women to openly discuss it. Society's silence and lack of open conversation about menopause have left many women feeling isolated when it comes to addressing their menopausal experiences. This stigma can make women hesitant to seek support or share their concerns with friends, family, or healthcare professionals. Breaking this silence and encouraging open dialogue about menopause is essential to provide women with the knowledge, support, and resources they need to navigate this natural phase of life confidently.
Every Woman Experiences Menopause The Same
Despite menopause being a shared experience, among most women in their midlife, a common misconception people tend to believe is that all women will experience the same type of menopausal symptoms around the same age.
This, however, isn’t the case, and a growing body of research is now helping to better understand how cultural and ethnic differences can influence menopausal symptoms. For instance, in the United States, African American, Asian, and Latinx women often experience perimenopause and menopause earlier compared to white women. What’s more, some women, mostly African American women, reported having longer periods of hot flashes, compared to Asian women who responded to one survey.
Elsewhere, in places such as Japan, one particular study highlighted that Japanese women tend to experience less frequent and less severe hot flashes during menopause. Researchers are not yet determined, however, some believe that an increased intake of soy within their diet could be the possible cause for the milder hot flashes symptoms.
Take A Look At The Stigma Around Menopause: Tamzin Outhwaite Tells Her Story:
Menopause Only Causes Hot Flashes and Mood Swings
Although fluctuating hormonal levels and declining estrogen levels may cause hot flashes, and often impact moods, such as feelings of irritability, these aren’t the only symptoms women tend to experience during menopause.
Other symptoms that might be present during menopause include night sweats, vaginal dryness, itchy or flaky skin, headaches, migraines, and mental health problems, such as feelings of depression or elevated anxiety.
Menopause is a natural and biological change that women experience as they begin to age, and each of them may undergo varying symptoms. Each stage of menopause - perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause - may be different, and will affect a person’s body in different ways.
Menopause Starts When You Reach 50
While it’s true that menopause or menopausal symptoms may be present around the age of 50, the process often begins earlier and lasts several years.
For instance, perimenopause, the period before menopause, and the first of the three stages starts before the age of 50. Some indications estimate perimenopause to begin roughly seven years before menopause, or sometimes even ten years.
In the United States, the average age of menopause is around 52 years, although some women might have already started experiencing symptoms long before this age. Perimenopause could start between the age of 40 and 45 years, and last for another several years.
Experts suggest that menopause may last anywhere from seven to fourteen years in total.
After Menopause, You Age Faster, and Health Declines
One of the biggest stigmas surrounding menopause is that once a woman enters postmenopause, her health rapidly begins to decline, often insinuating that after menopause your life tends to go downhill.
While menopause comes with aging, a normal and biological occurrence, some women tend to feel more energized and happier than before they had menopause. Oftentimes women share that menopause helped them realize some of the things in life they had previously missed out on, and that it’s allowed them to have a fresh perspective on life.
A person’s health and well-being, regardless of their age, is determined by several factors, most importantly their ability to live an active lifestyle and follow a well-balanced diet.
Additionally, menopause does not mean a person will age faster, or their health will begin to decline. It’s rather an encouragement for people to pursue new hobbies or approach life with a new point of view.
While menopause might mean the end of a woman’s reproductive cycle, this is simply the transitionary period and allows people the opportunity to enjoy a new phase of their life, as what happens when a person begins to age.
Menopause Starts When Periods Become Irregular
Yes, menopause may cause irregular menstrual cycles, often leading menopausal women to miss their period, or having irregular cycles. However, this doesn't mean that irregular periods are a sign or indication of menopause, or early menopause.
During menopause, estrogen levels will begin to decline, causing irregular menstrual periods and cycles to take place. Experts suggest that once a person has gone twelve consecutive months without a menstrual period, then only will they enter menopause.
What’s more, research indicates that between 9 and 14 percent of women will have or experience irregular menstrual periods between their first period and the time they reach menopause.
Important to remember, that the shift from perimenopause to menopause isn’t immediate, and the lead-up to menopause can be months or even years before the time.
Menopause and Mental Health
Aside from other physical symptoms a woman may experience during menopause, something that is often not openly discussed is the effect menopause can have on a person's mental health and well-being.
Impact on Mental Well-being
Some people may experience elevated problems regarding their mental health during menopause. Although these problems may be caused by a variety of factors and other chronic health conditions experienced throughout life.
Declining Estrogen Levels
Most of the symptoms experienced throughout menopause are caused by a decline in estrogen levels. Estrogen is responsible for the development and regulation of the female productive system. During menopause, declining estrogen could lead to feelings of perimenopausal depression, mood swings, irritability, and increased feelings of anxiety.
History of Depression
A person’s history of depression may play a role during menopause, often leaving many people feeling increased depression-like symptoms, including elevated feelings of sadness, lack of motivation, insomnia, oversleeping, hopelessness, or overwhelming fatigue, among others, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Traumatic Life Events
Experiencing traumatic life events during menopause may be a cause for having elevated feelings of depression. One study found that menopause increases women’s vulnerability to depression and anxiety. This might be due to fluctuating estrogen levels, which indirectly impact serotonin hormones.
Many things such as aging parents, losing a child, losing a person’s job, or even health-related problems may cause further elevation of feelings of brain fog and depression-related feelings.
Multiple Sources of Stress
Experts believe it’s often rare for women who don’t have a history of depression or anxiety to suddenly develop a severe case thereof once they enter menopause.
However, many believe that multiple sources of stress, such as having to care for aging parents and children, having a stressful career, or having children move out of the house may impact the incidences of depression and anxiety during menopause.
Talking to a Registered Professional or Physician
One of the best, and perhaps most important things any person should do when experiencing mental health problems is to talk with a professional or a physician.
This is especially important for women in menopause who may experience feelings of depression or anxiety. Additionally, frequent visits to an OB/GYN are advised.
Menopause isn’t only about the physical symptoms a person may experience, but further problems that may occur in the near future, such as breast cancer or postnatal depression.
Talking to People you Trust
Another coping strategy is to talk to people you trust, this might be a partner, friend, or family member. Although these people might not have all the answers, they may potentially help to advise you on what you can do.
More so, they are easy to come in contact with, and talking to other people about certain mental health problems will help you realize that you are not alone and that some people care for you.
How many women don’t bother with exercising once they enter menopause? Frequent exercise may be another possible coping strategy for stress. Small amounts of daily exercise, including running, walking, or mild to intensive cardio exercise can help a person cope with stress.
While movement is important to help combat stress or feelings of anxiety, daily meditation can be another potential stress reliever. Experts suggest participating in meditation practices that are within your physical abilities and advise people to participate in group meditation activities.
Activities such as 10 to 20 minutes of daily meditation can significantly reduce feelings of tension, and help you feel more in touch with your cognitive thoughts. Additionally, spending time outdoors hiking or walking can help, or even swimming may be a good source of meditation.
Take up a Hobbies
Everyone has something they enjoy doing outside of their daily routine or work. A hobby helps to break away from the ordinary routine and can help a person to stay motivated. Starting a hobby doesn't need to be an intensive practice, and it can be anything simple that you feel benefits your well-being.
Things such as gardening, cycling, or even hiking may be a pleasant past-time activity that can help to improve your moods or help you approach life with a new perspective. Volunteering may also be another potential way to take your mind off things, or helping out at a local charity can provide you with a potential serotonin boost.
Menopause Symptoms You Should Be Aware Of
There are plenty of symptoms that come with menopause, and not every person will experience each of these the same. However, to stay informed about menopause, experts advise that people regularly visit a physician or registered OB/GYN.
Menopause symptoms you should be aware of:
During postmenopause, some women may experience feelings of discomfort during sexual intercourse, often leading to painful sex. Vaginal dryness is a condition caused by declining estrogen levels that affects the lining of the vaginal walls. Decreased estrogen may lower natural vaginal lubrication and cause thinning of the vaginal wall.
Itching or Dry Skin
As a person begins to age, fluctuating hormonal levels may cause the skin to become dry, creating tingling sensations that cause you to scratch the skin. This often leads to flaky skin that may become red or inflamed over time, or you may notice that your skin is looking paler or less radiant during this time.
There is some evidence that proves that menopause migraines may become more frequent and severe at this point in a person’s life. Additionally, frequent headaches and mild migraines may be a regular occurrence in the years leading up to menopause, the period known as perimenopause.
Another possible symptom of menopause is insomnia which may cause fatigue, feeling of sleeplessness or trouble sleeping. At night a person may experience night sweats or chills, causing irritability and affecting regular sleeping cycles. More than this, dry and itchy skin may also leave a person feeling restless during the night.
Although menopause can be a stressful time, often leaving a person feeling out of place and uncomfortable, there are some things you can do to better manage the stages of menopause.
- Reduce stress levels
Try and live a more relaxing lifestyle by minimizing certain things that may cause you to feel stressed or anxious. This may be hard and will require you to evaluate some of your decisions, however the less stress you have, the better.
- Exercise regularly
Take up some form of exercise during the day, this may be things such as walking, light running, or even spending time outdoors in nature doing physical activities such as gardening.
- Have a balanced diet
Diet is crucial, and making sure that you get enough vital proteins and vitamins can help to replenish nutrients needed in the body during this time.
- Focus on your health
Make your health a priority. Try to minimize the consumption of alcohol and nicotine. Reduce your intake of unhealthy, trans-fatty, or oily foods as much as possible.
- Wear loose clothing
For women suffering from hot flushes, try to wear loose-fitting clothing that is comfortable and breathable.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy
HRT is considered to be a trusted medical option for alleviating mild and severe menopausal symptoms. Be sure to frequently visit a physician or OB/GYN for analysis, and to find out more about possible treatment options.
- Hyaluronic Acid
For women experiencing vaginal dryness, hyaluronic acid can help alleviate severe dryness and irritation. Hyaluronic acids or topical lotions can be applied directly to the vagina and vulva, the outer region of the vagina.
- Topical estrogen
Another possible treatment for vaginal dryness is an estrogen topical cream that can be directly applied to the vagina. Many of these lotions can be purchased over the counter, however, it’s best advised to consult with a medical professional or pharmacist beforehand.
- Consult with a professional
For other symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, ensure that you have access to a registered professional. Talking to someone will help you better understand the feelings and emotions you may be experiencing. More importantly, having a support system is crucial for anyone suffering from mental health problems.
Support and Resources
Looking for support, or simply want to read more about certain drugs or treatment you may be using during menopause? There are numerous trusted sources available online that can help inform you, and others about common symptoms, side effects and additional information regarding menopause.
Support and Community
- Mumsnet: A community-based forum through which people can ask questions and discuss menopause-related subjects.
- AskEM: An online website and mobile application that can help to connect people with community participants that have been struggling with severe menopausal symptoms.
- Menopause Matters: A UK-based online forum and community portal that enables users to connect with like-minded individuals, and access an archive of personal stories, advice and additional information.
Resources and Information
- The North American Menopause Society (NAMS): People looking to learn more about menopause, and better understand various symptoms and changes they may be experiencing during their midlife can use the NAMS archive that contains professional and clinical research publications.
- National Institutes of Health: The NHI provides readers with extensive research on menopause, including drugs, symptoms and remedies. The NHI is a globally recognized organization that documents findings of researchers and academics from across the world.
- MedlinePlus: Medline is supported and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They provide information regarding certain illnesses and diseases. More than this, they provide an elaborate library of literature and readings on menopause, symptoms and possible treatments.
How To Survive Menopause?
Frequently visit your physician or an OB/GYN for routine check-ups. Additionally, when advised by a professional, you may be able to take an oral estrogen or hormone replacement to help alleviate some of the severe symptoms of menopause and replenish declining estrogen and progesterone levels.
Why is Menopause So Hard?
Menopause can especially be hard on women, seeing as they are entering a new phase of their life. The symptoms women experience, such as chills, night sweats, tender breasts, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, itchy skin, and mood swings are particularly difficult to handle, however, there are remedies and treatments available for these symptoms.
Can Menopause Cause a Psychotic Break?
Experts suggest that a decline in reproductive hormones during menopause may trigger menopause-associated psychosis (MAP). Although this may be a possibility, there is very little known about the underlying mechanisms, and how MAP may affect women during menopause and the menopause transition to psychosis.
So, should you be scared of menopause? While there’s a lot that women have to deal with during menopause, many of the physical symptoms can be treated with certain lifestyle changes and medical remedies. Although many people will often think of menopause as a scary time in their life, this may in fact be a wonderful time to transition into a new person and open the chapter to a new part of life.
Dealing with menopause may be different for each person, and not all women may experience menopause the same. However, this shouldn’t discourage women from talking or supporting one another, or seeking the appropriate medical attention when needed.
Menopause is a natural biological occurrence, meaning that at some point in a woman's life, they will experience some of these hardships. However, there’s nothing to be scared of, and knowing that the necessary treatment and support exists can help them overcome some of the most challenging years of their mid-life.