How can Positive Psychology interventions improve menopausal symptoms?

Menopause affects a billion people globally [1] and we barely talk about it.

Mostly women ‘soldier on’ through difficult symptoms, often at a time of complex family changes. (children going to university, ageing parents, perhaps divorce) I’m keen to focus on how we can help women to transition though menopause in a gentle and supported manner, utilising scientifically proven Positive Psychology resilience methodologies that are chosen by the individual and supported by those around her.

What is Menopause?

Natural menopause is defined as ‘the permanent cessation of menstrual periods, determined retrospectively after a woman has experienced 12 months of amenorrhea without any other obvious pathological or physiological cause’.  [2]

Menopause can last for 8-10 years and occurs at a median age of 52.

(Perimenopause can start significantly earlier). It signifies complete ovarian follicular depletion, with resulting estrogen loss. Women experience differing levels of symptoms.

The Physical, Emotional and Psychological aspects of Menopause

Physical symptoms include – Irregular periods, hot flushes, night sweats, fatigue and insomnia.

Emotional and Psychological elements of menopausal oestrogen loss include emotional outbursts, anger, mood swings, irritability, poor concentration, memory lapses, anxiety and depression.

Menopause and work

Imagine this for a moment; You’re at work, you may have slept poorly, had night sweats and you’re tired, you might feel emotional (I used to cry at adverts) you’re unable to concentrate fully and unsurprisingly, you might feel anxious. Then, in the middle of a business meeting you have a hot flush. You feel like you’re on fire and your clothes are soaked with sweat. How can this still be the elephant in the room? Is our lack of dialogue at work a fear of being perceived as weaker? less able in some way? momentarily ‘off our game’? How do we practice authenticity if we are a menopausal woman working in a predominantly male environment?

If you recognize all of this, you’re not alone. A British Menopause Society survey showed that a third of women said that menopause impacted their work life. There are a couple of pioneering organisations that are holding menopause awareness workshops for women and their leadership teams.  (Pensions Agency. Severn Trent Water) They understand the commercial impact of wellbeing in an aging workforce and they seem to be opening the dialogue in an ethical and meaningful way.

Menopause and Resilience

So, how might we tackle this better? From a Positive Psychology perspective resilience interventions are a great place to start, resilience is a construct and has many subjective elements, it is influenced by perception, however perception is altered during the menopause due to diminishing oestrogen supplies. This makes for a complex emotional picture that is often difficult to interpret. It can be very difficult to separate out which feelings and emotions belong to which event or biological change.  Studies of resilience have consistently shown that even among children exposed to multiple stressors, only a minority develop serious emotional disturbances. [3] Further research [4] shows that “natural menopause did not have negative mental health consequences for the majority of middle aged healthy women” The recommendation was that “Evaluation and treatment of the middle aged female patient should rest more on her specific life circumstances and risk factor characteristics than on her menopausal status”. Sadly, the NHS simply don’t have the resources to address anything other than individual symptoms. The holistic approach recommended above is missing in reality, so what can we do?

Interventions that can build resilience through menopause

Menopausal women often describe feeling ‘out of control’ as a result of fluctuating oestrogen levels, regaining some control can be empowering.

Building resilience during menopause can help significantly. I have made some suggestions below of interventions and activities that you might like to try under the headings of Cognitive Resilience, Emotional Resilience and Behavioural Resilience. You can determine which interventions you choose by using the resilience questionnaire mentioned below or simply by choosing activities that resonate with you, pick one and have a go. If you want a recommendation ‘Self Compassion’ is a great place to start – Watch Brene Brown’s TED talk and go from there.

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in this. You will have a Mother, Sister, Aunt, Friend or Colleague who is experiencing similar things. Talk things through with them. Be understanding, kind, helpful and compassionate and if it’s possible to laugh about it together then all the better. Laughing helps.

It can be exceptionally difficult to get clarity in the midst of menopause, be kind to yourself and let me know how you get on.

Cognitive Resilience – Thinking positively and constructively
  • Encourage an open dialogue about menopause at work. It’s a wellbeing issue.
  • Engage in work that you really love- Authenticity reduces stress
  • Recognise your strengths and utilize them. [5]
  • Use your problem solving skills to source potential solutions for the specific symptoms that bother you.
  • As far as possible live to your personal values (One of mine is preventative health) by taking proactive action. [6]
  • Nurture a more positive view of yourself where possible. [7]
  • If you enjoy a questionnaire look at the Resilience Scale for adults, understand your areas for development and monitor your progress. [8]
  • Accept that some circumstances can’t be altered and accept them for what they are. [9] Menopause is a natural process and marks our transition to ‘middle adulthood’ and us taking our place as a senior member of the world. [10]
Emotional resilience – Coping constructively with emotions
  • Self-compassion. Take care of yourself instead of ‘pushing on’ This feels alien to many women but the results are profound. [11]
  •   Meditate and be mindful. [12]
  • Try CBT, it can help with negative emotions.
  • Practice ‘savouring’, focus on experiencing events in the moment. [13]
  • Understanding the thoughts/ feelings connection. [14]
Behavioural resilience –Taking effective action
  •   ‘Reconnect with nature’ [15] Walking also releases endorphins and reduces stress (NB stomping through the park rewriting that email in your head doesn’t count)
  • Laugh!- watching comedy, it releases endorphins and reduces pain.
  • Gentle Yoga for peace of mind. (ie Hatha, Iyengar, Restorative)
  • Make realistic plans and health goals that suit your lifestyle.
  • Consider appropriate nutritional supplements to alleviate physical symptoms.

 

References:

  1. Healthline.com
  2. BMA.org.uk
  3. The Kauai Longitudinal Study
  4. Matthews, Wing, Kuller, Meilahn & et al, 1990
  5. Linley et al 2010
  6. Park Seligman and Peterson 2004
  7. Brene Brown 2015
  8. Friborg, Hjemdal, Rosenvinge & Martinussen, 2003
  9. Williams & Penman, 2014
  10. Levinson 2011
  11. Brene Brown 2015
  12. Williams & Penman, 2014
  13. Fredrickson 2011
  14. Reivich and Shatte 2003
  15. Fredrickson 2011

 

About the author: Janette Kirk-Willis is a Positive Psychology Coach and HR Consultant. She has coached in blue chip organisations for 25 years. She was recently a Wellbeing panel member at the ‘Women of the World Festival’ in her home city of Exeter positivelyflourishing.co

 

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