While we’re not quite at post Covid yet, it may be helpful to you to see the parallels between Covid and menopause so you have hope for making it through both, healthy and sane!
What are Peri-Menopause & Post Menopause?
Firstly, let’s have a look at some definitions…
Perimenopause is the process of change leading up to menopause. Non-surgical menopause can start as early as your late 30s. The duration of perimenopause is similar to puberty, occurring very slowly over a number of years
If you are in perimenopause, you may have irregular periods or other symptoms during this time.
Menopause happens after your menstrual period has stopped and not returned for 12 consecutive months. As women age, their hormone levels decline and the ovaries stop functioning. If you have female reproductive organs, hormones will play important – but often hidden – roles in keeping your body healthy. Menopause does not require treatment unless symptoms become bothersome. Menopause can occur any time from the 30s to the mid-50s, although the typical range of age is 45 to 55. Up to 80 per cent of those experiencing menopause report a range of symptoms with varying intensities.
Natural menopause is the spontaneous ending of menstruation not caused by disease or intervention such as surgery, chemotherapy, or pelvic radiation therapy.
Surgical menopause takes place after both ovaries are surgically removed, causing immediate menopause to occur. Surgery to remove the uterus – known as a hysterectomy – does not cause menopause if the ovaries remain in place (although menstruation will stop after a hysterectomy).
Premature menopause occurs before age 40. The cause may be related to poor general health, genetics or the increasing levels of hormones in the environment. In some cases, premature menopause can be caused by some autoimmune diseases (conditions where your immune system becomes dysregulated). In these cases, your health-care provider may look for coexisting autoimmune conditions such as thyroiditis and lupus. Rare causes of premature menopause include ovarian tissue damage during surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Post menopause refers to the period of a woman’s life after she has natural or medical menopause has occurred and continues for the rest of her life.
Navigating a Transition
Menopause is a rite of passage which means it is a transition from one status to another, a journey if you like. And like Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom is changes you forever.
One thing is guaranteed in the post Covid world, in a few years time – we won’t be the same as we were before Covid (BC).
Too much of what we took for granted has been impacted: toilet paper, food, travel, seeing family, feeling safe…
Research into the Spanish Flu in the 1920s which lasted around 3 years, shows there was a massive backlash to the isolation, restriction and anxiety of the pandemic (as well as the world war and prohibition in the States!) in the years following. Those years, called the Roaring 20s are known as a decade of prosperity and overindulgence. In addition many large building projects for concert halls and entertainment venues occurred – reflecting the need for human beings to get back together and have fun again.
Post menopause can be very similar in that for the past 10 years (during peri-menopause) the ground beneath has been shaky but now is a time for consolidation and recovery.
Our relationships come under scrutiny and the issues within them can become apparent. Divorce is not uncommon.
Our bodies start to show wear and tear and we’re forced to confront our relationship to ageing, our fear of it, and who we are as older women. Plastic surgery is not uncommon
Our desires for what we want out of our lives shift now that we are no longer under the influence of the compliance-driving effects of estrogen. A sudden, desperate urge to escape is not uncommon
Our work may become unfulfilling and we start to question our choices. Career change is not uncommon
Physical discomfort such as sleep deprivation, hot flushes and vaginal conditions can place a sharp focus on our wellbeing or lack of it. Unfortunately we’re also very good at ignoring it, denying is and putting up with it. So heart disease, depression and cancer are not uncommon.
The loss associated with all change, including the loss of the ability to have any more children, can bring up grief and an inner reflection of where we are at in our lives. Often the question, “What have I done with my life?” leads to an answer, “not very much” and a profound sense of failure can ensue. Depression, anxiety and self harm are not uncommon.
While estrogen and progesterone decline other hormones increase and our intuition and insight start to develop. The desire to become a healer, or carer of some kind increases and, eventually, feelings of liberation, power and joy can arise. We may dye our hair purple, learn The Tarot or go back to school to learn nutrition. Living purposefully and having way more fun is not uncommon!
Both Covid and post menopause have a reputation for weight gain! A recent client, Lisa 49, had put on 5 kilos in the last 8 months and for 5 of those months she’d had no period. While she was only 59 kilos, those extra 5 kilos made a big difference to her confidence and how she felt about herself!
In post menopause, estrogen and progesterone reduce due to the cessation of ovarian function. This is normal and signifies the transition into reproductive freedom. No more responsibility for the reproduction of the species!
However, the cycling process in a woman’s body is very energy intensive. It takes a lot of work for the body to ovulate and menstruate. So when our cycle ends, our metabolic rate drops and we need to eat a little less in order to stay the same weight.
That’s just one of the reasons for post menopausal weight gain. Like Covid, weight gain at midlife can relate to boredom eating, stress eating or lack of activity. However, post menopausal weight gain can also relate to underlying poor health:
- The reduced protective effect of estrogen worsens underlying inflammatory conditions such as autoimmune conditions and arthritis
- Eating a typical western diet, which tends to be carb heavy, leads to problems with insulin and worsens around menopause
- Stress levels can go through the roof and upset delicate endocrine balance leading to stress-related weight gain
- Speaking of stress, with the magnitude of change occurring at midlife leads to anxiety, low mood or a sense of overwhelm, we can often comfort ourselves with food or alcohol and this too can add on the extra kilos
How to Navigate the Transition
Even though all this change can be scary and disruptive, the hope is that the person who emerges at post menopause, or post Covid, is a better person than the one entering.
It’s our choice.
But we need to be aware that we have a choice. We need to awaken!
How do we Awaken
Midlife is a great time to look within and find out what makes us tick. Here are a few ways that people awaken
- Through contemplative practices such as meditation, prayer or inner reflection
- After tragedy when the grief cracks the heart open
- Through yoga and other breathing related spiritual practices
- While attending a retreat designed for personal reflection and opening the self (see my retreat info below)
- Working with a therapist, coach or enlightened health practitioner
- Other ways like certain relationships, being in business for yourself or surfing the waves.
Awakening or deepening our self awareness if we are already woke (!) is a transformative process well worth embarking on. It leads to joy and freedom and that is what change and disruption, like Covid and menopause are all about.
AWAKEN DEEP CALM RETREAT
Brenda is the founder of Quintessence Health and creator of the Passage to Power programs, events and training. She’s a skilled naturopath and life coach helping to support women and men through the wellness challenges associated with the midlife transition.