Understanding Perimenopause and Menopause – When Should You Start Practicing Perimenopause Self Care?
Perimenopause is the time leading up to when you have your last period. This can start as young as 35 but is most commonly started in your early 40’s. Symptoms over this time can vary considerably for each woman and CAN last for up to 10 years, however the normal time for symptoms is 2-5 years. This is where wellness needs to become your highest priority to help the transition go with ease and grace (and without many hot sweats & ragey moments).
Menopause is the moment in time when you have had your last period. Of course, you don’t know this at the time as you have to wait 12 months to know that it was your last… Just another unknown in all these things hormonal. PS. You will probably still be experiencing symptoms of perimenopause at this time.
What are the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause?
There are over 52 signs and symptoms of perimenopause, ranging from hot flushes, brain fog, lack of sleep, rosacea, skin dryness (everywhere) to rage & emotional outbursts, turning into a weeping woman at the sight of ANYTHING sad, random joint and muscle aches & of course weight gain.
Menopause Self Care Tips for Managing Symptoms
Diet and nutrition
Focus on dark leafy greens at EVERY meal, including breakfast (one of my stable go-tos for breakfast is a green smoothie — smoothies will make this huge dietary change a lot easier). Berries, nuts & seeds as well as more anti-inflammatory foods (like sweet potato or pumpkin) over potatoes or similar vegetables. If you are getting bloating or joint aches, you may also need to watch or alter dairy and gluten over this time.
Next, try to incorporate a significant amount of protein into every meal and increase your fibre intake — protein needs to be approximately 20gm per meal 3 x day and fibre should be around 20gms for the day. Focus on less processed foods and sugar & minimise alcohol (especially if you are experiencing weight gain, disrupted sleep, hot flashes, etc.). It’s important to hydrate with water more often than you feel the need to — your body doesn’t always send the “thirst” signals (during menopause), and you can easily mistake this for hunger.
Exercise and physical activity
Movement is key to menopause self care. “Move it or lose it” is critical at this biological stage — your body is wanting to slow down and break down. Obviously, this is not what you want. You have many more amazing years in you — but at the perimenopausal and early menopausal stage of your life, it is critical to build up your strength and flexibility now to ensure that those years are as fulfilling as possible.
Weights and/or strength training 2-3x per week is recommended to prevent muscle loss. Trips and falls can become your biggest hurdle at this stage, as weakened muscles can lead to instability and bone breaks. Cardio 2x a week in the form of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is fabulous for heart, bone and brain health, circulation and weight management — all while helping your “feel good” hormones kick in for positive mental health.
Flexibility and lengthening of muscles and cartilage / fascia are critical at this time, as they would typically want to shorten with age. Also consider the added menopausal effect of the loss of collagen (for muscle mass and flexibility) within the muscles and cartilage — essentially, they are thinning and drying out, as well as shortening. Staying fit and flexible can minimise these effects to a huge degree.
Stress management techniques
As your hormones change and oestrogen drops, cortisol — one of your stress hormones — becomes more prevalent. You may notice this with interrupted sleep, or feelings of anxiety or a racing heart. Meditation and breathwork are a critical part of menopause self care — proper and mindful breathing helps to manage the heightened cortisol levels! When cortisol is high, it can accelerate muscle, memory and concentration loss. Cortisol also works in tandem with insulin, which can contribute to weight gain around the belly.
Grounding (also known as earthing: standing and walking barefoot in nature) will also help with stress management, and can be done daily (at various stages of the day) for optimal de-stressing. Earthing devices are also available to put under your desk to keep you grounded and not feeling too scattered when stressed.
Protecting your energy with a simple visualisation in the morning is an underrated technique that I personally use. Basically, visualise some sort of positivity device protecting you from negativity: protecting you from being sucked into everyone else’s drama, from people constantly wanting your energy and time, etc. The “positivity device” can be anything — I personally like to visualise a cloak or super hero costume going on to “protect” my positive energy.
If you are already stressed out about something, or you find yourself in an upsetting situation — try breathing from a deeper belly breath. This switches your nervous system to calming, repairing biological processes (as opposed to the fight or flight responses). This technique can also be applied on a regular basis outside of stressful situations and can be as simple as 6 deep breaths every night as you lay down in bed.
Sleep can impact so many physical, mental and emotional functions that it should be clear to everyone that it is of high importance. One study shows that if you are operating on an average of 4hrs sleep a night (think about how many times you wake, what time you go to bed and how many hours you lie awake trying to get back to sleep — you start to realise how common this situation really is), you are functioning the same as someone with an alcohol level of 0.5%*, which is legally drunk!
Think about that for a minute… Your reactions are slower, your memory isn’t sharp, and your decisions are poor (at best). Sound familiar? Thankfully, by modifying several sleep-related habits, you can turn back the clock on bad sleeping habits, and even make up for lost time. Try the following:
– Keep your bedroom at between 16-18 degrees Celsius — AKA a little cool.
– Use sleepwear and sheets made of natural fibres: bamboo, cotton… Something breathable.
– Turn off all devices 2hrs prior to sleep — or use blue blocker glasses to minimise melatonin damage. You need this for your circadian rhythms and good sleep patterns.
– Have a dark room or wear a silk eye mask to shut out all light — this is signalling to the brain it is safe to fall asleep.
– Finish eating at least 2 hrs prior to wanting to go to bed.
– Have a light protein drink and/or magnesium drink just prior to bed — this can help activate sleep hormones.
– Minimise caffeine after 2pm in the afternoon — the effects of 1 cup of regular coffee last 6-8 hours.
– Minimise alcohol in general. 1 or 2 glasses per week for a social occasion is okay, but nightly drinking works like a stimulant and is designed to wake up the brain, not signal sleep hormones.
– Do your skincare routine with purpose. For example, as you cleanse, visualise your day washing away. As you tone, pay attention to the smell and feel of it as you massage it into your face and neck. As you firm, visualise your skin younger and more vibrant. Nourish with your night cream and use the smells to signal love for your skin and your whole entire being — this can become your skin love ritual and will signal happy hormones, sleep hormones, gratitude and love for life, and biologically flip your nervous system out of fight or flight response, exhaustion, and more!
Healthy hobbies for menopausal women
Looking for a healthy hobby? Take it from me — a healthy hobby is anything that gives you purpose, fills your cup and leaves you feeling satisfaction for being alive! This can include reading, crafts, building or making something… Picking up and sticking to a hobby can be the most crucial part of menopause self care — it helps keep you focused on something positive during this stage that is so prone to creating negativity for so many people. Also consider any outdoor hobbies: getting outside has the biggest benefits as far as health and vitality, as well as healthy ageing.
A popular option for an outdoor hobby is gardening: this allows you to admire the beauty of what you have created, plus the grounding effect of having your hands in the earth. Another option is stand up paddle boarding: where the serenity can calm your senses, keeping you focused in the present moment and feeling gratitude for having time to just “be.” Also consider hiking, which can have a similar calming effect, while giving you a significant amount of exercise. But, again: the most important thing with choosing a hobby is making sure it leaves you feeling focused, satisfied and fulfilled.
The importance of community and socialising
Since the world changed in 2020, it has become more obvious that social interaction is critical to our well-being as humans. Now that you are going through hormonal changes (that can go on for a while), this has never been more important. Finding like-minded women who can listen, encourage and support you (and share their strategies) can be the difference between suffering in silence and feeling in control of where you are heading. When you start to feel in control, you realise that this process is normal and you start to feel that there is no right or wrong: your way can be totally right for you, and that gives you strength.
Keep asking questions of each other, discovering and sharing new podcasts, blogs, teachers (not to mention seeing the funny side of menopausal challenges) — knowing that when you emerge out the other side, there can be some amazing growth and fabulous lifelong connections (which, as you grow in post-menopause, will become hugely important).
More coming in Part 2!
If any of this information is helpful to you, consider enrolling in our Thrive Through Menopause program, where we cover menopause and perimenopause self care tactics as well as a whole suite of all-natural solutions to all menopause woes — ranging from large-scale dietary (and supplementary) changes and menopause-appropriate workout regimens, to daily rituals such as skincare, meditation and breathwork. But above all, I aspire to empower women by deepening their understanding of how the menopausal body works on a holistic level: a full-scale physical, mental, emotional and hormonal understanding of your body & brain.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my menopause self care guide — coming soon!