What You Need To Know About Perimenopause

One of the beautiful aspects of aging is becoming a bit more patient, introspective, even more productive on many levels. I’m able to let go of the little things and I’m more comfortable in my own skin. But life likes to throw you curve balls: enter perimenopause.

I'm speaking from my own personal experience and those of my clients and peers who are going through this normal, but sometimes difficult phase of life. We are not alone. According the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health, more than 1.3 million women are expected to reach menopause every year. We're bound together on this journey, a two to five year ride through complicated terrain towards menopause. For me it’s a winding, bumpy road, and the landscape is constantly shifting. There's no way to avoid it, no magic escape route, so why not embrace it in all it’s glory? Hot flashes, mood swings, breasts getting all weird, bone loss, insomnia, thinning tissue, and weight gain. Oh yeah, it’s a blast.

But what exactly is perimenopause?

In a nutshell, we are losing all those millions of eggs we were born with. We start out with about 1 to 3 million eggs and gradually lose them throughout our life. By the time we enter menopause, we may have fewer than 10,000. This creates all kinds of hormonal changes. Some lucky women are barely phased, while others have a really tough time.

You’ve hit full-blown menopause when you haven’t had a period for 12 months. I’m not there yet, but oh boy, things are a-changing! My biggest issue now is that extra weight gain, feeling bloated and like I could whip out my boobs and breast feed triplets.

You don't have to suffer through all the symptoms with your hands tied, though, so here are five of the most common effects of perimenopause and ways to manage them.

1. Bloating

Clean up your diet. Eat more fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables and stay away from junk and processed foods. Try avoiding salt, wheat, diet sodas, refined sugars, alcohol and caffeine. Drink plenty of water with lemon to flush out the system.

2. Weight Gain

No secret here: you’ve got to move more and eat less. Our metabolism begins to slow and muscle mass decreases as we age and enter perimenopause. Bump up your cardio, break a sweat and make sure to incorporate strength training. You’ll increase bone density (to help battle osteoporosis) and muscle helps fry off that belly fat.

3. Mood Swings

Yoga and meditation have had a profound effect on my life in general and have become lifelines while going through these changes. Yoga also has the benefit of increasing flexibility, reducing stress and creating a calm, balanced center so you are better able to cope with this new stage of life.

4. Insomnia

Cut down the caffeine. Switch to caffeine-free herbal teas, especially after noon. Create a bedtime routine and stick to it. Take a bath (not too hot if you’re experiencing hot flashes) with a calming essential oil like lavender, and have a cup of chamomile tea. Turn off the TV, computer and phone a few hours before bedtime. Read a book and make sure you’re bedroom is dark and cool.

5. Hot Flashes

I haven’t really experienced these (yet) but a friend of mine has sweat beadlets form on her forehead and chest and “shoot” off her body. I've seen this with my own eyes! Avoiding spicy foods, hot baths or showers, overheated, stuffy rooms, alcohol and caffeine can help, but here are some more hot flash survival tips:

  • Dress in layers.
  • Avoid synthetic clothing and sheets.
  • Sleep in cotton pjs or a t-shirt and have spares handy by the bed so you can easily peel them off and change during the night (better than soaking the sheets).
  • Take a cool shower before bed.
  • Sip on ice water to help keep your body temperature down.
  • Stash a paper fan in your bag.
  • Stick your head in the freezer for a few minutes.
  • Keep your home a comfortable temperature.
  • Use a fan by your bed at night.

There are many suggestions out there for herbal and vitamin supplements, as well as hormone therapy. If you’re having a really tough time, consult with your practitioner to investigate options that may be beneficial to you.

For now I’m just hanging in there and taking it day by day, and so far I’ve been able to handle the changes my body is going through. I laugh more, I cry easier, I sleep less, and that’s just the way it is. Talking with friends, being open and honest about going through this phase is incredibly comforting and brings peace of mind.

But the best decision I’ve made by far, the one that has helped me the most, is accepting that this is my time, it's happening now and it could go on for years and years! There’s nowhere to hide and I can't do anything to stop it, so why not put it out there, embrace it, and make some healthy, natural changes that make it a just a little bit easier?

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