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Navigating Menopause: Keeping Your Relationships on an Even Keel
Between mood swings and added stress, menopause can be a minefield even for healthy relationships. Small adjustments in your perspective and daily routine can help you pull through without breaking any bonds or burning any bridges. Here's how.
By Carol McCullough, MLS
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The emotional effects of menopause can range from irritability to anxiety to depression. It’s no wonder many women report having relationship issues during this time. You don’t have to work through the changes alone, though. Making that extra effort to stay connected with your nearest and dearest companions won’t always be easy, but you’ll be glad to have them by your side once the hot flashes have cooled and your symptoms have subsided.
The mood swings, hot flashes, and general aches and pains that can accompany menopause have to be understood and dealt with, health experts say, so that you can maintain your perspective. And understanding what's happening to you both physically and emotionally, is only the first step in getting through menopause without having relationships, both personal and business, fall apart.
Here's a list that can give you a good idea of the types of emotional issues women may experience in menopause:
- Rapid mood swings
- Feelings of sadness
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Tension and anxiety
With emotional changes like these, it's easy to understand how menopause can also affect healthy relationships. Here are some factors that may contribute to mood swings during menopause:
These emotional fluctuations are often attributed to declining estrogen levels that impact the brain's neurotransmitters, chemical substances that regulate mood.
While depression has been associated with menopause, there is no evidence that it is caused by menopause. However, women who have fought depression in the past may be more susceptible to a recurrence during menopause.
Physical and Sexual Changes
Many menopausal women feel undesirable because they are experiencing vaginal dryness and a lack of sexual libido. This is a normal occurrence, but that doesn't make it easy to deal with. Some scientists have reported that the lack of libido is associated with declining levels of the male hormone testosterone, which women carry in their bodies, although not at the levels that men do.
A recent study published in theJournal of the American Medical Associationfound that women with low testosterone levels were significantly more likely to suffer from fatigue, depression, and loss of libido than women with higher levels of the hormone.
In her bookDouble Menopause, Nancy Cetel, MD, a California obstetrician and gynecologist, discusses the many changes couples experience while menopause is occurring. A loss of desire for sex may be caused by the hormonal changes, but there might be an emotional element that needs to be dealt with as well.
In fact, the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN) published the results of a survey of 3,100 women and found the biggest influence on the women's sex lives wasn't their menopausal status. Instead, it was the same type of general problems that many women face throughout their lives: sex and aging, falling into a routine with your sex life, not enough time to enjoy your partner, etc.
How to Protect Your Relationships During Menopause
While hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and antidepressants may help, the solution for dealing successfully with the many relationships in your life during menopause is really much more about adjusting your daily routine and your overall outlook. Here are a few suggestions:
- Exercise regularly and eat healthy foods.Study after study has confirmed that a nutritious and balanced diet is essential in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The Everyday Health Diet and Nutrition Center offers an excellent primer for good nutrition.
- Find your inner calm.A self-calming technique, such as yoga, meditation, rhythmic breathing, reading, or prayer can help you balance your wayward emotions and keep your relationships on an even keel.
- Avoid tranquilizers and/or alcohol.Even though many studies have talked about the benefits of moderate daily alcohol intake, keep in mind that alcohol is a depressant and may not be beneficial for you if you are going through frequent or troubling mood changes. Tranquilizers can have the same unwanted effects.
- Get creative.Engage in productive outlets that foster a sense of self-esteem and achievement. If you've had a longstanding desire to become more involved in charity work or to help your church or synagogue, this may be a good time to do so. These types of activities, which can also include sports and leisure pursuits, help you feel better about yourself, which improves the way you interact with others.
- Stay connected with your family, friends, and community.The worst thing you can do while going through menopause is withdraw from those closest to you. Even if you don't feel up to it, you should schedule family (and friend) time on a regular basis. Invariably, you'll feel better after you've seen people you hold near and dear.
- Keep a journal.You may not end up publishing a best-seller, but writing down your thoughts, hopes, problems, and aspirations can ease your emotional stress and give you a much more balanced perspective on your situation.
Most important, try to remember that menopause is only a phase, and that you will soon get past it into the calmer emotional waters that lie ahead.
Medically reviewed by:Daniel McNeive, MD, board certified in obstetrics/gynecology and in private practice at St. John's Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Review date: October, 6, 2008.
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