Embracing midlife

The menopause is when a woman has not had a menstrual cycle for 12 months after it has stopped. Generally this is also a time when the children have left home and elderly parents are demanding more attention. The path leading up to the menopause is called perimenopause. Some women survive these changes without a hitch and others go through a major upheaval in their lives.

At this time a woman may suffer symptoms such as irritability, a foggy brain, headaches, itchy skin, hot flushes, palpitations, night sweats, nightmares, hallucinations and mood swings. She may feel stressed, anxious, angry, sad and emotionally volatile. It can be frightening when mood swings come out of the blue. A woman often describes herself being fine one minute and bursting with anger or arguing the next. Unexpressed anger could lead to rage, depression and even suicidal thoughts, putting a strain on close relationships.

Dr Christine Northrup author of ‘The Wisdom of Menopause’ says that ’it is a combination of factors such as a woman’s hormone levels, her pre-existing brain chemistry and her life situation that results in these symptoms.” Nevertheless, this is an indication that a woman has reached a new stage in life and it is an opportunity for healing and growth to take place.

During premenstrual tension (PMT), perimenopause and menopause, unresolved issues and past traumas come to the surface to give a woman a chance to heal. For those that experience uncomfortable and severe PMT symptoms this may be an early sign that there could be trouble ahead. It is not so much the emotions that cause the difficulties but the resistance to face any unresolved issues.

During adolescence, past traumas and interest in world issues are suppressed as the young person’s focus is on self-image and mating. Menopause is a time when a woman often begins to express her passion and desires. However, if a woman denies her feelings to keep the peace at home and work, and she suppresses her creative desires, it results in a compromise usually of her health. When a woman respects her body’s wisdom and is able to express what lies within, she may feel more content. However, she risks unsettling the relationships around her and comes into conflict with what is expected of her in society.

Men also go through midlife with a menopause of their own. This is when some men want to escape the stresses of the workplace and retire; others focus more on the family and home. Women, on the other hand, often direct their energy towards the world outside. Couples that have a strong relationship can withstand these changes.

In brief, individuals may experience inner turmoil when going through life’s transitions. Acknowledging the empty nest and feelings of uncertainty is vital for the healing process to begin. This is an opportunity to face any fears, grief and confusion. Self-care is essential which includes eating well, having regular exercise, plenty of rest and enough sleep.

To maintain healthy relationships, scheduling in some ‘me’ time and making time for loved ones is important. Building a good support network helps to reduce the feelings of isolation.

Appreciating the beauty and wisdom of this period of life and welcoming something new enables individuals to fully embrace this experience. However, if you are feeling overwhelmed and distressed by the challenges in midlife, please speak to your GP, a healthcare professional, counsellor or psychotherapist.

Reference:

Northrup, C. (2001). The Wisdom of Menopause, The Complete Guide to Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing, UK, Judy Piatkus (Publishers) Ltd

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