I have been lucky enough to avoid many of the menopausal symptoms I was dreading. No hot flushes, nights sweats or weight gain for me. Just hyper anxiety which is worse in the mornings and during a working day. The depletion of oestrogen during the menopause can cause anxiety which in turn can be exacerbated by feelings of running out of time to do all the things we still want to do. On the one hand I don’t really have much to worry about. My children are thriving with families of their own, I have a happy home life and a job which pays the bills. I also have lots of interests outside of work including a fledgling fitness business. On the other hand, I want to spend more time on my interests and less on the day job but I have to keep that going to pay the bills. It’s when I think of how much I still want to do and how little time I may have to do it that the anxiety kicks in. When I was younger I would excuse reckless behaviour with the excuse that life is too short. I didn’t believe it though, I thought it was quite long and that I would have heaps of time to do things. I didn’t join a works pension scheme for a long time because couldn’t imagine being a pensioner and optimistically assumed there would be a cure for old age before I got there (apart from dying young). I do, however, consider my life a work in progress so whether the cause of my angst is a massive drop in oestrogen or just a lack of later life planning I have discovered three things which make me feel a little bit more serene:
1. Breathing – of course breathing is helpful. Without it we wouldn’t reach the menopause. However, there is breathing and breathing. We take more than 17000 breaths a day without a giving it a thought but actually, giving a thought to breathing can have immediate and long term benefits. Short breathing exercises can give almost instant relief when faced with overwhelming feelings of anxiety as well as a longer term bonus of improving the circulation and aiding better sleep. I use my Fitbit to do several two minute breathing exercises a day as well as using an app called ibreathe which has some little breathing workouts where a nice female voice tells you when to inhale, hold and exhale. The app also tells you all about the multitude of benefits of breathing (apart from staying alive) and lets you set reminders to make space for a breather (so to speak). For me, controlled breathing has the immediate effect of slowing my heart rate and clearing my meno-brain fog. Of course, an app isn’t essential but it’s nice to see your heart rate lower and to see little stars appear when you’re in sync with the app or hear a soothing voice telling you to breathe. To do it without an app you just take a long slow inhalation through the nose, hold it for 5 seconds then exhale out until it feels like there is no breath in your lungs and repeat five times.
2. Walking – any exercise can help with feelings of anxiety due to the endorphins it releases (endorphins being the body’s natural painkillers which help to relax the mind and regulate the mood). Walking has the extra benefit of fresh air and a distracting urban backdrop or a calming countryside vista. I find any kind of a walk rejuvenating and calming. Rain or shine I have never returned from a walk wishing I hadn’t bothered. You don’t need any fancy gear either, just shoes, a coat and off you go.
3. Reading – well as Librarian I would say that but being absorbed in a book which you can’t put down or can’t wait to return to is a very good way to abate feelings of anxiety. According to a study by the University of Sussex, reading books lowers stress levels more than any other activity. Losing yourself in a book helps you to escape the worries of your own world by becoming absorbed in another. I agree with the French philosopher Charles De Secondat when he said, “I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage” The books I would most recommend to lift the mood and calm an anxious mind are the Larkin Series by H E Bates, whimsical, funny and totally enchanting. The Darling Buds of May: Book 1 (The Larkin Family Series): Amazon.co.uk: Bates, H. E.: 9780141029672: Books
I have to say that if it wasn’t for the breathing, walking and reading I’d be rocking in a corner somewhere.