The menopause can still be considered something of a taboo.
Indeed, until recently, it was often whispered about in low tones – or ignored altogether.
Thankfully, the tides are changing and the conversation is opening up.
As producer of Davina McCall’s Channel No. 4 In the documentary Sex, Myths, and Menopause, I know how important this conversation can be.
Indeed, there has been a huge shift in menopause today, making a huge difference in the lives of millions of women.
Menopause is a transitional period that women go through in middle age when their periods stop.
The fluctuating hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are then depleted, leading to menopausal symptoms such as brain fog, hot flashes, and anxiety.
Symptoms usually begin in your 40s, during the period known as perimenopause.
This is a relatively new term used to describe about 10 years before menopause.
Each of us will have a different experience of menopause.
For example, while 60% of women report having brain fog, 10% may never have a hot flash.
Lesser-known symptoms include heart palpitations, itchy skin, migraines, joint pain, stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep.
So how do we deal with such an unknown?
In part one of my dedicated guide to menopause, I’ll share my ultimate survival kit – everything you need to feel your best during perimenopause, menopause and more.
HRT isn’t just part of your survival kit – it’s an entire suitcase where your other survival tactics (diet, exercise, etc.) can fit.
For most women, HRT is the best solution for menopausal symptoms and replaces the hormones that drop during menopause (estrogen and progesterone) to help protect their health in the future.
The best type of HRT recommended by menopause experts is “body-to-body” HRT.
This is different from the once-normal HRT pills, which contain synthetic hormones (such as progestin, a man-made form of progesterone) and was discovered through a study by the Women’s Health Initiative. women 20 years ago was associated with a small increase in breast cancer risk.
My advice would be to ask your doctor for the gold standard (i.e., transdermal) transdermal HRT, which is freely available on NHS.
First, you need estrogen to penetrate the skin, in the form of a patch, gel, or spray.
Then you need natural progesterone that is identical to your body, which comes in pill form.
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It’s micronised progesterone, which is extracted from sweet potatoes and is a direct copy of the hormone in your body.
Both of these hormones are derived from plants, and five-year studies have not shown an increased risk of breast cancer.
Furthermore, we absorb them much better because they are copies of our own hormones.
If you are intolerant to progesterone, a small number of people are intolerant, you can opt for the Mirena coil (hormonal IUD).
Also available on the NHS, the substance is placed in the uterus and releases progesterone.
GET A GOOD SLEEP
Disrupted nights and poor sleep are common during menopause, due to night sweats, joint pain, headache and worry.
This in turn affects mental and physical health.
It’s a vicious cycle – we’re tired, so we don’t function well during the day, which then keeps us awake at night.
Don’t bring your phone to bed, or if you do, keep it on the other side of the room so you won’t be tempted to turn it off.
Make sure your bedroom has windows that open at night to cool down.
Classes can really help. Instead of one thick blanket, have several blankets that you can pull out when and where.
Practice mindfulness, meditation, and journaling for half an hour before bed to calm your brain.
EASY UP VITAMINS
Vitamin D plays an important role in menopause.
It helps the body absorb calcium, keeps bones strong, prevents osteoporosis caused by hormone deficiency.
Go outside – preferably in the morning – for a walk every day.
Even in the winter, you absorb vitamin D, and reap the mental health benefits of being in the fresh air.
Take daily replenishment to increase your level.
This is especially important in the winter, and if you’re mostly indoors.
MAGIC HAS HEART
Most women report increased levels of stress, tension and anxiety during menopause.
This can affect everything from work to relationships.
Just a little meditation and mindfulness every day can reduce stress levels.
Best bit? It’s free and can be done anywhere.
Inhale for three breaths and exhale for five. Pause, repeat a few times.
You will find yourself physically relaxed doing this.
Doing something that focuses your attention on a single thing will help quiet your mind.
Before you go to bed, write down the thoughts that are racing through your head. Leave them on paper and tackle them in the morning.
CUT ON BOOZE
Many women find that when they enter menopause, they can no longer drink alcohol the same way they used to.
If alcohol tends to make you feel more trash than not wanting to go, try cutting back.
Stop before pouring yourself a glass and think “do I really want this?”
There are so many great non-alcoholic options available today, from blended whiskey to gin.
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Exercise is a panacea, helping to promote mental and physical health, prevent weight gain, and nourish the body.
This is especially important during menopause. The key is to find something you enjoy doing.
There’s no point in signing up for fitness classes you’ll never attend.
Pick something to put a smile on your face, be it a run, a team sport, a home dance session, or a natural swim.
It’s hard to predict when hot flashes will hit, so be prepared by wearing layers.
This means you can take off your jacket when you need to.
Figure out what your bottom layer should be – be it a vest or t-shirt – and avoid any items you can’t remove or undo easily.
SUPPORT CONNECTING ROUND
It’s important for women to tell other women their stories, because everyone’s story is different.
We may not all have hot flashes or psychosis, but we will all have something to share.
And the more we can talk, the more solutions we have.
Why not go to the pub, and make menopause the talking point for you and your friends?
Or start a book club. Pick up a book about menopause and talk about it, what works for you and what doesn’t.
GET THE TRUTH
There is a lot of support out there.
You can track up to 50 different symptoms with the Menopause Balance app (balance-menopause.com), which helps you keep track of what’s going on.
Elsewhere, the Menopause Cafe (menopausecafe.net) movement sees groups chatting about menopause over tea and cake. It’s a safe space to discuss any questions you have, regardless of your age or gender.
Then on social media, Dr Louise Newson (@menopause_doctor) and menopause activist Diane Danzebrink (@dianedanzebrink) provide support, advice and community.
Starting a conversation about menopause in the workplace is important because it eliminates any confusion about the topic.
If you can, talk to your manager about it, and also occupational health if you’re in a large organization.
Find out if your workplace has a menopause policy.
There is a platform called Talking Menopause (talkmenopause.co.uk) that offers seminars and webinars for support. Henpicked (henpicked.net) also has lots of tips for getting through menopause at work.
Everything You Need to Know About Menopause (But Too Afraid to Ask) by Kate Muir (£16.99, Simon & Schuster) is out now. Follow Kate on Twitter and Instagram at @menoscandal
https://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/health/midlife-toolkit-women-need-handle-26341951 The mid-life toolkit all women need to tackle perimenopause, menopause, and more