See! You’re not going crazy. Perimenopause, or peri, is the culprit behind all your odd symptoms and we’re gonna discuss her dirty-dealing shenanigans today.
Peri, it’s not us…IT’S YOU!
So many of you came and shared your stories or just stopped for a show of support. I love that about you. We stick together when the going gets hot/tired/cranky/bloated/incontinent; thank you for that.
Wait, incontinent?! I’m sorry gals, but yes, some of you may experience a bit of leakage when you laugh, cry or sneeze.
Yep, perimenopause can still suck it.
We know we’ll forget things and that’s normal. We know we’ll have hot flashes, mood swings, crashing fatigue, weight gain (up to 15 pounds!), sleeping issues and the ever commercially popular vaginal dryness and that’s normal. The question is: What can we do about it?
Must we suffer until peri has had her fun with us? Are our only real options pharmaceuticals? Or can we beat her at her own game?
I’ll tackle the easiest options first.
#1: Exercise, whether you feel like it or not. Seems easy enough in theory. For me, when crashing fatigue has me in a sleeper hold, long distance running seems impossible. But, after I begrudgingly tie on my shoes and head out the door, I’m usually good to go for at least a few miles. Your brain and will power are powerful tools in the fight.
Perimenopause is prime time for muscle loss acceleration and as we all know by now, less muscle mass leads to a lower metabolism. Less muscle to burn calories + lower metabolism = weight gain. It’s definitely time to start moving more.
The gains you’ll get from regular exercise aren’t just physical, they’re also mental (exercise makes you stronger and that in turn makes you more confident) and spiritual (my mantra when I run: thank you God for my health). Can’t beat that.
#2: Eat the right stuff for your symptoms, most of the time. I personally need more iron, protein and carbs than other folks. I train a good part of the year which means I need to fuel my body properly, on top of considering my peri needs. When I’m mindful of my daily needs, my body runs on a more even keel. If I’m feeling good, I’m better able to deal with challenges. Although, there’s chocolate and ice cream for the times when no carrot or steak will do the job against raging hormones.
#3: This next one may be tougher for some of you gals. Take a deep breath and read on. Oh, and try not to faint from the embarrassment of it all. Ready? Here we go: get comfortable buying vaginal lubricant.
SMELLING SALTS NEEDED IN THE CORNER!
Come on ladies, lube is your friend (The German herself may have just fainted). Yes, I know that pop culture wants us to think that women can take or leave sex, and yes I know that during peri’s uncomfortable visit, our sex drive can wane, but that doesn’t mean you should buy into the idea that your sex life is over.
I want you to really hear this: Sex during peri may be challenging, but it’s not the end of sex. AS IF! Again, get comfortable buying lubrication. Look the check-out gal/guy in the eye. That’s right, mah babies. I’m still having sex. Deal with it.
#4: Set yourself up for sleep success. Smoking and caffeine are huge triggers for interrupting normal sleep patterns during perimeopause. I try to not have anything with caffeine after 2pm, sometimes earlier.
For lots of women hot flashes are a cause of lost sleep. The prevailing thought is if you treat the root of the flashes, sleep will come. This is another area where exercise helps. Getting active and staying that way can minimize the intensity and duration of hot flashes, i.e. you may sleep better.
#5: Prepare for hot flashes. Like it or not, most of us will deal with this common symptom. It may start as early as your 30s as night sweats. You wake up and you’re all: why are my clothes soaked through? As you age, the night sweats progress to hot flashes. The difference between the two? The time of day/night they occur.
So what can you do? Being able to completely undress helps (oh, my!). Or, you could dress in layers. Ice packs on artery points, controlled breathing and fans are also helpful. I have yet to have one during the day, but have witnessed them in many a friend. It’s an awesome force of nature to behold.
#6: Acknowledge that you’ll have fearsome mood swings and you’ll gain a modicum of control. No really. My feeling on this is that if we can accept the physical tug-of-war that is happening to us, if we can relax into the riptide dragging us out to sea, then we can calm ourselves a bit knowing this is a normal natural transition. It’s a small victory. Won’t make you feel any better during the swing, but afterwards you’ll be thankful that you didn’t allow the beast any ground. Plus, your loved ones will thank you for not tearing into them for things like breathing or reading like that.
The tougher things are next:
#7: Incontinence may be just an issue of practicing your kegels (i know. i’m doing them too!). If not, check with your doc to see if the issue is best treated with drugs or surgery.
#8: Osteoporosis caused by a dwindling estrogen supply is common during peri and menopause. Weight-bearing exercise has been known to be a powerful preventative (running, walking or weight lifting). Diet can play an important role as well. Include foods high in calcium and vitamin D. CAVEAT: Talk to your doc about supplements though; there is growing information that high calcium intake in women was associated with higher risk of death from all causes—especially cardiovascular disease.
#9: Medical treatment, i.e. estrogen replacement, for perimenopause is available, but you must exercise caution and know the risks. Most commonly, hormone replacement is used after peri, in menopause, but it is also used to help alleviate perimenopausal symptoms as well.
For those of you closer to menopause and wondering if it is for you, read this: For short-term relief of menopausal symptoms, estrogen plus progestin is an approved MHT, but the FDA recommends that it be used only at the lowest doses for the shortest time possible.
Never enter into the pharmaceutical arena lightly. Speak to several docs if necessary. This is your life, your health. You are the final voice in the matter.
#10: Natural treatments and BHT (bioidentical hormone therapy) are getting more play in the media, but are they safe? What is the long-term outcome? The jury is out. Some swear by natural or BHT; some say it is dangerous.
When it comes to supplements, you’ll have to do the research and make an educated decision for yourself. There are no easy answers. Again check with your doc, because even though some supplements are labeled all-natural doesn’t mean they can’t dangerously interact with the meds you take on a daily basis.
In writing this post, I didn’t want to discourage, rather encourage. Talking openly about perimenopause is not for the weak. I mean we spoke of lube for goodness sake. Yet, when you know the truth of what’s in front of you, when you intimately know the force you may be facing, there is tremendous power in that knowledge. There’s also courage to be gathered knowing you’re part of a tough tribe that has done this since the beginning of time.
Let us discuss that which matters to us; let us be courageous.
Perimenopause can suck it.
* Disclaimer: All information in this series is based on my personal experience and is not intended to take the place of your doctor’s advice.