Menopause, or "the change," as our older female relatives may have discreetly referred to it, is simply our ovaries going out of business and dismissing all their workers. But they're not going out gracefully, stealing your sleep, emotions, sex life, and skin as they storm out. But, unlike our mothers and theirs before them, who had to grit their teeth and suffocate, decorum has now been thrown out the window, and we can finally talk about what the heck is going on with our bodies. Now there is a stage before that many of women tend to forget. Perimenopause.
But what is perimenopause? Let’s start at the beginning when we were all teens, Our two primary hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, made a big appearance when we reached puberty, and now the old ovary factory where they're created is shutting down, so all the hormonal turmoil you experienced in your early teens is occurring again, in reverse. Instead of fretting about maths and organising your school books, you now have grownup concerns such as elderly parents, a hard profession, and maybe even hormonal adolescents of your own. Yes, some women's oestrogen and progesterone slowly fade away, clutching hands like sleeping otters. Then there is everyone else, whose hormones swoop and crash like a wave. The experts doing really know why some women have it easier than others but there is a suggestion that lifestyle could play a role.
Perimenopause is the stage of life that leads up to menopause which only officially takes place once women haven’t experienced mother natures gift for a year. Statistically women within the UK reach perimenopause around the age of 47. It’s seen by researchers to be one of the most complex aged parts of a women’s life and according to estimates, 80 percent of women suffer from insomnia, 70 percent from irritability, and 20 percent from depression. That's a lot of people going through tough times. There is a number of different things that can happen to your body at this time so lets get going shall we.
Periods. Feeling a little bored with your periods? Wonderful news! Sure, your periods may get lighter and less frequent during perimenopause, but they can also suddenly go rogue and continue for 12 days and arrive every 13 days—and they can be heavy. These could also be known as Superperiods or in medical terms, Menorrhagia. This means that your flow is is 80ml when the advrage flow is only 16ml or the equivalent to 2tsp. When this occurs during perimenopause you can usually put it down to an imbalance, quite often low progesterone.
It is oestrogens designated driver, the friend who steps in when things are getting out of hand. But as progesterone naturally declines in perimenopause, oestrogen can get unruly. One of progesterone’s jobs is to keep tabs on our uterine lining—without progesterone that lining will thicken and grow unabated throughout the month. This is what causes the heavy periods as there is more uterine lining to shed.
Superfeelings aka premenopausal moodiness, That’s a very nice way to describe the emotional train wreck PMS can bring on. Experts recommends tracking your moods and cycles using an app. Once you get a sense of when your “superfeeling” times are, plan accordingly and clear the decks as much as possible. This means that you would avoid confronting your Mother In law over a perceived slight or talking to your co-worker about his excessive throat clearing. It it also advised when the superfeelings hit that you avoid social media because realistically the last thing anyone wants to see at that moment is to someone making star-shaped sandwiches for their crotch gremlins before heading to the gym with the boss lady hashtag.
Brain Fog, remember when your mother used to put their keys in the freezer and you used to laugh at them… who’s laughing now? Research tells us that two thirds of women who are going through perimenopause experience this and is caused once again by the changing hormone balance in out lovely friend progesterone.
Insomnia, due to our swoopy hormones, increased anxiety and the occasional night sweats can mean that sleep cycle decide to say bye-bye. Now there is a lot of arguing research that tells you what you need to do to help you sleep. Now one thing it all agrees on, is being comfortable. That is the best thing you can do, create a nice calm environment, create a routine and avoid using modern technology in bed so it’s a place for sleep or any other bedroom activities that may take place.
Disappearance of Libido, this can be brought on in many different ways one main one is vaginal dryness which can lead to painful sex. Now fantastic news there is an intervention for this! There is options such as Vitamin E oil, over the counter vaginal moisturisers such as Replens or Zestica and one of easiest products to buy… Lube. Now there is a stigma that lube is for pornstars but for women during menopause or perimenopause it can take your sex drive from 0 to 60 in 2.5. On an emotional level losing your natural ability to lubricate can come with some complicated feelings for one or both parties and that’s is completely normal. Keeping communication open with your partner about your wants and needs is key. A reduced level of natural lubricant can be sign of thinning vaginal walls and skin and not to scare you it can affect more than your sex life- it can cause a level of discomfort and potential itching. It could also mean that tearing can occur more often which could lead to infections. This is part of the genitourinary syndrome of menopause which includes vaginal and bladder symptoms.
Break outs, you might have thought that your skin would be safe after your mid twenties, nope sorry ladies, they are back. Now getting a spot in the middle of a frown line, add a newly found hair then you have the perimenopausal trifecta. You may also have observed an increase in skin tags and waxy, stuck-on lumps known as seborrheic keratoses. They most typically appear in regions that do not receive direct sunlight, such as beneath your breasts or arms, and on your trunk. These can be removed but more likely will come back, and are nothing to worry about, so no need to get yourself into a panic over them.
The most important thing to remember for all of this is that it is all completely normal! As women for years we have been told not to talk about our heath and what goes on within our bodies. I don’t ever remember in school being told about what will happen to us as we get older apart from the whole period and pregnancy talk. Sometimes it could feel like life is collapsing and it is always a good idea to come back to our cornerstones of heath: sleep, food and exercise and within the next few weeks this is something that we will be talking about further.
If there is something that we take from this is talk, talk about your needs and what is going on with your bodies, talk to each other, your partners, your children, especially your daughters. Transitions are, by definition, quite unpleasant. And this is a significant one. As we progress along the conveyor belt, we must all keep conversing and sharing knowledge. Just like we'd check in with a new parent to see how she's doing, let's keep an eye on each through what could be difficult time in someone’s life.
-Coach Hannah PH
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