All About “The Change” | Navigating Menopause in Midlife

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell

woman in orange shirt and tassel necklace in park

More than any other single topic, I’ve gotten requests from you all to tackle the subject of menopause, let you know how I am handling it, and even pass along some tips that might help you as you navigate it. Let me just say I feel utterly unqualified to do any of those. Hahaha! (I’d much rather talk about how to care for the delicate skin around your eyes or what you should pack for your next empty nester getaway!) But I’ve always told you that you could ask me if there is something specific you want me to write about, and when this topic kept coming up, I knew…it was time! So today, we’re talking about navigating menopause. Let’s dive in and do it!

What is Menopause?

Technically, menopause is the point when it’s been a year since a woman last had her last period. More commonly in our society today, though, women use the word menopause to describe the process of the cessation of periods. (i.e., “Going through menopause.”) This process has three stages.

The Stages of Menopause

  1. Perimenopause – During this phase, the ovaries gradually begin to slow down and make less estrogen. It typically begins several years before menopause and lasts up until menopause. In the last 1 to 2 years of perimenopause, the drop in estrogen quickens, and women experience more intense and frequent menopause symptoms.
  2. Menopause – The point when it’s been a year since a woman last had her period. At this point, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and making most of their estrogen.
  3. Post-Menopause – During the years after menopause, most “menopausal symptoms” (like hot flashes, for example) cease — unfortunately, the health risks related to the loss of estrogen rise.

Suzy’s take: I think it’s important to remember that menopause is a natural, normal occurrence that happens to every woman. (Unless it was brought on by a medical situation or surgical treatment.) While this doesn’t discount the very real symptoms that occur during this time frame, I think it’s important to remember that it’s not a disease! Just like puberty was different for each of us, the process of menopause will be different for each of us too.

woman in orange shirt and tassel necklace in park

Menopause Symptoms

Some women will experience all of these, and some won’t experience many of them at all. For your edification and joy (!), here’s a comprehensive list. (I’ve included some of the more unusual ones!)

Common Symptoms

  • Aches and Pains in Muscles & Joints (Including joint stiffness.)
  • Breast Pain & Loss of Fullness
  • Brittle Nails
  • Chills
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Drier Skin
  • Feeling Differently About Sex (Either more or less interested.)
  • Forgetfulness
  • Hair Loss
  • Headaches
  • Hot Flashes
  • Incontinence
  • Increasing Levels of LDL (bad) Cholesterol
  • Irregular Periods
  • Moodiness or Irritability
  • Night Sweats (Hot Flashes that happen during sleep.)
  • Onset or Worsening of Anxiety or Depression Symptoms (Can include panic disorders.)
  • Racing Heart
  • Thinning Skin
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Vaginal Dryness
  • Weight Gain

Less Common Symptoms

  • Burning Tongue or Metallic Taste
  • Change in Body Odor
  • Change in sense of Taste/Smell
  • Dizziness
  • Electric Shock Sensation
  • Gum Disorders
  • Itchy, Crawly Skin
  • Onset or Exacerbation of Allergies
  • Shift in Visual/Spatial Awareness
  • Tingling Extremities

Suzy’s take: I’ve experienced most of these. Have you? For me, it helps to know I’m not alone in what I’ve experienced! I will say that I get a little frustrated with the use of the word “symptoms” to describe the occurrences that accompany a natural, normal process. (After all, if it has symptoms, it must require medicine, remedies, or treatment of some kind, right?) I’m not underplaying the severity of some of these symptoms for some women. But, nobody talks about the “symptoms” of puberty! It’s pretty funny if you think about it! ???? Overall, I try to keep a good sense of humor about it all, and I try to remind myself that the blessings of aging come with some not-so-pleasant things!

woman in orange shirt and tassel necklace in park

Menopause Treatments

According to the National Office on Women’s Health,

“Many women do not need treatment for their menopause symptoms. You may find that your symptoms go away by themselves. Or you may not find the symptoms uncomfortable. If you are bothered by your symptoms, talk to your doctor or nurse about ways to relieve them. You can work together to find a treatment that is right for you. Some women find that changing their eating habits and getting more physical activity can help. Others may need medicine to help relieve their symptoms.”

Technically, menopause requires no medical treatment. Instead, most people focus on relieving symptoms.

Medical Therapies

  • Bioidentical Hormone Therapy
  • Gabapentin or Clonidine to treat hot flashes
  • Hormonal Creams or Patches to treat vaginal dryness
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy
  • Low-dose Antidepressants to treat hot flashes and moodiness
  • Low-dose Birth Control

Alternative & Complementary Therapies

As I researched this post, over and over again, various articles pointed out that there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of herbal/botanical supplements and research is still ongoing. In fact, many may have serious side effects or interactions with each other or with other drugs. It’s wise to consult with your doctor before using them.

  • Biofeedback
  • Chiropractic
  • Flaxseed (phytoestrogen)
  • Herbs like Black Cohosh and Evening Primrose Oil, among others
  • Massage Therapy
  • Soy (phytoestrogen)
  • Vitamin E OIl (for vaginal dryness)
  • Yoga and Aerobic Exercises (for irritability, hot flashes, and sleep)

Suzy’s take: Each woman is different, and each woman’s response to these symptoms should be their own, personal decision, best made in conjunction with a qualified physician.

Post-Menopausal Health Issues

The good news is that many of the bothersome symptoms a woman may have experienced before menopause gradually decrease post menopause. Women report having more energy; migraine sufferers typically report a decrease in frequency and severity, etc.

Several health issues become more common post-menopause:

  • Heart Disease
  • Higher Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Loss of Muscle Strength and Tone
  • Osteoporosis
  • Poorly Working Bladder or Bowel
  • Weakening Vision (Including Cataracts and Macular Degeneration.)

How to Stay Healthy Post-Menopausal

  1. Exercise regularly, and include both cardio and strength training. Exercise helps with everything, from depression and anxiety to brain health. Most importantly, perhaps, it decreases inflammation, which, according to the NIH, is thought to be a risk factor for a broad range of age-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and cancer. (More on this in my Inflammation: What You Need to Know About the Latest Health Buzzword post.)
  2. Eat a healthy, well-rounded diet, and if needed, lose weight. (More on this in my Decoding the Diets: From Keto to Vegan, and Everything in Between post.)
  3. Get 7-8 hours of sleep. (More on this in my Eight Sleep Tips to Help You Get More Shut-Eye post.
  4. Get regular check-ups and preventive screening tests. (How often you need a check-up depends on your personal health history.)

woman in orange shirt and tassel necklace in park

My Experience

I’m 53, and I’ve had hot flashes and night sweats and other menopause symptoms for the past ten years or so! Due to my auto-immune issues, I’m not a candidate for either hormone replacement or bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. I’ve chosen to forego the use of unproven herbal supplements to treat my symptoms. Instead, I’m a big believer in exercise, and I do it regularly. I also eat a well-rounded, balanced diet (It isn’t perfect, as evidenced by my weakness for In-N-Out burgers and fries, as documented on my Instastories!). I try to get 7½-8 hours of sleep and keep up with regular checkups and health screenings. Finally, I try to stay joyful and grateful for my blessings (which may sound trite but is a very intentional mindset on my part). I also try to stay others-oriented, which means doing my best not to focus too much on myself and instead focus on what I can do to help and bless others. (That’s a big part of why I love my job and why I’m so grateful for you all and your support!)

I hope this post was helpful to you! My best advice? Do your research on reliable sites like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and NIH, and find a good doctor who is willing to partner with you as you walk through this time in your life.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on menopause. What have you found helpful? Please leave me a comment and let me know!

 

woman in orange shirt and tassel necklace in park

Flutter-Sleeve Scoopneck Tee (similar HERE) | NYDJ Jeans | My Favorite Wedges (Available in 6 colors!) | Wooden Bead Tassel Necklace | Gold Tory Burch Logo Earrings

 

Give me a good flutter-sleeve tee any day of the week! I loved this tee the moment I saw it, and, although it also comes in pale pink and ivory, I went bold and chose orange! I adored the flattering cut but thought it ran a little big, so I sized down to an XXS. It pairs perfectly with my go-to tassel necklace, which, let’s be real, pairs pretty perfectly with everything! (Are y’all sick of seeing it on me? Hahaha!) My jeans are my favorite high-waisted stretchy NYDJ pair, and on my feet are the best-selling wedges at Nordstrom! (For good reason! They’re so comfortable and way easier to walk in than I thought before I tried them on.) I’m only slightly embarrassed to tell you that I now own them in four colors! ????

Happy Wednesday! Get excited y’all, because Friday’s post is my April SO in the KNOW post, where I share what I’ve been learning and loving in the empty nest this month! It’s shaping up to be a really fun one! If you’re not on my email list, you might want to sign up, because I don’t want you to miss a thing.

Blessings,

Photos by Megan Weaver.

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16 Comments

  1. Great post. I keep thinking I’ve got to at least be in the beginning stages of this since I just turned 50, but so far everything’s still humming along like clockwork. Fingers crossed it’ll be a smooth transition when it happens.

    1. Julie,
      Thank you! It may be an easy transition for you! It is for some people, and that is wonderful. Other people think they’re gonna die!!! Just like puberty, pregnancy, and childbirth are different for every woman, so is menopause! Thank you for your sweet comment and I’m so glad you’re doing well. xoxo Suzy

  2. Hi Suzy,

    I’m so glad to see you taking on the topic of menopause. Up until very recently, it’s been a topic that felt like either a big mystery or a source of bad jokes. It seems like there’s been far less information and support for this end of our reproductive years than there was for the beginning of menstruation, so it’s great when this life transition can be talked about openly and positively.

    I plan on maintaining many of the same practices that you do in order to stay healthy through menopause and beyond. What’s great about the specific steps you’re taking is that not only will they be beneficial during “the change,” but also for the overall process of aging as well as we can.

    Blessings,
    Lauren

    1. Lauren,
      What a sweet and thoughtful comment. You’re so right! I just didn’t see the information out there in one specific, concise place that also brought common sense to bear in the way I wanted to, so I finally just went for it! There DOES seem to be some sort of hushed mystery around the entire topic, and once I decided to do it, I knew I had to go all in. (What a shock!!! Hahaha!) I’m so glad the post was helpful to you! Blessings and hugs to you. xoxo Suzy

  3. I’m 52. Menopause snuck up on me and then I put 2 and 2 together. I have a gynecologist I can trust; she’s knowledgeable and caring. She takes time to educate me about the changes in my body. She is not aggressive in pushing treatments. I will say I took Bioidentical HRT and it is a godsend – no more hot flashes. But I’m learning that you can’t take this forever, so I’m adjusting how often I take these hormones.
    One of the pluses of menopause for me is the physical fatigue that came with my cycle has disappeared. I don’t get bone weary tired anymore and that is a huge blessing because it allows me to experience life differently. I have more energy to do what I love and to help and minister to others besides my family.
    But it is essential to take care of yourself. Whether it’s exercise or meditation…take care of your temple so that it can take care of you.

    Great post.

    1. Nylse,
      Thank you so much for your sweet willingess to share your menopause journey! Such good wisdom, as always, my friend. What a blessing to have a caring and compassionate doctor like yours! I really think it’s one area where women sjhouldn’t compormise – they should keep looking until that find that right caregiver! Thanks again for your comment! xoxo Suzy

  4. Great post Suzy, I have actually been looking
    for something not too heavy & short & concise for my husband to read , so this is it! I sometimes think he wonders where the lady he married has gone with so many physical & mental changes going on with me!
    Huge plus (& there are not many, haha) is the reduction in my migraines as you say.
    Thanks again for tackling this!

    1. Carole,
      I’m so glad you’re going to pass it along to him. When my husband read it, he couldn’t believe it! I am so happy your migraines are better. It really is a blessing! So good to hear from you, sweet friend! xoxo Suzy

  5. Hi Suzy,
    Thank you for this post. It was so great of you to remind me that it helps to focus on others as oppose to myself and my challenges. I will be taking a “this too shall pass” sort of attitude and trust my physicians if there is something serious that needs addressing. It’s just another chapter of life.
    Thank you for helping me change my prospective!
    Robben

    1. Robben,
      Oh, my goodness, you are just the sweetest! I’m so happy that you found it helpful.It IS just another season of life, and it will pass! Every season has its challenges – and blessings – but the importance of serving others and making a difference never really changes! Your comment was such an encouragement to me! Thank you, Robben! xoxo Suzy

  6. Thanks for this great post! I have found Juice Plus, a whole food fruit and vegetable supplement, and a high-quality omega-3 supplement like Nordic Naturals, has helped me tremendously. I went through menopause with only a few hot flashes and really no other symptoms! Omega 3’s can definitely help with hormone support. As a registered, licensed dietitian, I recommend these two supplements to all my clients and patients since fruits and vegetables and omega 3s are our greatest nutritional deficiencies.

    1. Wendy,
      Thanks so much for sharing! I’m so glad you recommended these! You know I’m a believer! xoxo Suzy

  7. Great article on an important subject where good information is often sadly lacking! I am 56 and just went through menopause at 55!! No hot flashes but horrible night sweats that constantly deprived me of sleep. Not drier skin but crazy menopausal acne at times! I have a 35 percent risk for breast cancer and am immune compromised with autoimmune issues. My specialist felt comfortable committing to prescribing HRT for me for 5 years. It has helped immensely! I wish I had asked for help sooner! One happy change with menopause has been the reduction in the number of migraines I experience. My allergies are still crazy as ever—including chronic hives and upper respiratory issues. Staying busy with projects and practicing good self-care—adequate rest, good communication, healthy lifestyle, positive attitude—make a real difference.

    1. Andrea,
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences! It sounds like you really took control of your health and you had a good caregiver who worked well with you! I’m so happy for you. Hugs and many blessings, Suzy

  8. Thank you for this discussion. My skin started itching and I went a physician’s assistant. He wanted to help me, however, this wasn’t a GYN P.A. He said “You better find out what this is”. I replied, “I know”. He did mention perhaps it was menopause. Yip, it was!! The good news is generic Claritin helped take the itch away along with taking cooler showers.

    1. Linda,
      Wow! Thanks for sharing this! So glad you got it figured out! xoxo Suzy

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