New research finds that being in the moment helps ease symptoms such as hot flashes and the stress menopause can cause. or non-hormonal agents. “Given that every woman is unique in her experience of the menopausal transition, and every woman has her own set of beliefs and expectations, it is important for women to discuss their treatment options with their provider, and weigh the pros and cons before initiating treatment,” says Sood.
Mindfulness practices, such as deep breathing and staying focused in the present, may help ease menopause symptoms like hot flashes and the stress that can accompany menopause, according to a new study being presented this week at the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Annual Meeting in San Diego.
"This study provides encouraging results, as it demonstrates that women may have a tool to help them control stress and menopause symptoms and improve their overall quality of life," says JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, NAMS's executive director.
What Is Mindfulness and How Do You Practice It?
The practice of mindfulness allows patients to be aware of the present moment without concern for past or future consequences, says Richa Sood, MD, a consultant in the department of internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who is the lead author of the study.
Researchers Looked at Midlife Women and How They Described Their Stress and Symptoms
The study included 1,744 women between ages 40 and 65 who came to the Women’s Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester between January 2015 and December 2016. The women were asked to fill out questionnaires on menopause symptoms, stress, and mindfulness. As they reviewed the responses, the researchers found a correlation between more mindfulness and lower menopause symptom scores, as well as lower stress scores. For the women with higher stress scores, the benefits of mindfulness on menopause symptom scores was even greater, according to the researchers.
"Although more research is needed, this study provides a strong signal for the potential role of mindfulness in improving psychological symptoms, emotional response to menopause symptoms, and stress in women during midlife," says Dr. Sood.
For women considering mindfulness to ease menopause symptoms, Sood points out that “mindfulness has as many definitions as the number of people teaching it.” At its core, says Sood, mindfulness refers to attention training and delay of judgment. “This delay helps one gain the time needed to process a negative emotion or experience.” Mindfulness may help ease menopause symptoms, says Sood, because “by design, mindfulness is choosing to deploy attention at will and avoid negative judgments. In the context of menopause, mindfulness may allow women to focus less on their symptoms and what negative [effect] the symptoms might have on their health.”
Women in Midlife Need Protection From Damaging Chronic Stress
Natalie Dattilo, PhD, the incoming director of psychology in the psychiatry department of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, has researched mindfulness but was not involved with Sood’s study. She says she finds the study very important because “we know that women in their forties, fifties, and sixties are indeed experiencing record levels of stress — taking care of children as well as ageing parents, trying to balance work, life, and relationships, trying to maintain good physical and mental health, and in the midst of all that they get to experience 'the change,' which we know wreaks havoc on our emotional bodies and minds because of the significant hormonal changes that begin to take place.”
, which has also been found to be extremely helpful for managing stress and alleviating the symptoms of menopause.” The good news, says Datillo, is that we can learn mindfulness by practising often (daily, for best results), focusing on our breath, taking frequent pauses throughout the day to
Where to Try Practicing Mindfulness for Stress Management, Better Health
Dr. Dattilo says that if mindfulness is something a woman is considering to help ease menopause symptoms, many local yoga studios around the country offer mindfulness meditation classes, or women can do an internet search for “mindfulness meditation” to see what community classes are offered.
“If you’re looking for something a little more active, most yoga-based fitness classes also include focused breathing and relaxation, which is a form of mindfulness,” says Dattilo. “As a bonus you’re doing exercise, which has also been found to be extremely helpful for managing stress and alleviating the symptoms of menopause.” The good news, says Datillo, is that we can learn mindfulness by practicing often (daily, for best results), focusing on our breath, taking frequent pauses throughout the day to reflect and express gratitude (even if we’re facing difficulties or challenges), or simply refocus our attention on something uplifting, pleasing, or awe-inspiring.
What if You Don’t Want to Meditate? Alternatives to Mindfulness Meditation
Sood says that for women who don’t want to try mindfulness, the North American Menopause Society has comprehensive guidelines for treatment options available to women for their menopause-related symptoms, ranging from lifestyle modifications to acupuncture to pharmacotherapy with hormones or nonhormonal agents. “Given that every woman is unique in her experience of the menopausal transition, and every woman has her own set of beliefs and expectations, it is important for women to discuss their treatment options with their provider, and weigh the pros and cons before initiating treatment,” says Sood.
How to Ease Mood Swings, Hot Flashes, and Other Menopause Symptoms
Tips from Dr. Pinkerton to help relieve menopause symptoms include:
Avoid foods that may trigger hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings, such as caffeine, alcohol, and sugary and spicy foods.
Irregular eating may worsen menopause symptoms and hinder weight loss.
Losing weight may help improve hot flashes and reduce other health risks. Plus, you feel better!
Keep ice water close by to drink when you feel a hot flash coming on, or put a cool wet or iced wash cloth behind your neck.
Dress in layers so you can take off or add as needed throughout the day.
Try taking slow, deep breaths when a hot flash starts.
This tells your body it is time to relax and be calm.If symptoms are persistent and bothersome you might consider hormone therapy if you are under 60 or within 10 years of starting menopause
If you can’t take or don’t want hormone therapy, there are other medications that may help, including low dose antidepressants, epilepsy medicine, and blood pressure patches.
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