Though the menopause transition is natural and normal, it can disrupt various different aspects of a woman’s life – including her friendships. One survey found that in the UK, 26% of women felt less outgoing in social situations, 32% said that they no longer felt like good company, and 23% felt more isolated.
As well as a loss of confidence in social settings, mood changes can also make us feel more irritable. You might notice that it’s more difficult to let go of some of the little annoyances in your friendships – even if they didn’t really bother you before. Some women also say that they have plenty of days where they don’t want to talk to anyone at all, and would rather just be alone.
If this sounds at all familiar, and you’re wondering how you can maintain a healthy social life during your menopause transition and beyond, then there are some things you can do to help.
Here, we’ll explore why menopause can make us feel less sociable, and what we can do to tackle this.
Why does menopause make me feel less sociable?
Many women find that they question themselves throughout their menopause journey, with a popular question being: is it all in my head? When you find yourself feeling regularly frustrated and fed up with the people around you – you might start to wonder whether you’re losing your mind. But feeling irritable, grumpy, tired, and like you just want to be alone is actually the work of falling estrogen levels during menopause.
Common irritations during this time could include becoming tired of running around after others and becoming less tolerant of things that you would normally do to keep others happy. For instance, if you usually travel to visit certain friends or family members at various times of the year, then you might find yourself asking why you should have to be the one to make the trip every time, and why others can’t make an effort to travel to you.
Or perhaps you’re usually the agony aunt of your friendship circle, but now find yourself wondering who’s there to listen to your worries and reassure you. At times, you might also feel as though you’ve had enough of certain people in your life, and no longer want to see them. Feelings like these are completely normal, and don’t necessarily mean that you need to cut ties with people – but it might mean that there needs to be a redressing of boundaries to suit this new life chapter.
In addition to falling estrogen levels, oxytocin levels will also fall (oxytocin is known as ‘the love hormone’). This can affect how bonded you feel to your nearest and dearest. So if you find yourself feeling somewhat detached from those around you, then this can often be why.
How long will menopausal symptoms affect my relationships with friends and family?
It’s important to keep in mind that although it can be tiresome to feel fed up with the people around you, it will eventually pass. For some women, this can take a few months, while for others it can be much longer.
In the meantime, it can be helpful to look at some things that can help to keep your social life alive, even when your natural instinct is to shut yourself away.
5 tips for nurturing friendships during menopause
1. Speak to your loved ones about how you’re feeling
You might feel uncomfortable talking to friends and family about how your menopause symptoms are making you feel. And if you’re also fed up, then perhaps the last thing you want to do is to have a heart-to-heart with them about it.
Menopause is also one of those topics that very few people talk about openly, which can make many women feel all the more isolated and alone – but sharing your experiences could help to change that.
The more open and honest you are with those closest to you about what you’re going through, the better they’ll be at understanding and supporting you. Chances are, you’ll also have friends who are also going through or have been through menopause, so perhaps you could swap tips and advice.
Research shows that maintaining close relationships with friends can improve your general wellbeing and reduce anxiety – which is thought to be due to an increase in the stress-busting hormone, progesterone. As well as increasing feelings of closeness to friends and family, progesterone can also make us more willing to offer them help and support.
Therefore, one of the best ways to maintain close bonds with your loved ones is to let them into your life at least sometimes – even if it feels like hard work or you don’t really feel like it. The idea is that the closer you stay to them, the easier and more fulfilling your relationships will eventually become.
2. Alter social plans and settings if needed
“Every time I had wine I had horrendous flushing almost within half an hour of having it. Then it would go on throughout the night and my night would be even more disturbed. It’s got to the point where I don’t want to drink and I’ve become almost anti-social. Because you want to go [out and see friends] but then you don’t want to drink and you don’t want people to ask why you’re not drinking. If they’re not also experiencing symptoms, there’s a slight lack of understanding.”
– Woman, Currently menopausal, Glasgow (BritainThinks and MyMenopauseCentre)
You might find that at one time or another you didn’t think twice about meeting a friend in a busy pub or restaurant where you had to shout above the noise to hear each other. Or, perhaps you were happy to travel 100 miles to visit a friend a few times a year. But, maybe now, doing these things feels overwhelming.
Because menopause symptoms can include things like anxiety, irritability, and hot flushes, it’s understandable that the idea of being somewhere with lots of people and not a lot of air might feel less appealing. You might also feel less like drinking – which might make you feel awkward if you’d usually meet friends for a couple of glasses of wine. Or if you’re feeling particularly tired because you aren’t sleeping well at night, then perhaps a two-hour drive might seem like harder work than usual.
It’s important to remember that this is normal, and it’s okay to not necessarily want to (or feel you can cope with) some of the social activities that you did pre-menopause. But, this doesn’t mean that you can’t still meet up with friends and enjoy yourself by altering social plans and settings if needed.
For example, perhaps, rather than meeting a friend in a crowded bar, you could grab a tea and go for a long walk, or to an exercise class instead. Or perhaps instead of travelling two hours to see a friend, you could meet halfway. Meeting friends out of the house somewhere (rather than having them come over to your home) is also a good way to stay connected, but have the option to leave whenever you want to. Some people feel put off by inviting people to their house because of the thought that they might stay much longer than desired.
3. If you want to make new connections, look for low-pressure ways to do this
If it’s been a while since you’ve connected with anyone new, then sometimes the idea can be daunting – especially if you’re already feeling anxious, or if your natural instincts are telling you to hide away. But there are plenty of low-commitment, low-pressure ways that you can start meeting new people.
Friendship apps, community forums, and neighbourhood hubs are some examples of these because they’ll allow you to test the friendship waters from the comfort of your own home. Connecting online can also take some of the nervousness out of the situation and allow you to start forging some meaningful connections before you meet people in person.
For more tips and advice on making new connections, you might want to check out our article; 7 ways to meet new people in the current climate.
4. Be honest with yourself
While feeling snappy or frustrated with the people around you is normal during menopause, it’s still important to recognise whether an argument is really worth having. It can help to ask yourself things like: ‘Did they really intend to get at me when they did that, or was it just an honest mistake?’ and ‘Will this matter in a couple of days time?’ Questions like these aren’t designed to question your right to feel irritable or to feel like you need space, but to determine whether or not it’s simply better to let an issue go than to confront the person in question.
It can also help to look at the bigger picture – if someone is a good friend of yours, then it’s unlikely that they would want to do anything to anger or frustrate you. Perhaps they are oblivious to how their behaviour could be affecting you, or in some cases, it could be that you do just need some space and will feel better after getting some.
5. Give yourself space when you need it
Although it’s important to maintain close bonds with people you care about, it’s also important to recognise when time to yourself will actually be helpful – as the menopause is often not just a time of biological transition, but of spiritual transition too. One full of lots of reflection and self-exploration. It can often coincide with other life events, like an empty nest, or the passing of elderly relatives – which can throw everything into question.
You might find yourself asking broader questions during this time like: ‘Am I truly happy?’ ‘What do I want to get out of this phase of life?’ ‘What matters most to me as an individual?’ Perhaps what once made you happy no longer does, which could lend way to crossroads situations where you wonder where to turn next, or to long periods of asking yourself ‘Who am I now?’ For some women, the menopause is the start of a liberating new chapter that is more about their own wants and needs, and less about the expectations of others.
So, while staying connected to friends and family during what can be quite a bumpy ride is a good thing, it’s also a good idea to make time for you – to think, to breathe, and to explore who you are. Being kind to ourselves is just as important, if not more important, than being kind to others.
While menopause can leave many women feeling isolated and less interested in socialising, this doesn’t mean that we should resign ourselves to hiding away at home. By doing things like adapting social plans so that they feel more manageable, finding low-pressure ways to connect with new people, and allowing yourself time to process what your mind and body is going through, it’s possible to maintain a healthy and enjoyable social life.
There are also plenty of women out there who will be having similar thoughts and experiences during their own menopause transition – and it can often be helpful to share experiences and empower each other rather than to suffer in silence. There’s a supportive group of women who have started doing this over on the Rest Less community forum, and you can join their conversion here.
Have you found it more difficult to maintain friendships during menopause? Do you have any additional tips and advice that you’d like to share? We’d be interested to hear about your experiences in the comments below.