Despite being a natural transition in every woman’s life, menopause isn’t widely understood or spoken about. Symptoms are wide-ranging, and many women say they don’t realise what’s happening to them at first – with some reporting feeling like they were losing their minds.
Because the menopausal transition is a normal part of ageing, it’s not uncommon for women to think they have to simply ‘get on with it’ and struggle in silence. But if menopausal symptoms are getting in the way of your happiness, it’s important to realise that you’re not alone and that there’s help and support available.
According to Nuffield Health, approximately 13 million women in the UK are currently peri or post-menopausal. Over 60% of these women are thought to be dealing with symptoms that result in behavioural changes, with one in four experiencing severe physical or psychological symptoms.
The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to help navigate your menopausal transition with confidence. Equipping yourself with as much reliable information as possible, getting tips on how to ease unwanted symptoms, and knowing where to turn for help and support are some of the key ways to feel empowered to take control of this new phase in life.
Below, we discuss what menopause is, what symptoms can look like, and offer a few suggestions on ways to help manage this natural transition.
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What is menopause?
A woman is said to have reached menopause when her periods stop, because her ovaries are no longer producing eggs, and she can no longer fall pregnant naturally. Periods might stop very suddenly or gradually reduce in the months or years leading up to menopause.
Menopause is a natural part of the ageing process, which typically occurs between the ages of 45-55. The average age for a woman to reach menopause in the UK is 51 (NHS); however, around one in 100 women will experience menopause before the age of 40. This is known as premature or early menopause, or premature ovarian insufficiency.
You might also hear the term perimenopause, which means ‘around menopause’. It’s used to describe the process leading up to menopause when your oestrogen levels (the main female hormone produced by the ovaries) start to drop or fluctuate much more than they usually would.
Most women experience perimenopause in their 40s – but some start noticing changes as early as their mid-30s. The process usually lasts around four years but, for some women, it lasts only a few months.
Once a woman has had no periods at all for 12 consecutive months, she’s said to have reached menopause, and is then considered to be post-menopausal. While some women will experience no or very few physical or psychological effects at this stage due to their lower oestrogen levels, many women can continue to experience post-menopausal symptoms for up to 15 years.
What causes menopause?
Menopause is usually a direct result of ageing because, as women age, their ovaries make fewer sex hormones – particularly oestrogen – and no longer produce an egg each month. It’s still unknown why some women experience this drop in hormones before the age of 40.
However, medical treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or some breast cancer treatments can bring on early menopause. As can having surgical procedures to remove the womb (hysterectomy) or ovaries (oophorectomy) – or having an underlying condition like Down’s Syndrome or Addison’s disease.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause are incredibly varied and wide-ranging, sometimes making it challenging to identify. According to the BBC, about 75% of women who go through menopause will experience symptoms.
Some of the most common symptoms that women might experience include…
- Hot flushes (where a sudden feeling of warmth spreads across the body)
- Weight gain
- Mood changes (including anxiety, depression, and panic attacks)
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Loss of libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Joint and muscle pain
- Irregular or reduced periods
- Sleep problems
Less common symptoms that you might also experience can include…
- Skin problems (e.g. acne and dryness)
- Hair loss
- Brittle nails
- Dry mouth
- Bladder problems (e.g. weakness and infections)
Everyone’s journey through menopause can be different, so it’s important not to compare yourself too much to anyone else, or to apologise for or feel embarrassed about your symptoms. It’s an entirely natural part of ageing that every woman goes through.
What options do I have for managing menopausal symptoms?
If any of the symptoms above are bothering you, it’s worth making an appointment to see your GP. They’ll usually be able to confirm whether you’re going through menopause based on your symptoms alone, but in some cases, they’ll also carry out a blood test.
Once your GP has confirmed that you’re going through menopause, they’ll be able to talk you through all your options – some of which could include…
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
Some women opt for hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This treatment is available in various forms – tablets, gels, skin patches, implants – and replaces the oestrogen that a woman’s body no longer produces because of menopause.
HRT can help to ease menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness, loss of libido, and mood swings, which have been brought on by a drop in the body’s natural oestrogen levels. It can also prevent the weakening of bones, which can lead to osteoporosis.
There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding HRT because some forms can carry an increased risk of developing breast, ovarian, and womb cancers. But this will largely depend on what type you take, how long you take it for, when you start taking it, your age, and whether you have any underlying health conditions.
The balance of risks will be different for each person, so it’s best to discuss with your GP which option might be best for you based on your individual circumstances. For more general information about HRT, have a read of our article on the subject. Or you might want to watch our Rest Less Presents event on the facts and myths of HRT, below.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
If your symptoms are psychological (for example, anxiety or a low mood), your GP might suggest a therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
CBT is designed to help you understand how your thoughts influence your behaviour so that you can develop coping mechanisms to help you deal with any specific problem thoughts. To find out more, you can read our introductory guide to cognitive behavioural therapy.
Some women find that they can manage menopause symptoms by making a series of lifestyle changes. Your GP will usually advise further on specific changes that could make the biggest difference based on your menopause symptoms and current lifestyle. For example…
- You might find that particular food or drinks – like caffeine, alcohol, or sugary foods – trigger hot sweats, night sweats, or mood swings. So, by managing your intake of these, some symptoms may improve.
- Drinking more water can help to combat some of the dryness that women might experience throughout menopause. Avoiding dehydration is also a good idea because it can trigger hot flushes.
- Making sure that you get enough vitamin D and calcium can help to keep your bones strong.
- Exercising regularly and eating healthy, balanced meals can boost your mood, help you maintain a healthy weight, and improve joint and bone health.
For more tips on managing menopause symptoms naturally, it’s worth taking a look at this article from Healthline on 11 natural ways to reduce symptoms of menopause.
If you’re experiencing psychological or emotional symptoms, you might also find that something like mindfulness or deep breathing techniques. These can help you connect with yourself and your surroundings on a deeper level, and maybe bring you some peace.
If menopausal symptoms are affecting you at work, you could also try speaking with your employer to see what additional help and support they might be able to offer you – for example, flexible working hours or a temperature-controlled work space.
To learn more about your options at work, take a look at our article; 6 tips to take control of menopause symptoms at work.
Specific treatment for vaginal dryness or itchiness
If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness or itchiness, there are creams, moisturisers, and lubricants that can help – both over the counter and from your GP.
It’s also worth steering clear of perfumed cleansing products or harsh chemicals as much as possible, as these can symptoms worse. To find out more about vaginal dryness and how to treat it, take a look at this article from the NHS.
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What if my symptoms don’t improve?
If HRT, CBT, or making a series of lifestyle changes don’t help improve your menopausal symptoms, your GP may refer you to a menopause specialist.
It’s important to be honest and persistent with your GP about symptoms that aren’t improving so that they can refer you to the correct services. It’s also completely fine to ask to speak to a female GP at your local practice if that would make you feel more comfortable.
7 tips for coping with menopause
1. Don’t be afraid to speak up
Research carried out by Nuffield Health shows that more than two-thirds of women feel there’s a general lack of support and understanding about menopause. Seventy-two percent of women surveyed also said that they feel unsupported at work – with one in five women noting that menopause and its symptoms have negatively affected their career.
If menopause is disrupting your life, speaking to other people about it might not always feel easy. Perhaps you’re concerned that they won’t understand or will judge you, thinking you’re being dramatic. Or maybe it’s a sensitive topic for you, and you’re worried about getting upset if you try to talk to anyone about it.
While this is perfectly understandable, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t have to struggle in silence. Your GP can help you explore how to best manage your symptoms; your partner or friends and family members will often be able to offer emotional support; and your employer might be able to make suitable adjustments to your working conditions.
If the idea of speaking to others about your experience with menopause feels too overwhelming, then try starting small – for example, by making an appointment with your GP. When you phone up to make your appointment, it’s worth asking if you can see the doctor who’s most experienced in menopausal matters.
It’s also worth making a note of all your symptoms and anything you’d like to discuss before your appointment so you don’t forget anything if you feel nervous or anxious.
Sometimes, having a doctor confirm and validate your symptoms can make talking to people at home and work about how menopause is affecting you feel easier. Alternatively, if you’d rather not speak to your GP, or would prefer to talk to someone with expert knowledge on all things menopause, you could consider seeing a menopause specialist.
Rest Less has partnered with My Menopause Centre, which was founded by two women in their 50s, Dr Clare Spencer and Helen Normoyle. Through their website and online menopause consultations, Clare and Helen empower women with evidence-based information and advice.
The service is available across the UK, and meets women with kindness, support, and professional care. You can find out more and book a consultation for menopause support using the button below.
Once you start speaking to people around you about how menopause is impacting your life, you’ll probably find that other women might have had, or are currently having, similar experiences to you.
There can be a lot of comfort in realising that you’re not alone and being able to swap feelings and advice with someone who’s in a similar position. Although menopause can often feel taboo, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to be.
If you don’t think you have any family or friends to talk to about menopause (or even if you do), you might find it helpful to join a menopause support group.
Meetup.com has a list of menopause support groups currently operating around the UK – so it’s worth looking to see if you can find a group near you. If there isn’t, but you still like the idea of a support group, you could consider starting your own. There are likely to be plenty of women in your local area looking for advice and support too.
2. Keep a diary
Going through menopause can sometimes feel as though you’re on a rollercoaster. Your emotions can change by the hour, which can be exhausting. Some women also begin a grieving process when they reach menopause. This grief can be related to a loss of youth, the uncertainty of ageing, or sadness about their loss of fertility.
Writing down how menopause is making you feel – both physically and emotionally – can act as a stress reliever and allow you to keep track of your symptoms and emotional journey.
Managing your symptoms might sometimes require a bit of trial and error, so keeping a record of everything can offer clarity about what does and doesn’t work for you. It can also enable you to feel more in control of your life, making things seem less scary and more manageable.
3. Equip yourself with as much knowledge as possible
Knowledge is power, so one of the best ways to take control of your menopause is to equip yourself with as much information about it as possible. It’s worth doing plenty of reading and speaking to doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, or other health professionals who can help answer any questions you might have.
It can also be useful to talk to those close to you about their own experiences of menopause. Every woman goes through menopause at some stage in their life, so chances are, it won’t be too difficult to find someone who can relate to what you’re going through and offer some advice.
Having all the facts means that you’ll usually be more aware of your choices and options when coping with menopause.
4. Stay active
Exercise is essential for helping us to stay fit and healthy at all stages of life – but especially during menopause. When your hormone levels constantly fluctuate, exercise can be a great emotional outlet and mood booster.
It’s possible the last thing that you feel like doing is exercising when your menopausal symptoms are particularly bad, but a lot of women say that trying to keep moving – even if it’s a long walk or a relaxing yoga session – can make the world of difference.
Some women experience weight gain during their menopausal transition, and exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and feel more confident.
If you’re having hot flushes, you might worry that building up a sweat will only make them worse. But research carried out by the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University found that women who undertook regular workouts during a four-month period had less frequent and less intense hot flushes.
For more information about what hot flushes are and how to control them, have a look at this NHS guide.
5. Make time for you
Menopause alone can be overwhelming, but couple this with a busy work and/or family life, and it’s easy to feel like you’re struggling to cope.
This is why taking time for yourself during menopause is particularly important. You need space and time to reflect and come to terms with what you’re feeling, to be kind to yourself, and to rest and relax.
It’s not always easy to prioritise your own needs over those of your friends, family or employer, but having even an hour a day where you can phone a friend for a chat, relax with a good book in the bath or do some exercise, can work wonders for your general wellbeing.
6. Review your diet
Lower oestrogen levels brought on by menopause will slow down your metabolism and make you more sensitive to carbohydrates and sugars. This means it becomes easier to store fat, and losing weight will typically take longer.
While this can feel frustrating, making some simple changes to your diet – like eating more vegetables and proteins, and slightly fewer carbohydrates – can help. Eating plenty of high-quality protein is especially important during menopause because falling oestrogen levels can lead to a decline in muscle mass.
To further adjust to this loss of muscle mass, experts also recommend that women who have reached menopause should consume around 200 calories per day less than before menopause. So, cutting down your portion sizes and staying active can help with this.
It’s also worth noting that certain foods have been known to make menopause symptoms better or worse. For example, a high salt intake has been linked to lower bone density in menopausal women, so lowering the amount of salt you consume can reduce your risk of this.
While making some small, sustainable changes to your diet can be helpful during and post-menopause, it’s never a good idea to try crash dieting or make any other dramatic changes to your diet. These simply aren’t sustainable and will just place additional physical and emotional strain on your body.
If you’re interested in reading more about how you can make your diet work for you during or post-menopause, have a read of this article from Healthline.
7. Try to see menopause as the beginning, not the end
It’s easy to see menopause as the end of fertile years or your youth, and to feel sad about this. While it’s healthy to give yourself an initial grieving period if you need one, it can help to try and identify some positives too.
Some women find that menopause can also be a good time to take a step back, focus on their own needs, find clarity about what matters most to them, and consider what they want to pursue in this new life chapter.
While menopause can sometimes be challenging to cope with – at least to start with – some post-menopausal women report discovering a new sense of freedom and feeling empowered. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and monthly periods are now things of the past, and there’s no need to take contraception or consider the risk of pregnancy.
At the same time, if you have children who are now grown up, you could find yourself with more time to focus on your personal and professional goals – something you might not have been able to do for a while.
After 50+ years, menopause can also be another aspect of life experience to tuck under your belt with relationship highs and lows, work experience, parenting, plus everything else. Some women say that this helps them feel more confident moving forward because they know they can handle whatever else comes their way.
Helpful menopause resources
Menopause – NHS
Information on causes, symptoms, and treatment.
Let’s Talk Menopause
Providing women and employers with evidence-based information and support.
- NICE guidelines on menopause diagnosis and management and additional information for the public
Evidence-based guidelines and information on the diagnosis and management of menopause in the UK.
Resources to help guide you through your menopause journey
- Menopause Support
Educational workshops and menopause consultations with a menopause expert.
- My Menopause Centre
A site that raises awareness of menopause and aims to empower women to take control of their menopause.
- The Menopause Cafe
Encourages people across the UK to get together over a cup of tea and talk about menopause.
- Menopause and Me
Tools and support to help you make informed choices when managing your symptoms.
Hear about other women’s experiences with menopause.
- Menopause Matters
Information, tips, and advice on all menopausal matters.
- Menopause Exchange
Independent advice about midlife, menopause, and post-menopausal health.
- Manage my Menopause
Tailored menopause support and advice.
- The Daisy Network
A charity that supports women going through early menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.
Coping with menopause in the workplace
- Henpicked: Menopause in the workplace
Training, e-learning, and resources.
- Acas – Guidance for employers to help manage the impact of menopause at work
Advice, guidance, and the law.
- Talking menopause
Get your organisation talking about menopause.
- CIPD guide
For line managers. Offers advice on what managers need to know about menopause to support their team effectively.
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A final note…
Understanding your body, speaking up, and not being afraid to put yourself first sometimes are some of the most helpful ways to cope with menopause – in addition to speaking with your GP.
Always keep in mind that just because menopause is a natural process, it doesn’t mean that your feelings should be sidelined or not taken seriously. Everything you’re feeling is valid. There’s no reason to feel embarrassed about letting others know what you’re going through and suggesting ways that they can help.
If you’re experiencing symptoms that are affecting your ability to cope with daily life, you don’t have to struggle by yourself. There are plenty of options out there to help make life easier for you, and we hope that at least some of the suggestions in this article will help.
Your health and happiness are paramount, so it’s important that menopause doesn’t get in the way of you enjoying life. With the right support, it can be a time of liberation, positivity, and the start of a new and fabulous phase of life.
What are your experiences with menopause? Do you have any tips or advice that you would offer to other women who are struggling with menopausal symptoms? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.