Menopause: A Heck of a Lot More Than Hot Flashes

lady with long gray hair

If you believe everything popular culture taught you about perimenopause, you probably assume it involves hot flashes — and not much else. (Cue the desert scene in Sex and the City 2 when Samantha exclaims,“They’re starting!”)

The truth is that as estrogen declines, it causes a whole host of changes. Every woman experiences perimenopause and menopause differently, and no one is talking enough about it.

Good thing we’re here to share the good, the bad, and the otherwise with you.

The Bad News First

Teenage-level acne is a thing. Sometimes perimenopause is called “reverse puberty,” and it often brings with it many of the same dreadful things: breakouts and bad moods being two of the worst. Many women experience dryer and more sensitive skin, but some will face the kind of acne they thought they left behind with sticker-covered lockers and notebooks scribbled with a crush’s name. That’s because falling estrogen and potentially rising testosterone can cause sebaceous glands to go into overdrive, leading to more zits than at a prom. The best news is that a gentle cleanser (emphasis on gentle) with salicylic acid should help.

Mood swings are another beast. Seventy percent of women report increased irritability during perimenopause. Regular exercise, a diet free of processed foods and added sugars, and de-stressing techniques like meditation and yoga can go a long way toward keeping an even keel.

Vaginal dryness? Also a thing. Many women say that just about everything seems drier during perimenopause — one friend said that even her eyeballs feel crispy. Vaginal dryness is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s one of the most common menopause symptoms. The dryness, itching, redness, and all-around discomfort that it causes is not always easy to talk about, but rest assured that there are ways to alleviate it. Get yourself a good water-based vaginal moisturizer — specifically one that lists hyaluronic acid as an ingredient — and resume living your best life.

Weight gain. Yeah, that’s a fourth thing. Research says that most women gain between 2 and 5 pounds, but some gain much more. Why? We lose muscle as we age, and muscle burns more calories than fat. Plus, as the years roll by, metabolism slows. What’s more evident to some of us is an unwelcome weight redistribution. (You know what else no one is talking about? Your boobs get bigger — make that a fifth.)

Insomnia is a symptom that catches some women by surprise. Even women who have been champion sleepers their whole lives can suddenly find themselves unable to sleep at night. Estrogen helps us fall asleep and promotes quality sleep, so when it begins to fall, so does our ability to get a good night’s sleep. What’s more, night sweats might wake you up and racing thoughts might keep you from going back to sleep. Now we know why our mothers stayed awake all night reading books.

And Now the Good News

You can say goodbye to your period. For every woman who laments the end of her cycles, there are two who do not (no, we don’t have the research to support that, but we did ask our friends). No more periods means no more tampons, no more pads, no more ruined underwear, and no more waking up in what looks like a crime scene at night.

Self-esteem is on the rise. In fact, it peaks in our 60s and 70s. And by the time you’re in your 40s and 50s, you’ve lived enough life to know that you can weather almost any storm. Perimenopause can be a time of anxiety and depression for some, but by the time those women come out on the other side of menopause, even those who had it rough often report feeling strong and empowered.

Your sex life can be better than ever. It’s normal to experience a decrease in sexual desire as we age — plenty of people do. But some women experience a surge in desire during perimenopause, and many women express that they feel as though they’ve reached their sexual prime. After menopause — when the chance of getting pregnant is slim to none — some women say they like sex more, and that’s due in part to those first good things we pointed out.

Managing It All

Taking care of your health has never been more important. Self-care isn’t just a buzzword. When you’re closing in on menopause, it should be a priority. Take care of your skin. Pay attention to your weight and your blood pressure. Get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Clean up your diet and get at least a half hour of exercise most days per week. Spend time in nature, connect with loved ones, practice gratitude. And see your doctor at least annually for a checkup.

Photo: Ridofranz

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