Summer and stress? Yes indeed, you did read that right.
Most of us love summer, the longer days, the balmy nights. But if you’re in your menopausal years, the summer can be super challenging – especially for women down under. There are the obvious temperature increases which will not be kind to ‘women on fire’, but these are only part of the picture.
The real problem is that our summer months coincide with Christmas, New Year and long holidays.
Why is this a problem?
Because this is one of the most stressful times of the year for women and stress is one of the biggest triggers of our menopause symptoms.
Don’t get me wrong, there are summer days that are truly relaxing and reinvigorating. But the path to getting to those moments is like being on an express stress train for many women.
From the beginning of December, and earlier for many, our to-do lists start going in to overdrive – Christmas gift shopping, put up the Christmas tree, Christmas day meal planning, organise the family holiday, end of year school functions, work functions, care for children or grandchildren over the school holidays, end of year work deadlines – we become time poor and bank balance poor.
And as we enter the fray to complete our tasks, we encounter more road traffic, longer queues at the supermarket and retail staff stretched to their limits – oh how my heart goes out to all of you meno-women working in retail right now!
This all adds up to a supercharged cocktail of STRESS!
How does stress impact menopause?
Well, to give you a quick biology lesson, your body produces two hormones when under stress, called cortisol and adrenaline – often called our fight or flight hormones. These are produced in your adrenal glands which sit on top of your kidneys. During menopause, the adrenal glands take over some of the work of the diminishing ovaries and produce small amounts of progesterone and oestrogen.
When we experience stress, the body becomes primed for attack, and the adrenal glands choose to produce cortisol and adrenaline over the production of oestrogen and progesterone. This is bad news for menopausal women, who are already suffering from a variety of symptoms caused by diminishing levels of these hormones.
We need more of these hormones not less!
Also, progesterone and oestrogen work against the impact cortisol has on our body. Our body can buffer stress before menopause, because we have optimal levels of progesterone. Once those levels start to lower during perimenopause, the cortisol buffering effect weakens.
The resulting high levels of cortisol can cause insomnia, digestive problems, weight gain especially around the middle, low sex drive, body aches and pains and low mood. Sound familiar? Some of the exact same symptoms of menopause.
So briefly, stress exacerbates, aggravates and heightens the symptoms of menopause.
Throw in the heat of summer and our increased consumption of alcohol over the festive period, and you are at risk of having your menopause symptoms out of control.
So if you have got through winter managing to keep your menopause symptoms in check, now’s not the time to let up. Or, if you have been struggling with your menopause symptoms throughout the year, it’s time to take some action so that you can truly enjoy the summer days ahead.
Some simple ways to keep stress under control over this period are:
- Focus on a diet that keeps your blood sugar levels balanced. A variety of vegetables and good quality protein is perfect. Too much coffee and cake will increase your cortisol production
- Deep breathing exercises
- Relaxation/meditation – even 5 minutes can produce a result
- Walking – in the brilliant summer sunshine!
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