Not long ago, I was interviewed by Sara Avant Stover (www.saraavantstover.com) fabulous yogini and author of “The Way of the Happy Woman” about perimenopause. One of the things I continue to be surprised by is how many women don’t know they’re entering into perimenopause, and why it’s important to know when you are, and what to do about it. In this article, I hope to share some insights I’ve gained over the years.
What is perimenopause and how do you know when you’re entering this phase?
Perimenopause is the period before you enter menopause, and generally speaking, it can happen anytime after the age of 35. The symptoms are numerous, but the main ones are: increased “blues”, restlessness, mood swings, anxiety, insomnia, food cravings, or memory loss. Other notable symptoms are unexplained weight gain around the mid-section and decreased sex drive, fertility, or energy. Some of these symptoms are similar to symptoms related to other things such as blood sugar imbalances, imbalanced hormones, PMS, etc. But if you have many of these symptoms right now (either on a mild or moderate level), as well as a noticeable change in your monthly cycle (frequency, flow, length of time, etc.), you are likely in perimenopause. These symptoms are brought on by the rising levels in estrogen, and a decreasing level in progesterone. It is a natural change in a woman’s cycle, and a beautiful time for cultivating the wisdom from this transition before menopause. The general rule of thumb is, once you’ve gone through an entire year without having a period, you are effectively part of “The Change”, or menopause.
Why is it important to know when you’re in perimenopause?
Anytime you have any of the above symptoms, it’s important to listen to your body and what’s going on with her, whether you are in perimenopause or not. Perimenopause heightens the symptoms, the signals that your body is changing, both inside and out. If you’ve been experiencing the symptoms, but ignoring their messages, then perimenopause is a time that says “Enough!” If this is the case, the next question to ask is, “What am I to learn here?” And it’s not because something is “wrong” necessarily, but because something needs to shift. The shift could be with your diet, your relationships, your boundaries, your fulfillment, your career, etc. If you let things slide, your body will let you know. She will let you know by increased stress, which will affect your adrenals, which start playing more of a role in producing your sexual hormones during your later years. The more stress you have, the more the impact on your sexual hormones, and the more the symptoms.
So if you ignore your decreased energy, motivation, sleep needs, sexual drive, etc. your life force as a feminine being will be depleted. You may not notice this in the early stages of perimenopause, but when you’re more in menopause, you will. That’s how I got osteoporosis at such a young age (early forties). I over-rode my symptoms (related to asthma) with medications (which were a large contributor to the osteoporosis), and I did “mind over matter”, which basically means muscling through my deeper heart in order to get things done and be “effective” in the world. That may be a path for the masculine, but for the feminine, it only serves to make our stress effects less obvious, and therefore more insidious in their impact.
Perimenopause is a path to awakening to our deeper core, our deeper calling. The heart and body are working together to invite you to live in the way that serves you most. When you allow yourself to listen, to take heed, and follow the whisper of your heart, you start to bloom into this next phase of life. It’s important to notice. If you don’t notice, the effects are magnified later on, and sometimes, can be irreversible.
What can I do about it if I have any of these symptoms?
First, don’t treat them like a disease or something you have to “fix”. Your body is doing exactly what she needs to do to balance herself during this time. There’s no fixing…only supporting. The question is what do you need to support your body and heed your heart’s deeper calling?
Second, I recommend seeking the help of a qualified health practitioner (e.g. naturopath, chiropractor, MD, osteopath, nutritionist, etc.) to get an overview of what is happening on a physiological level (e.g. blood sugar, hormones, digestion, stress, immune system, etc.). They can do lab testing to find this out. At the same time, you can identify the symptoms and confirm them according to the lab tests. That way, even though your symptoms may be slower in improving, you might see improvement in the actual scientific data, which will indicate you’re going in the right direction in supporting your body. They may make recommendations on changing your nutrition, supplements, and other lifestyle changes in order to bring your body back to balance. Never start taking supplements based on ad hoc recommendations. Your body works as an integrated whole. It’s essential that you know what’s going on before taking anything in your body. What you do for one thing, affects another, especially when it comes to hormones.
Third, I suggest assessing what’s happening in your life right now that is not in alignment with what you truly yearn for in your deeper heart. Are you living what you are dedicated to living right now? If yes, great. If not, why not? What is stopping you? You may be choosing to do something now that is not in alignment with your deeper heart. I’m not saying drop it immediately (e.g. a job or a relationship) and pursue something or someone else. I’m saying that whatever you’re doing NOW, how do you live it in a way that IS in alignment with your deeper heart? It may not be feasible or it may not be the right timing to “drop” everything. And that’s not the point anyway – changing your external circumstances will not necessarily change the inner work that will truly give you fulfillment. Sometimes it is…sure. But don’t go there first. Otherwise, you may find yourself right back in the same situation as you did before.
Explore what you truly yearn in your deeper heart, and dedicate your actions to find this, in everything you do. It’s not necessarily a matter of going for the big changes. It’s a matter of finding the ordinary miracle of what you most desire in ordinary things. Start there first. As you do this, things start opening for you in a clearer way. Then, you could make the bigger changes because your capacity to transition through them is bigger. With so many women who come to see me, they often make the “leap” before doing the inner work, thinking things will change. Sometimes they do. Most times, they don’t because their inner beliefs are still the same, and thus, they are triggered again at some point, and start reverting back to familiar patterns of behavior that don’t serve them even though their external circumstances are different.
Perimenopause can be an amazing exploration into your greater SHE….the essence of what makes you tick, inside and out. Let yourself take your seat in this journey. You deserve all the fruits that come to bear, as a result! I’ll be hosting a teleseries in the fall for Women Over 40, and we’ll be covering many of the issues related around perimenopause, living your dream, finances, and relationships in this time of life. Stay tuned for further announcements!