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Why We Need to Shift Attitudes Towards Menopause

28.02.2017

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Three out of every four women experiencing menopause in Australia report feelings of intense heat, extreme sweating, redness in the face and chest and difficulty sleeping. An estimated one million suffer hot flushes, with episodes averaging three to four minutes at a time. For some women, hot flushes can last up to an hour.

Despite this high prevalence, women usually suffer alone, choosing to only tell close girlfriends or their partners about what they are experiencing.

A positive take on menopause

While women in Australia shy away from getting older, women in Chinese culture tend to view ageing positively. Research tells us that Chinese women perceive menopause as a natural phenomenon, an age of “wisdom and maturation” and a “symbol of achievement”. Menopause is seen as a time to start enjoying life more, rather than hide and feel sorry for yourself.

While biological differences may play a role in the intensity of symptoms, the prevalence of hot flushes in China is relatively low – just 20 to 30 percent. Could it be that a positive approach to menopause is the answer to beating symptoms?

In Australia, menopause conjures up themes around loss of femininity, beauty and sexuality. Think of menopause and you’ll likely think of hot flushes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, thinning hair, sleep disturbances and night sweats. Anecdotal evidence suggests women feel embarrassed, physically unattractive and stupid. Surely then, culturally sensitised westerners can benefit from a more positive mindset?

Hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms can have considerable impact on women at work, and with women of menopausal age comprising 17% of the Australian workforce, this is a big problem. A large Australian study found many menopausal Australian women feel stressed and anxious at work, leading to poor self esteem and loss of confidence. Many also report loss of concentration and focus.

Sadly, the same study suggested that many managers and employers are not effectively skilled in managing staff of menopausal age with some women reporting criticism and even harassment directed at menopausal-related sick leave.

So what can we do?

For managers and employers, there are a number of ways that menopausal women can be supported when dealing with common symptoms. These steps include:

  • Offering control over ambient temperature.
  • Having access to cold water and toilets.
  • Providing electric fans.
  • Flexible work hours.
  • Understanding menopause symptoms and their effects.
  • Understanding of menopause-related sick leave.
  • Encouraging open conversation.
  • Offering a quiet place to rest.
  • Flexible uniform options.
  • Ensuring all staff are trained to understand how menopause can affect work and what adjustments can be made.

For women entering menopause it’s about understanding that physical, emotional and social changes caused by reduced female hormones can actually be energising and positive when looked at in the right light.

Positives associated with menopause

No more periods!

Menopause marks the end of the menstrual cycle, which means no more fussing with tampons or pads, no more menstrual cramping, and no more worry about leakage.

No more PMS!

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can cause all sorts of unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms, ranging from breast tenderness and headache pain to food cravings and crazy irritability.

No more pregnancy worries!

Menopause let’s you enjoy sex in a different way to pre-menopause because it’s purely about enjoyment and not about falling pregnant. Even with contraception, many women cannot fully relax during sex for fear of falling pregnant.

No more hormonal headaches!

Menstrual migraines are a big problem, with 70 percent of migraines attributed to ovulation and menstruation. Like other migraines, menstrual migraines cause severe throbbing on one side of the head and can cause nausea, vomiting, and light or sound sensitivity.

Greater self-assurance!

Menopause marks the end of the child-rearing years and while this may be sad for some, others feel a sense of freedom to pursue personal or professional ambitions. Menopause highlights your life experience, giving you confidence to tackle anything that comes your way.

The chance for a health makeover!

Menopause marks the start of getting regular health checkups and routine health screenings, both important for optimal health. Menopause lets you concentrate on your own health instead of others, and teaches you to put your best foot forward by eating a healthy diet that’s low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables.

The chance to bond!

Openly talking to other women experiencing menopause can prove to be very comforting. Chatting and joking about uncomfortable symptoms of menopause can be an excellent way to make new friends and reassure yourself that you’re not alone.

Menopause can be a welcome change

For Monica Troughton, author ofMagical Menopause, this is exactly how she chooses to look at menopause.

Like most women, Monica had dreaded her middle-age milestone, convinced she would turn into an “old crone” overnight. Of course that didn’t happen and what she found was that the exact opposite occurred. She gained more energy and confidence than she had ever felt and she suddenly found herself being more daring. She looked at herself and saw a happier, healthier and sexier person and took the opportunity to take stock of her life. She quit her job as a teacher, started writing and now her empowering, practical and positive book gives women everywhere the same opportunity to see menopause as the tool for turning ‘the change’ into the most thrilling years of life.

The message westerners have been given is that menopause is something to dread, but that doesn’t have to be true. Of those suffering symptoms, many come down to expectations and what’s going on in your head. Louise Foxcroft, author of Hot Flushes, Cold Science says, “we are very suggestible” and that if we are told menopause is a bad experience, it will be. If we change our thoughts to embrace menopause in the same way as women in Chinese and Indian culture do, it could just be that menopause is not just a pleasant experience, but one of the best experiences we’ll ever get to enjoy as women.

Social attitudes around menopause need to shift toward valuing the experience and maturity that comes with ageing. The reality is that this will inevitably reduce the menopausal distress women experience. For any questions or advice regarding menopause, contact the Australian Menopause Centre now on 1300 883 405.