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Refocusing Your Identity in Menopause
It's not just about hot flashes and mood swings. Menopause can be the start of new awareness and freedom, if you allow yourself to be open to it.
By Eric Berlin, MD
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
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Menopause is synonymous with change. Of course, the most noticeable physical change is the end of your menstrual periods. But well before they fully stop, you may experience a wide variety of symptoms. The best known are hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. These symptoms are due in part to changing hormone levels in your body, a normal part of this natural process, and they affect women very differently — from debilitating to bothersome to tolerable, or, for some women, barely noticeable.
But hormonal changes are not the whole story. Equally important is the emotional impact that menopause may have on you. While many women appreciate no longer having menstrual periods and worrying about birth control, others may find themselves questioning their identity and their womanliness.
Menopause, Change, and You
Some of these emotional effects are rooted in physical changes in the body, while others are not. Below are a few factors that can influence how you relate to yourself and others during menopause:
- Depression and anxiety.In the past, changing hormone levels were thought to be the only reason for mood changes in women going through menopause. Now, life experiences, perceptions, and attitudes are considered major factors that affect your mood during menopause. For example, if you expect menopause to be a bad experience, have suffered from depression in the past, or are just stressed out about the change, you may be more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Your attitude can influence your emotional well-being for better or worseTalk to a friend or counselor or consider joining a women’s support group to work on developing a more positive attitude about menopause.
- Self-identity and changing roles.As a woman, you have likely assumed many roles in your life — wife, professional, mother, daughter, sister. A part of who you are, your identity, is wrapped up in each of these roles. Feeling good about yourself in the many different parts you play in your life can actually result in fewer menopausal symptoms. Understandably though, it can be overwhelming for some menopausal women to deal with a number of adjustments all at once. In addition to changes in your body, your children may be growing up and moving out, and your life at work may be changing as well. Luckily, you don't have to go it alone — there's a wealth of support available for women going through this transitional period. Talk to your doctor about what might be most helpful for you.
- Feelings about childbearing.Some women become distressed because menopause marks the end of their childbearing years, while others feel relieved that their periods have ended. Friends or relatives who have already experienced menopause may be able to help you cope with your feelings related to loss of fertility in menopause.
- Sexual relations and desire.While some women experience an increase in sex drive, due to decreased anxiety associated with the fear of pregnancy, others experience a loss of sex drive. In one study of menopausal women, participants reported that their sex drive was significantly reduced as a result of uncomfortable vaginal dryness. But there's no need to suffer needlessly. Many vaginal lubricants, moisturizers, and other remedies are available over the counter or by prescription to help combat this symptom of menopause. And keeping the lines of communication open with your spouse or partner by talking about your feelings and needs will help you to address any concerns you may have and avoid misunderstandings.
- Physical appearance.It's not unusual for your body, and your body image, to change during menopause; hormonal fluctuations can lead to a redistribution of body weight and changes in muscle tone, and with age come other physical changes as well. This can add stress to an already stressful time. Keep in mind, though, that change isn't always a bad thing. Accepting the changes that menopause brings can help you become more comfortable with your body and allow you to maintain a higher level of self-esteem. Continuing to concentrate on your overall health by getting enough sleep and plenty of exercise can also help ease you into this transition more comfortably.
Menopause is an inevitable, natural, and normal part of life, and some women actually welcome the change. For many, menopause provides increased self-awareness and a stronger sense of personal identity. But if you are overwhelmed by the emotional, physical, or social impact of menopause, talk to your physician or join a support group in your community or online. There’s never been a better time to reach out to others, share your feelings and concerns about menopause, and benefit from the feedback of women who have already experienced what you’re going through today.
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