Stress has a lot to answer for. Not only can it make the symptoms of menopause worse, in particular hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety and insomnia, but elevated levels of cortisol, our stress hormone, often results in the deposit of stubborn belly fat that is hard to shift. In addition, high levels of cortisol block the production of osteoblasts, the new bone cells, which means we are much more likely to develop the bone-thinning disease, osteoporosis.
With Covid still in the air adding to our stress, it has never been more important to learn how to relax. Switching off a busy mind can be easier said than done, but the benefits can change your life, especially at a time when you may find it hard to cope with your symptoms.
How Can I Relax During Menopause?
To learn how to relax during menopause or any other time, you need to become familiar with your breathing patterns and change them in ways that will help you relax. Changes in emotion often disrupt your breathing pattern. Anxious people tend to hold their breath and speak in a high-pitched voice as they exhale. On the other hand, people who are depressed tend to sigh and speak in a low-pitched voice as they exhale.
Below are a few relaxation exercises. Find a quiet location that is free of distractions, a comfortable body position, and a good state of mind. Try to block out worries and distracting thoughts.
When we are feeling stressed and wound up, relaxation may not come easily, or we may feel that we don’t have time for it. But relaxation rests our brain, making it more efficient, as well as giving us an energy boost. As a bonus, it can reduce hot flashes by more than 50 percent.
Rhythmic breathing: If your breathing is short and hurried, slow it down by taking long, slow breaths. Inhale slowly then exhale slowly. Count slowly to five as you inhale, and then count slowly to five as you exhale. As you exhale slowly, pay attention to how your body naturally relaxes. Recognizing this change will help you to relax even more.
Deep breathing: Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, filling your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow exhalation, you should feel more relaxed.
Visualized breathing: Find a comfortable place where you can close your eyes, and combine slowed breathing with your imagination. Picture relaxation entering your body and tension leaving your body. Breathe deeply, but in a natural rhythm. Visualize your breath coming into your nostrils, going into your lungs and expanding your chest and abdomen. Then, visualize your breath going out the same way. Continue breathing, but each time you inhale, imagine that you are breathing in more relaxation. Each time you exhale imagine that you are getting rid of a little more tension.
It’s not uncommon to find it difficult to switch off. In my experience formal relaxation or meditation quiets the mind, but it is an acquired skill. So don’t be too hard on yourself if your mind keeps running in the fast lane when you first attempt to practice formal re- laxation techniques. It’s like building new muscles: it takes time.
You can choose from a whole range of practices and techniques to help you rest and relax. These include yoga, creative visualization, mindfulness meditation, qi gong, cognitive behavior therapy, and tai chi. In addition, there are apps, like Pzizz and Headspace,that can coach you through structured relaxation or meditation sessions or just provide a soothing audio background for relaxation.
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years. It works on the principle that mind and body need to be working in perfect harmony for optimal health. To help you achieve this, yoga uses asana (poses that relax muscles) and pranayama (breathing techniques that improve oxygen flow and calm the body). It is best to attend a yoga class to learn the basic poses and get feedback from an instructor; you can then practice at home on a regular basis.
Pilates, developed in the 1920s, is another form of mind-body training. Pilates combines breathing techniques and exercises to develop strength, balance, coordination, bodily and spatial awareness, and flexibility. As with yoga, you should go to some classes to learn the technique before practicing at home.
Tai chi, an ancient Chinese form of movement, was originally developed as a self-defence discipline but has evolved into a graceful form of exercise that can reduce stress and increase both physical and mental well-being. Often described as moving meditation, it involves a series of flowing movements performed in a slow and focused way, accompanied by deep breathing. It’s a self-paced and gentle form of physical exercise.
Tai chi can improve posture, balance, flexibility, and strength. In addition, it has been shown to boost mood, reduce joint pain, strengthen the immune system, and improve heart health.
In recent years mindfulness has become a popular practice. The founder of mindfulness meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn, gives this definition: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” It can be practiced as we go about our day as well as during focused mindfulness meditation sessions.
Like many other disciplines, mindfulness is an acquired skill. There are many good mindfulness books and apps, including the Mindfulness Daily app, which cues you to pause at intervals during the day to practice mindfulness. Many research studies have shown that mindfulness has significant health benefits, including lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, reducing the prevalence of heart disease and depression, and even helping us at the time of menopause by reducing hot flashes and levels of anxiety and inducing more peaceful sleep.
This simple, enjoyable way to relax requires little or no training and is ideal if you are short on time. This is all you need to do:
- Lie flat on the floor with your head supported — or, if you are at work or traveling, find a quiet space where you can sit and relax.
- Bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor.
- Close your eyes, breathe steadily and slowly, while consciously relaxing your face, fingers, arms, legs, and toes.
- Continue to breathe slowly and steadily. Start to visualize something you fancy — anything from a world cruise to a wonderful night out. The trick is to keep your mind focused on your fantasy for as long as you can. After fifteen to twenty minutes, bring yourself gently back to reality, rolling onto your side before standing up.
Creative visualization requires practice, and you may have to work at it before you feel the full benefits. If your mind is very busy, it can help to jot down your intrusive thoughts on paper before you start, so you can stay focused on your fantasy.
It’s important to take time for you and to practice relaxation in whatever format works for you. Take time to schedule it into your diary – even if it’s just 30 mins in your lunch hour. It will make all the difference and change your perspective on life.
Are you feeling demotivated?
Have you lost your mojo?
Are you feeling tired and achy or old before your time?
Are you scared because you can't think straight or lose track of what you were saying mid sentence?
Have you put so much weight on and your clothes are tight?