Menopause Self-Care: Why It’s Important to Make it a Priority

February 7, 2024
A woman pointing to a menopause sign

Menopause is a natural and inevitable transition in a woman’s life. It is defined retrospectively by not having had a menstrual period in the previous 12 months. Many women experience changing hormone levels that cause physical and emotional symptoms as they move through the menopause transition. This makes menopause self-care a necessary and important priority.

While menopause presents challenges for many women, embracing the changes with a positive attitude and focusing on self-care can change your perception of life after menopause.

What is Menopause?

Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 40 and 58, but most women will recognize the symptoms years before the transition actually occurs. As life expectancy for women exceeds 80 years, most women will spend more than a third of their lives post-menopause.

During menopause, the ovaries gradually decrease their production of estrogen and progesterone. Since ovulation, or the release of an egg from the ovary, depends on these sex hormones, this process will stop. When the ovaries stop releasing eggs, a woman’s ability to reproduce ends.

Decreases in estrogen and progesterone production can also lead to the symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause.

Perimenopause: The Transition Phase

Perimenopause is the transitional period leading up to menopause. For some women, it can occur as early as their 30s, though it is more typically associated with being in your 40s.

As hormone levels fluctuate, many women experience the physical and emotional symptoms associated with perimenopause. These symptoms can occur for up to 10 years or so before menopause or abruptly if a woman has a surgical procedure that induces menopause.

Fertility typically declines during menopause, but pregnancy is still possible.

Symptoms of Perimenopause and Menopause

Perimenopause and menopause can bring about a wide range of symptoms that vary in intensity and duration for each woman. Some of the most common symptoms include the following:

  • Hot flashes and night sweats: Sudden feelings of warmth accompanied by skin flushing or redness. Sweating, palpitations, and a rapid heartbeat may also occur. Hot flashes can last from seconds to minutes and vary in severity.
  • Mood swings and irritability: Mood changes are very common during this phase and may include depressive symptoms and anxiety. Reach out to your healthcare provider if these symptoms are persistent or severe.
  • Fatigue and lack of energy: Poor sleep and mood changes can cause fatigue and low energy.
  • Sleep disturbances and insomnia: Hot flashes and a more frequent need to urinate at night can disrupt sleep.
  • Changes in menstrual patterns: During perimenopause, periods may change in frequency and heaviness.
  • Cognitive changes: Many women notice increased forgetfulness or brain fog during perimenopause.
  • Vaginal dryness and discomfort during intercourse: Thinning and dryness of the vaginal tissues can cause discomfort or pain during sex.
  • Changes in libido: Hormonal changes during perimenopause can cause fluctuations in your libido. Some women find that their libido increases, while just as many, or even more, find that their libido decreases.
  • Weight gain and changes in body composition: Hormonal changes and decreased physical activity can cause weight gain or weight maintenance with a shift in body composition from muscle to fat tissue. Losing muscle mass and increasing fat mass are common as people age. Decreased sex hormone and growth hormone levels contribute to this shift in body composition.
  • Cognitive difficulties and memory lapses: Brain fog, forgetfulness, and difficulty concentrating are all common symptoms women report during the perimenopause transition.

It’s important to remember that each woman’s menopausal experience is unique, and not all women will have the same symptoms or have the same level of difficulty managing a symptom. Understanding these symptoms and how they may affect your daily life is critical for effectively managing and prioritizing your well-being.

The Importance of Menopause Self-Care

As your hormone levels decrease and your body composition changes, it becomes even more important to prioritize self-care. Taking steps to support your physical, mental, and emotional health can make the menopause transition easier to handle. Here are some self-care tips to help you navigate menopause and transition from one phase of your life to the next.

1. Make Time for Yourself

Make time for the activities you enjoy, whether you enjoy meditation, yoga, exercise, reading, gardening, or any other activity that helps you focus your thoughts, relieve stress, and feel connected to your community.

These are the activities that typically fall by the wayside when you have a busy daily schedule. Make time for activities that you enjoy and ones that improve your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Even dedicating just 15 minutes a day to self-care can have a significant impact on your overall health and mindset. Give yourself permission to rest, recharge, and prioritize your needs.

2. Stay Connected

Maintaining social connections and seeking support from loved ones and friends is vital during menopause. Surrounding yourself with a supportive network can provide much-needed support, reduce feelings of isolation, and help you navigate the challenges that arise during this phase. Sharing experiences, seeking advice, and receiving empathy from others going through similar experiences can be empowering and comforting.

3. Practice Mindfulness and Stay Present

Mindfulness seems like such a simple concept, but it is so hard to do. It takes practice to allow yourself to fully immerse yourself in your current surroundings without feeling anxiety about the future or having intruding thoughts about the past.

Choose a calm and peaceful place, and allow yourself to sit and be present without an agenda or schedule. Cultivating a sense of calm and acceptance can help you navigate menopause challenges.

Consider seeking professional support or counseling if you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns.

A smiling woman lying in bed. Quality sleep is important for menopause self-care.

4. Prioritize Sleep

Sleep is underrated. Researchers are only now starting to understand how much sleep impacts all aspects of our health.

Poor sleep can worsen hot flashes and mood swings. Likewise, night sweats and anxiety can make it hard to sleep. A restful night’s sleep allows your body time to process waste, restore body tissues, and manage hormone fluctuations during menopause.

Aim for 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.

Sleep habits that improve sleep hygiene and can improve your sleep quality include:

  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol consumption before bedtime.
  • Avoid heavy meals late in the day, especially if you are prone to heartburn.
  • Create a bedtime routine that does not include screen exposure in the hour before sleep.
  • Hydrate early in the day to avoid nighttime awakenings.
  • If you are concerned about obstructive sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, talk with your doctor.
  • Safely expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning to help regulate circadian rhythms.
  • Set a sleep schedule and stick to it, even on the weekends.
  • Sleep in a dark and cool room.
  • Reserve the use of the bedroom for sleep and sex.
  • Use meditation, yoga, or deep-breathing exercises to manage stress.
  • Incorporate physical activity into your daily schedule.

5. Nourish Your Body with a Healthy Diet

Consume a healthy and nutritious diet. Incorporate a variety of plant-based foods into your meals. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Choose lean sources of protein to support muscle health, metabolism, and hormone production. Whenever possible, choose whole foods. Avoid the hyperpalatable, ultra-processed, sugary convenience foods that lack nutritional value and cause shifts in your blood sugar.

Blood sugar spikes and dips increase your risk for metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, and they exacerbate menopause symptoms.

Healthy diet

6. Stay Active and Exercise Regularly

Exercise is great for your emotional and physical health. While experts encourage you to set goals of 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise per week, take this in small steps.

If your current routine does not include exercise, start by walking for 10 minutes at a time. Use an app to track your steps and see your progress. When you are ready, add stair climbing or jogging to increase your cardiovascular fitness.

While aerobic exercise is excellent for your cardiovascular health, strength training and flexibility exercises can improve your musculoskeletal health. Start with simple bodyweight exercises and increase from there.

Regular exercise can help manage weight, improve mood, enhance bone density, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Find activities you enjoy and make them a part of your daily or weekly routine.

7. Seek Information and Support about Menopause Self-Care

Research in women’s health has always lagged behind other health topics, but over the last few decades, there has been a rapid increase in understanding the hormonal and physical changes associated with menopause and how they affect your health.

Educate yourself about menopause and stay informed about the latest research and treatment options. Connect with menopause support groups, online forums, or local community groups to share experiences, gain insights, and find emotional support from others going through similar experiences.

Discuss your concerns and questions about the changes you notice through the menopause transition with your healthcare provider, who can provide personalized guidance and support.

A female doctor talking with a patient

8. Embrace Positive Lifestyle Choices

Take an inventory of your current health habits. If you smoke, can you quit? There are many programs and medications available to help people quit smoking.

If you consume too much alcohol or have difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes and medications that can help you meet your goals.

Menopause is different for every woman. How you experience menopause depends on your family history, any other medical conditions you may have, your overall psychological and emotional health, and environmental factors, such as stress. Listen to your body and prioritize your needs.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do I keep myself healthy during menopause?

To keep yourself healthy during menopause, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet rich in nutrients, engage in regular physical activity, manage stress through relaxation techniques or meditation, get adequate sleep, stay hydrated, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and consider discussing hormone replacement therapy or other treatments with your healthcare provider to address specific symptoms.

What is the best thing to do for menopause self-care?

The best approach for managing menopause varies from person to person. Some may find relief through lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet and exercise, while others may benefit from hormone replacement therapy or alternative treatments like herbal supplements or acupuncture. Consulting with a healthcare provider can help determine the best course of action based on individual needs and symptoms. Even in this busy period of your life, prioritize menopause self-care.

What are the three stages of menopause?

Menopause typically consists of three stages: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. Perimenopause is the transitional phase leading up to menopause, characterized by fluctuating hormone levels and irregular periods. Menopause marks the end of menstruation, and post-menopause follows menopause, indicating the years after the last menstrual period when menopausal symptoms may persist.

What are the worst menopause symptoms that require menopause self-care?

Some of the most challenging menopause symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, fatigue, insomnia, and changes in libido. However, the severity and combination of symptoms can vary widely among individuals.

Author: Leann Poston, M.D.
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  • North American Menopause Society. Menopause Practice: A clinician's guide. North American Menopause Society.; 2010.
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