Can a positive mental attitude affect my menopause?
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It's being talked about more than ever before, but how do you feel about your menopause?
After many and various programmes and articles about menopause, the general feel is that in this country we have quite a negative and unhelpful view of the journey that all women will go through during their lifetime. You might be going through it at the moment, or have a partner that is, or it might be a long way off but have you ever considered ‘how are you thinking about the menopause?’ Are you viewing it helpfully or unhelpfully? Do you see it as a sign of being old, of your body giving up, of not being sexy anymore? Or something more empowering?
There are, of course a myriad of factors that influence menopausal symptoms – genetics, health conditions, obesity, alcohol consumption, other lifestyle factors – but there is research to suggest that psychological and cultural factors do influence symptom severity, the interpretation of symptoms, and the capacity to cope with symptoms. (Sood et al, 2019 & Jalava-Broman et al 2019).
Perhaps more interesting are the cultural beliefs surrounding the menopause. There is a lot of research that looks at the impact of whether your culture views menopause as a positive or negative phenomenon on the severity of symptoms:
- Dr Nighat Arif (who featured on ‘Sex, Myths and the Menopause’ with Davina McCall) discussed how, in her native Urdu, there is no direct translation for the word ‘menopause’ – it just isn’t talked about.
- In Arab culture, negative words are used for menopause. High priority is placed on fertility, and the inability to be fertile as a result of the menopause is seen to be a “desperate age”.
- Western countries often place high value on youthfulness. Consequently, the menopause reflects age progression, loss of youth and loss of sexual attractiveness. (Melby et al, 2005).
- Chinese women consider menopause as “rebirth” – they believe they can save energy that was previously lost due to fertility and childbirth. China has one of the lowest uses of drugs for treating menopausal symptoms. (Lock, 1994).
- Japanese women report the fewest complaints of menopausal symptoms. Of course, there are other factors involved like genetics, however their belief that it is a positive phenomenon has an effect on how they experience it.
- The menopause is not considered as a medical problem in many developing countries. Research indicates that women have a better attitude towards the menopause and fewer hot flushes. (Hunter et al (2009).
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How can this help us? What we can do is empower woman to choose how they want to experience the menopause – instead of society and culture being the determining factor. Undoubtedly there are physiological symptoms for some to navigate, but we can always mitigate these factors by thinking about menopause in a helpful, powerful way. If you expect it to be hard, then your brain subconsciously starts to look for the evidence that supports the beliefs that you have about it (it’s called 'confirmation bias'). When we worry about things that haven’t happened yet, we are predictably going to create stress and anticipatory anxiety about them. Whatever you are going through, you always have a choice how you think about it. And the evidence suggests that you can improve the outcome by thinking in a helpful way. It’s a new experience to embrace. Embrace it with grace.