Medically reviewed by Dr. Tamara Neuhaus MD
Some might think that talking about menopause during this pandemic seems a bit...trivial. Why should women worry about our hot flashes in the midst of a life-threatening pandemic? But quality of life is STILL important, even during these stressful times. We would even go so far as to say especially during these stressful times. Stress can make hot flashes worse. And when women have a hot flash there’s a detectable rise in body temperature. That doesn’t mean fever. But given our current reality, it’s understandable that a small rise in body temperature might raise our stress level even more. It’s a vicious circle.
So what can you do from home to ease your stress, and in the process, your menopause symptoms?
Well, there are actually lifestyle adjustments you can make that may help. God knows, we’ve all been making lots of those this year. So why not add a few more into the mix?
This mind-body practice has shown1 to improve the overall menopause experience. It’s particularly helpful for managing stress and mood. And stress, as you’ve probably noticed, can trigger hot flashes. If you aren’t sure how to get started, attend an online class or download a yoga app like Glo or Pocket Yoga. Aim for 30-60 minute sessions 2-3 times per week.
Meditation and paced breathing can do more than ease stress and improve sleep. Some studies2 show they can also reduce the severity of hot flashes. So they may help you better manage multiple aspects of your menopause transition. Aim for 2-5 minutes of meditation daily. Apps like calm, headspace, and stop-breathe-think may be helpful in learning more about meditation and the development of your meditation practice. Also the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been posting beautiful guided “Morning MeditOceans” on their Facebook feed.
Sleep disruption is common during menopause. Here are some general tips for improving your sleep:
Exercise regularly but avoid vigorous exercise immediately before bed.
Avoid napping during the day.
Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours prior to bedtime.
Avoid alcohol and sugary sweets close to bedtime as they can disrupt sleep.
Meditate for a few minutes before going to bed.
Create an ideal sleep environment by keeping your sleep space cool, dark, and quiet. And try to reserve your bed for sleep (and sex) only.
Avoid screen time (phone, tablet, computer, TV) for 30-60 minutes prior to bedtime. Research has shown that the blue light from screens can reduce levels of melatonin (a sleep hormone) by 50%.
Develop a pre-sleep ritual that you complete each night about 15 minutes prior to bedtime. Some people find it helpful to do some gentle stretching or breathing exercises as part of their routine. Meditation (without a glowing screen in front of you) or writing in a gratitude journal are two other calming practices.
Stick to a routine. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day so your body and mind don’t have to guess when to do which.
Certain foods are known to trigger more hot flashes: alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods and chocolate. So now might be the time to cut back or eliminate these.
Data from the Women’s Health Initiative study suggest3 you should avoid foods that are high on the Glycemic Index (GI). These are foods that cause a quick spike in your blood sugar levels. And that, in turn, can increase hot flashes. Bread, pasta, baked goods, white rice and anything with added sugars are the worst offenders. Better to stick with these delicious, low GI foods: fruits, veggies, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
You might be tempted to skip meals, either due to stress or out of concern for your weight. But if you go too long between eating, your blood sugar drops, which can affect your mood and trigger hot flashes.
Regular exercise has many health benefits. Reducing the severity of hot flashes and improving general menopause symptoms, among them. The American Heart Association also recommends4 that adults do 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of heart-pumping exercise per week, to help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. That may sound like a lot, but you can break it down into 30-minute sessions every weekday. Or 1-hour, three times a week. Even walking briskly (fast enough that you can’t sing easily) for about 20 minutes a day can make a difference in your overall health. If stiff joints and muscles make the thought of exercise a little daunting, add more omega-3 fatty acids (i.e. fish) into your diet. They’ve proven to help ease joint and muscle pain5. Studies are also looking at whether Omega-3 fatty acids can also improve mood6.
If you give these tips a try for a week or so, but still don’t feel relief, contact The Cusp to schedule a video visit with one of our menopause doctors. Menopause telemedicine is all we do. And we have a deep toolkit of treatments ranging from natural to prescription to bio-identical hormone therapies. We can help you feel better during this stressful time, and beyond.
Stay well, stay connected, and whenever possible, please stay home,
Dr. Tammy Neuhaus and all of us at The Cusp
We can create a personalized care plan that will help you get through this stressful time, and beyond. Learn more.