Medically reviewed by Dr. Brad Jacobs MD
As women who grew up in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, a lot of us were raised to put just about everyone else's needs before our own. That was probably extra apparent during the last few weeks. Partners, kids, aging parents, in-laws, bosses, friends, kids’ friends, friends’ kids, kids’ teachers, partners’ bosses, partners’ aging parents. Aaaaaaaaagh!
If it all felt more manageable a decade or so ago, that’s probably because our bodies still had a full—or nearly full—quiver of hormones at their disposal. Estrogen, a.k.a., God’s Gift To Women, was coursing through our systems, regulating our sleep cycles, metabolism, and mood; keeping our brains sharp and our hearts and bones strong. Now that our secret weapon is on the wane, we need to dedicate more time and attention to caring for ourselves.
If we don’t, the stress can only compound our peri/menopause symptoms. It can go something like this:
Added stress interferes with our sleep patterns, which are already spotty, thanks to night sweats and midnight bathroom runs.
Added sleep loss, in turn, increases our cravings for the quick energy that carbohydrates provide, and keeps us from getting the exercise we need. So we gain more weight in addition to the menopause pounds.
Increased weight gain and sleep loss combine to impact our already dicey moods, straining our relationships and adding to our stress level.
While self-care is important for everyone, the stakes are higher for women in the menopause transition. For the sake of our bodies, our minds, and all that we hold dear, we simply have to move ourselves up to the top of our priority list. So as we embark on a new year, let’s all make a point to schedule some much-needed time to tend to our own needs.
We rounded up our doctors, advisors, and friends who are also navigating peri/menopause while juggling a gajillion other things, and asked them the question you’re probably asking yourself: How does a woman with a To-Do list a mile long (on a good day) make time to care for herself?
They came back to us with good news: it doesn’t require a lot of time. It’s the quality of your self-care that matters, not the quantity. And with so many different ways to tend to yourself, there are bound to be techniques that work for you and your schedule. Here are two golden rules to consider as you make your self-care plan:
Block off 5-15 minutes on your calendar every day for self-care—that’s all you need to dial up your quality of life. It’s easy to do on your phone or computer by setting the event to repeat every day. Remember to switch alert to “on” so you get the reminder—you’ll need it for the first couple of weeks or months. Ideally, once you get in the self-care groove it’ll become a habit that comes as naturally as brushing your teeth.
Aim for first thing in the morning or last thing before bed. Once your day gets going it’s hard to stop a moving train.
With those tips in mind, here are some quick ways to give yourself the love and care you need, even on your busiest days. We’ve categorized them by a few of the most common menopause symptoms they may directly address, but go ahead and use whichever techniques speak to you.
Moment of gratitude: Take 60 seconds for some gratitude practice. You can do this while you’re still lying in bed in the morning, sitting at the breakfast table before anyone else is up, or right after you crawl under the covers at night. Keep a journal within reach and jot down 2-3 things that you’re grateful for.
Just breathe: Take two minutes to pay attention to nothing but your breath. Notice the feeling as it enters and exits your body. Once you’ve breathed in the peace and breathed out the bullshit, do a quick check-in on your feelings to set your compass for the day (or for tomorrow, if you do this at bedtime). This will help you plan how to interact in the world. For example, if you’re feeling a bit short-tempered, you can plan to avoid conversations with people who might set you off.
Ask for help: Okay this is a hard one. But really, when it all gets to be too much, call in the reinforcements. Your friends, partner, kids, family, and coworkers can all help share some of your load. You’d do the same for them, yes? And don’t forget, your care team here at The Cusp is standing by if you’re feeling new or intensified menopause symptoms that are adding to your stress.
15 minutes of movement: Let go of the mindset that if you don't exercise for 60 minutes it's not worth it. Even just 15 minutes of exercise has been shown to provide 2/3 of the cardiovascular benefit that 45-60 minutes would give you. And you still get the same mood boost. Best to do this in the morning, as physical exertion close to bedtime may rev you up when you need to be settling down.
Mindful eating: Take time to appreciate the tastes and textures of your meals. Think of eating less as refueling and more as a sensory experience to be savored. Some of the most amazing self-care foods include fatty fish, blueberries, nuts, green leafy veggies, and broccoli. Finally, cook two big batches of dinner on the weekend and enjoy them throughout the week. Leftovers are gifts we give ourselves.
Put down the phone, pick up a book: This self-care trick takes no additional time, since you’re just trading one indulgence for another. If you’re going to take the time to read something, may we suggest a book? Reading a book before bed call lull you to sleep. But screen time before bed can make sleep more elusive because the light from the screen suppresses melatonin, the hormone responsible for your sleep-wake cycle. It also delays REM sleep.
Say “no” more often: Another hard one, but so worth it. And it actually gives you back time. You don’t have to accept every invite, join every club, or take on every extra assignment. It’s totally okay to turn down requests. At this point in your life, you’ve more than earned that right. If it’s not a resounding “YES!” then just say, “No.”
Finding time to care for yourself shouldn’t add more stress to your life. Sure, going on a yoga retreat or romantic vacation or hike in the wilderness make for great self-care, too. And we highly recommend those things when your bandwidth/finances allow. But until then, taking little moments every day to step away from the cray-cray and tend to yourself may actually be your best bet at keeping all your plates spinning.