For many women, Menopause can be one of the most difficult phases of life. As hormone levels drop, a succession of physical and emotional changes follow, and finding a new normal usually requires major lifestyle shifts.Most women experience menopause between the ages of 40 and 58, with the average age at 51, according to the North American Menopause Society. The transition period beforehand, called perimenopause, usually lasts between 4 to 8 years.
This is a large chunk of life. However, there are many ways to help make the changes smoother and more comfortable.
Here, five women share the self-care strategies that help them cope, conquer symptoms, and find joy and strength in their lives post-menopause.
“My Spiritual Life Has Become the Center of My Existence”
Valorie Baker (pictured above), 49, Moreno Valley, California; chef and tech sergeant for the the United States Air Force
My first menopausal symptoms began around my 48th birthday. My joints ached, I soaked the bed from night sweats, I slept less and struggled with depression, and I experienced weight gain that I couldn’t lose. I felt betrayed by my body. I thought I was doing everything right—I ate fairly well and always exercised, and I have never drank alcohol or smoked.
However, when my symptoms started, I noticed that I lost my spiritual side. No matter what I ate or how much I worked out, my mental state wasn’t right. Finally, I realized that I should be taking care of my body and my mind. That’s when I began to dedicate mornings to myself, when everyone was still asleep.
Now, my spiritual life has become the center of my existence. I wake up and then meditate and stretch before I do anything else. This has helped eliminate depression for me. I do my best to get seven and a half hours of sleep by getting in bed at least by 8:30 p.m., whether I’m sleepy or not. Taking this time for myself has helped me feel amazing, balanced, free—I’ve fallen in love with myself again.
“Since Hormone Replacement Therapy, I Feel More Like Me”
Kelly O’Doherty, 49, Clayton, North Carolina; registered nurse, labor and delivery
At 37, I started to experience heart palpitations. The doctors said it was probably because of too much caffeine. I asked if it could be hormonal—my mom went through menopause in her early 40s—but I was told that I was “too young for menopause.”
Next came the night sweats. I would wake up soaking wet, and my body had this terrible odor. Even my husband commented on it, and I got really embarrassed.
In my late 30s, I asked my OB about perimenopause. Again, I heard that I was too young. It wasn’t until my mid-40s that I told my primary provider about my symptoms—lethargy, brain fog, difficulty sleeping, short temper. I had been on anti-anxiety medication for years, and he changed my prescription to one that often helped women during perimenopause. He also drew my labs to see if I was going through menopause. I’m so thankful he did.
It turned out I was actually post-menopausal, and my doctor recommended hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This could help address my brain fog and anxiety, he said, and protect against osteoporosis, which runs in my family. Taking the prescription, I became a different person. I have more mental focus, and I actually feel more like me.
This experience has taught me that it’s important to find a doctor who hears you and take your concerns seriously. It is one of the most important forms of self-care.
“I Found Supportive Women I Could Talk To”
Stephanie Glover, 57, Fayetteville, North Carolina; risk reduction coordinator for the U.S. Department of Defense
In my mid-to-late 40s, I began to get horrible night sweats and cramping with heavy menstrual cycles. Menopause wasn’t on my mind—I thought it happened to women who were 50-plus years old. It seemed frightening, and I didn’t feel ready.
I read the literature, and it didn’t take long to realize that I was perimenopausal. Still, I thought I could manage my symptoms alone. I was wrong. I needed help from others who were on this journey.
I started walking with a group of women, and the exercise really helped to ease my physical symptoms. Each day we walked six miles, and each mile was filled with authentic conversations.
Menopause was a regular topic, and talking about it made me realize I wasn’t alone. Some women shared the symptoms I had, while others named additional ones. This encouraged me to keep asking questions and learn more. Most of all, it was so comforting to have support.
“Lifting Weights and Doing Yoga Helped Reduce My Symptoms”
Linda Terjesen, 52, Dana Point, California; online health & fitness coach
In 2017, I started getting hot flashes and night sweats, and I had trouble sleeping. I would wake up so tired, I’d have to skip my workout and take a nap.
I had always exercised consistently, but I had no strategy, and just did things on the fly. I would work out two to two-and-a-half hours daily, and mostly do cardio. I realized that I needed to change my approach. Exercising at such an intense level catches up with us, and can affect our hormones, sleep, and stress levels.
Now, I’ve cut back to one-hour workouts, and I focus on weights. I strength train five days a week, using a combination of dumbbells, barbell and kettlebells. I firmly believe that exercising less—but more effectively—has helped me build muscle and reduce menopausal weight gain.
Practicing yoga a few times a week has also helped. I’ve learned to focus on breathing to calm down and reduce stress, and I’ve become stronger. I can do handstands, headstands, and forearm balances, which is fun and has made me feel more confident.
“My Entire Approach to Self-Care Started With Food”
Rachel Hughes, 50, Stamford, Connecticut; certified nutritional consultant and blogger
I was 43 when I had my first hot flash, then I experienced night sweats for years. I gained abdominal weight, would get migraines that lasted for days, had a sudden onset of acne, and I felt so fatigued, I got tested for Lyme disease. (Turns out, it was just hormones.) I also experienced brain fog, and I was impatient, intensely weepy, and blue. It felt like PMS on steroids, and you’re not sure when it will conclude.
To combat all of this, my entire approach to self-care started with food. I cut out gluten, refined sugars, and alcohol, and upped my healthy fats. I started journaling my meals, which helped me identify the emotional eating I was doing. (And it was a lot.) I started to take supplements too; an amino acid called 5-HTP for stress, and magnesium glycinate, which works to clear my brain fog. I’ve noticed both supplements help my sleep (no more night sweats) and improve my mood.
Beyond diet, I’m more vocal about how I’m doing. I was a “stuffer” of my emotions my whole life, and now I give myself room to share—with my girlfriends, my mother (menopausal symptoms often mimic your mother’s, and you can gain knowledge from her experience), and my partner. Having a community to share in your struggles, and to offer support, suggestions, and laughs, is so critical.