How to Survive the Holidays with Menopause Symptoms
Between decorating your house, attending celebrations, cooking festive meals, figuring out gifts, and visiting loved ones, the holiday season can get pretty stressful. And all those stresses compound when you add in menopause symptoms like mood swings, hot flashes, and sleepless nights, which can leave you out of balance and diminish the joy you usually find this time of year. But even though menopause symptoms can be unpleasant, they don’t have to ruin your holiday experience.
Symptoms: Anxiety & Stress
Solution: Socialize & Delegate
During the holidays, many of us want everything to be perfect — the décor, the gifts, the food, and the memories. However, striving for perfection can put undue stress on your nervous system and amplify feelings of anxiety already manifesting due to hormonal changes in menopause.
So if you feel your anxiety flaring up, try to focus instead on the people — your connections with others will produce more important and lasting holiday memories than getting the perfect wreath or family photo. This ties into practices taught in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Taking the initiative to reflect and reframe your mindset can actively help you steer away from distressing thoughts about perfection, and instead enjoy your holiday gatherings as they are.
The holidays are made for bonding with your friends and family. And perhaps unsurprisingly, spending time with your loved ones has a plethora of health benefits:
- Decreases feelings of loneliness and depression
- Reduces anxiety and inflammation
- Lowers stress hormones
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Promotes better sleep, which is important for mental health
Of course, it’s possible that sometimes you don’t feel up for socializing when symptoms are overwhelming. Be sure to communicate with your loved ones about your menopause experience so they know to give you space or offer a helping hand when needed. There is no need to do everything yourself. But, inversely, giving up control can be just as stressful for some women as having to do it all. Making a plan with your family to delegate some of the holiday responsibilities can help free up some of your time for self-care while still feeling like you’re on top of things. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated or exclude you from activities you would miss doing—take into consideration the benefits we have at this stage of our lives. For a lot of us, our kids are old enough to take charge of buying their gifts for loved ones. Set them up with a budget and an afternoon when you can drop them off at the mall and spend the day caring for you. It can be your time to exercise, take a yoga class, sit in a coffee shop and journal—it’s about giving you the space and time to support your best self during this hectic season.
Symptoms: Hot Flashes & Night Sweats
Solution: Avoid Food & Drink Triggers
It’s the coldest and darkest time of year...so why on earth are you feeling so hot? Holiday festivities and the food and drinks that come with them can easily trigger surges in body temperature that can leave you sweating, even when it’s below freezing outside.
Diet has a direct impact on hot flashes and night sweats as blood sugar drops and spikes of adrenaline caused by what you do or do not eat interfere with your body’s ability to regulate its temperature. Make sure you’re eating regularly and avoid foods that can cause hot flashes including processed sugary snacks, caffeine, and spicy foods.
One study published by the North American Menopause Society found a plant-based diet rich in soy reduces moderate-to-severe hot flashes by 84%. But while a plant-forward diet is optimal, you don’t have to completely cut out meat. Good news for those of us who enjoy the Feast of Seven Fishes: the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and shellfish have also shown promise in reducing hot flashes and other menopause symptoms.
Finally, while a glass of wine or champagne at a dinner table likely won’t hurt, limit the amount you drink to a maximum of two glasses a day. Alcohol can disrupt the body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature, especially when combined with caffeine or spicy foods. If you experience hot flashes even when limiting the amount you drink, consider cutting out alcohol altogether.
Symptoms: Fatigue & Sleeplessness
Solution: Exercise & Sunlight
You don’t need us to tell you that a bad night’s sleep can ruin the next day, and once you get into a pattern of fatigue and sleeplessness, it can be difficult to break out of it. This can be especially pronounced during perimenopause and menopause, when sleep disorders affect 39% to 47% of perimenopausal women and 35% to 60% of postmenopausal women.
One of the best ways to ensure that your energy levels stay up during the day and wind down at night is through exercise. Burning energy in order to keep levels up may sound counterintuitive, but regular moderate exercise boosts mitochondria production levels and oxygen circulation for a healthy and sustainable energy boost throughout the day. Furthermore, exercise helps to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm so your body is better able to wind down at night for restful sleep that leads to a refreshed morning.
And while the holidays may be filled with glittering lights, the reduced sunlight of the cold days of winter can deplete vitamin D levels, leading to fatigue and sleep disruption. Studies show that just 30 minutes of sun exposure daily can improve circadian rhythms, partially due to the vitamin D boost you get from the sunlight. And while sunlamps and supplements are available for those who need them, there’s nothing quite like the real thing, so budget time in your busy schedule to go outside and catch whatever rays you can this holiday season.
The challenges of menopause don’t need to ruin this special time of year. While some symptoms are unavoidable, being proactive in prevention and leaning on your support system when needed will help you get through the hectic days and long nights. Whether you’re plagued by stress, battling surges in body temperature, or facing fatigue, there are options for preventing and alleviating your worse symptoms.