The typical caregiver in the United States is a woman in her late 40s, and menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. Although menopause is a normal part of aging and not a disease, its “symptoms” often affect quality of life and increase stress. If you experience mood swings (anxiety, irritability, or even depression) or physical changes (sleep problems, weight gain, hot flashes, or urinary incontinence), here are seven tips for managing menopause symptoms and reduce their effects so you can take care of yourself and your loved one.
A proper diet gives you the nutrients—and energy—to get through your day, but it’s especially important for menopausal women to be vigilant about nutrition. Women at midlife often gain weight in the midsection, and abdominal weight gain is associated with increased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. Also, consider passing up alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine, which can all trigger hot flashes. If urinary incontinence is a problem, limit your intake of caffeine and acidic foods like tomatoes, and citrus fruits or juices. And drink plenty of water to offset possible dehydration caused by hot flashes or night sweats.
Hormonal fluctuations can affect the amount and quality of sleep, and the stress from caregiving can add to sleep deprivation. Boost your sleep quality by keeping your bedroom cool, wearing loose-fitting pajamas, maintaining a regular bedtime routine, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine (smoking may increase hot flashes). Limit your use of electronics in the evenings, too.
A great way to keep your bones and heart healthy, exercise also can help to relieve stress. If going to the gym isn’t your style (or in your schedule), take a 10-minute walk during your lunch break or put on your favorite music and dance as you clean up after dinner.
Learn deep breathing methods, take up meditation or practice mindfulness, enroll in a t’ai chi or yoga class, or invest in a DVD. These activities can address stress directly and help to lessen irritability and anxiety.
Find a support group (for caregivers, menopausal women, or both), see a counselor, or rely on a sympathetic friend.
Menopause complaints vary tremendously as hormone levels fluctuate. Your health care provider can point you toward a support group and help you evaluate medical options for sleep disorders, depression, or hormone replacement therapy. If you use any complementary or alternative remedies, be sure to let your doctor know.
No matter how busy you are, make time for treats or pleasurable experiences every day. A game of chess or checkers, a concert, a drive in the country, even looking at the stars when you take out the trash at night—anything with the sole purpose of making you feel good will help you decompress and recharge.