Journalist Julia Sidwell talks to mental wellbeing expert and founder of The Mind Tribe Anji McGrandles on how best to not just survive the festive season with the menopause, but embrace it…
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… so they say. But Christmas can also be a great stress for many, particularly those who have to do all the extra work required to make the big day actually happen.
Your festive to-do list is most likely a long one – family arrangements, gift buying and wrapping, food shopping, cooking, decorations and generally trying to make sure everyone is having a merry time. But amongst the weeks of endless tasks to complete, it’s easy to forget about yourself. Add menopause to the fold and you may be left feeling more than a little frazzled.
Wellbeing expert Anji McGrandles regularly speaks to women living through perimenopause and menopause and knows all too well how busy periods like Christmas can heighten the effects, creating feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm.
She says: “There are many physical symptoms to deal with such as hot flushes, difficulty sleeping, brain fog, low libido, vaginal dryness and joint aches. Menopause also affects wellbeing – you may also be struggling to adapt to change and experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, irritability, episodes of rage and loss of identity.
“These physical signs and feelings combined with the angst of Christmas prep certainly add to the pressure. With more socialising than usual, parties to attend and family to host, it’s no surprise if you’re drowning in anxiety.”
Keep your cool
Naturally, the festive season is different for everyone, but recent research by YouGov found that women are bearing most of the work at Christmas time – much more than men.
Anji says: “When Christmas rolls around, those extra tasks like shopping for a thoughtful present for your child’s teacher, or writing out the Christmas cards, are often undertaken by women. If you are doing this on top of your job, parenting or running the household, it can really add to existing pressures.
“Unfortunately, stress and hot flushes go hand in hand – the more tense you feel, the more likely you will experience them. So, if you’re dashing around the shops grabbing last minute gifts or in the kitchen preparing food for everyone on Christmas Day, you might find these extra tasks contribute to more flushes than usual.”
Anji recommends wearing layers that can easily be discarded and wearing natural fabrics like cotton and bamboo. She also suggests limiting alcohol intake.
“While it’s the season to clink a glass or two, you’ll find alcohol triggers hot flushes, affects sleep and makes night sweat worse. There are so many great alcohol-free alternatives on the market, or why not task a family member to make an alcohol-free mocktail. Other useful tips include popping a face mist in your bag to help you cool down quickly, and to swap your coffee for a herbal tea. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and increases your heart rate, which will contribute towards any anxiety you might already be feeling.”
Take it easy
If excited children are wearing you down, someone else grabbed the last Christmas pudding, or you forgot to book a slot for your food shop delivery, you may find yourself boiling over. It’s no surprise – falling levels of oestrogen and testosterone in the brain can increase anxiety. This can make any planning or socialising harder, which can impact confidence levels.
Anji says: “It’s important to set realistic goals and to make things easier for yourself where possible. Take some of the stress out of Christmas shopping and do it online. Delegate jobs to family members so you don’t feel like the onus is all on you. Build time into your daily routine to do some exercise. And if possible, schedule in some time for a break – this could be an hour on the sofa with a hot chocolate to watch a film, or a long walk with a friend.”
While Christmas is a lovely time for family to get together, it can also put a lot of stress on relationships. People often have different expectations, which can leave you managing difficult demands and compromises that suit everyone.
“Have conversations with your family and friends about everyone’s expectations of Christmas well in advance,” recommends Anji. “Speak to your family and partner about what you are experiencing and feeling so they understand and can support you.
“It’s a good time of year to be honest. Just explaining your symptoms and how this can impact your mood and mental health will help ease the load.”
Anji also says men should be more understanding of the women in their lives: “Educate yourself so you have a better understanding of the women you love and how they might be feeling. A good book is ‘Men, Let’s Talk Menopause’ by Ruth Devlin. Be sure to share the load – make a list of jobs together then tick off the things you can take off their shoulders. Finally, encourage your partner to relax and take time out. Perhaps most of all, be patient.”
Above everything, Anji advises adjusting the image of how Christmas should look and accepting that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Here are her quick tips to help embrace Christmas:
- Prioritise sleep: Getting 7-9 hours sleep at night boosts brain power, immunity, heart health and curbs hunger hormones.
- Lower expectations: Assure yourself it doesn’t matter if the napkins don’t match or that you didn’t find that perfect gift.
- Gather self-esteem: Your value is not determined by what you’ve achieved, your performance or what others think.
- Be accepting: It’s okay to have days when you aren’t feeling your best. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
- Calibrate your feelings: Remind yourself what Christmas is about – spending time with loved ones.
Anji adds: “If you’re not feeling your best self, don’t try to do too much and don’t be hard on yourself. Releasing some pressure on yourself might just help you to relax.
“Slow down, recognise how you’re feeling and make tasks as easy as possible for yourself. Try to stop worrying about what you need to do, or if things don’t go as planned, and focus on being in the moment this Christmas. You never know, you might just enjoy it. And if all else fails, treat yourself to that gift you’ve been lusting over because heaven knows, you deserve it.”
If in need of further advice, visit: https://www.themindtribe.co.uk
For more information on sobriety in menopause, have a read of Janey-Lee Grace’s story from October last year.
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