Jo Fuller on changing our mindsets in midlife

Menopause is a natural hormonal transition that everyone who menstruates will experience, which equates to roughly 51 per cent of the world’s population.

It’s important to know that we are designed to experience menopause and that we have lived into our 80s and 90s for generations. Menopause is nothing new to the human experience. Biologically, the change in our ovarian function – which is responsible for the hormonal change we call menopause – won’t change, but what has and will continue to change is the way we live our lives and the impact that has on how our bodies cope and adapt to hormonal changes.

The mainstream narrative around menopause pertains to it being an ‘illness’, that there is something wrong with us that needs to be put right. Menopause is NOT an illness, and it cannot be cured, it is the destination in a long journey that began in puberty when we started our periods.

Menopause is a change of life and we deserve it to be life-changing, and one way we can honour this transition and improve and manage our experience is to change the way we think, speak and talk about menopause, and for this we can use the fundamentals of positive psychology.

When we focus on our strengths and what is already good, rather than focusing on the negatives and any perceived deficiencies, we create a more positive reality and a brighter future that keeps us moving forward.

I am now two years without a period and well and truly into life post-menopause, but during my bumpy perimenopause years, I found the tools of positive psychology to be incredibly beneficial.

Shifting your mindset

When I started to experience symptoms of perimenopause – anxiety, brain fog and a big drop in my mood – I felt like I had lost touch with my body and my emotions. I regularly used two simple and effective positive psychology and coaching techniques, gratitude and mindfulness, to reframe my experience, and they have now become part of my daily mental fitness routine.

I choose to focus on the positive aspects of my life, no matter how small they are. I start and finish my day by expressing gratitude for three things that I am lucky to have in my life. At the end of each day I get out my journal and write down three things that I am grateful for that happened that day. We usually don’t start to appreciate something until it’s gone, so each day during perimenopause I was thankful for the hormones that my body continued to produce, albeit it an erratic process, I was still thankful. This practice helps me connect to my body and accept and work with the ongoing changes.

Daily rituals

When I feel my mind wandering into a negative spiral, I use a simple mindfulness technique of rubbing my fingertips together to bring me back to the present moment and concentrate on my breath. This helps me to ground myself in the present moment where I am able, with practice, to turn my thoughts from negative and debilitating to positive and empowering.

I re-framed my menopause, as I knew that some of the symptoms I experienced were a wake up call to make adjustments and improvements to my short and long term health. How did I want to feel post-menopause? If I wanted to be healthy, and happy both mentally and physically as I aged, I had to listen to my body and make better lifestyle choices so I could support it through this change and out the other side.

The techniques of positive psychology allowed me to take control of my menopause and focus on the external factors that I could change, but I also used another powerful tool to help manage my Menopause, my menstrual cycle.

Hormonal changes

Our menopause starts way before our periods stop. For many of us, the symptoms of perimenopause start in our late 30s to early 40s.

Our hormones play a crucial role in our everyday wellbeing, they regulate and impact our bodily functions including our mood, our sleep and our energy levels. When we start our periods we start to experience monthly hormonal highs and lows, and when our hormones start to re-calibrate in midlife we start to experience the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.

We have roughly 400 periods during our fertile years, and they are an amazing resource that contain personal and valuable information on who we are and how we function. They are not a handicap that makes us emotionally unstable or inconsistent in our behaviour, that’s the way we have been conditioned to think that our periods are a problem. Our cycle is our very own management tool for our energy, mood and productivity, and our cycle is also considered the fifth vital sign for managing our health and wellbeing.

Tracking your cycle

Stress and exhaustion can have a huge impact on how we experience menopause symptoms and the severity to which these symptoms are felt – and taking steps to address these as early as possible can bring a radical change to how we feel before, during and after our menopause. By tracking the highs and lows of our cycle we are able to predict our moods and behaviours and understand why we may be feeling sad and tired, happy and energised, and well also learn when to rest, which is essential for managing stress.

Understanding and working with, not against, our cycle puts us in control of our health and wellbeing. When the symptoms of perimenopause begin we are better prepared and are already familiar with how our mind and body respond to our hormonal fluctuations.

Change for many of us isn’t easy, yet we can’t avoid menopause and the changes it will bring. But, we can control how we choose to experience and live through the hormonal re-calibration of midlife. When we work with and not against our menopause, the results can be life-changing. If we can change our mindset and see the symptoms as a catalyst for positive change, it is possible to have a merry, not miserable menopause, and that is what I wish for you.

Jo Fuller is the founder of The Merry Menopause and an ACTP-accredited coach.

For more stories, advice and interviews, head to the Menopause Your Way Stories hub. To browse and shop a curated edit of menopause products, visit the Menopause Your Way page on QVC.

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We understand there’s a lot of information out there on the menopause. You can read through the NICE guidance on menopause management, as well as the NHS overview on the menopause.