How to cope with Christmas and the menopause
Relationship tips and avoiding hot flush triggers: Dr Rebecca Lewis shares her advice for the festive season
With all the organisation that goes into the ‘perfect’ Christmas day, relationship challenges and the financial burden of paying for all the festivities, it’s unsurprising that December can be a stressful time of year.
And as if that doesn’t sound tricky enough, add in the hormone changes and symptoms like low mood, anxiety, fatigue and hot flushes that can occur during the perimenopause and menopause, and things can soon feel overwhelming.
So, how can you protect your wellbeing this Christmas?
Here, we offer some tips on thriving during the festive season.
While Christmas is a time for family to gather, it can also put a lot of stress on relationships.
Counselling charity Relate says that 70% of UK adults surveyed last year said that they expected Christmas to put pressure on their relationships .
Your perimenopause and menopause may also bring additional stressors to your relationship. A survey by the Family Law Menopause Project and Newson Health Research and Education found menopause has a clear and negative impact on divorce, separation and relationships, with more than seven in 10 women (73%) who responded blaming the menopause for the breakdown of their marriage.
Relate advises that you make sure that you have conversations with your family and friends about everyone’s expectations of Christmas well in advance. That way you can deal with any difficult demands and make compromises that suit everyone.
How to diffuse or avoid family arguments
If you have a house full of guests and tempers are starting to fray, suggest leaving the house for a walk to break things up a little. This gives everyone the chance to chat to someone different, or even to stay at home if tension is building.
Rebecca Lewis, GP and menopause specialist at Newson Health, says talking about your menopause with your loved ones can help.
‘During the perimenopause, you may feel detached and isolated even among your friends and family,’ says Dr Lewis.
‘Talk to them about what you are experiencing, and that it is caused by your hormones changing. This can really help people to understand and respond with empathy.’
Take the pressure off
The notion that Christmas has to be ‘perfect’ means you can heap extra pressure upon yourself.
‘We can often feel overloaded by this pursuit of Christmas having to be incredible,’ adds Dr Lewis.
‘But if your brain is feeling a bit foggy due to the perimenopause, and you’re also working, and thinking about all the presents that you need to get, and stocking up on all the food needed, and ensuring the house is ready for guests, you may not be feeling very joyful. It is no wonder we can feel overloaded, it is such a barrage.’
Simple steps can help make your Christmas overload and menopausal symptoms more manageable.
Set realistic goals, try and get some exercise outdoors every day, delegate jobs to others and do one thing at a time, Dr Lewis says. Take time to do the things that help you. That might be some yoga, practicing mindfulness, a few minutes to meditate or go for a dog walk.’
Also suggest to friends and relatives this Christmas could take a simpler approach.
‘After all, it is your Christmas as well and you should be able to enjoy it,’ says Dr Lewis.
Alcohol and hot flushes
It may be the season to eat, drink and be merry, but Dr Lewis advises being sensible when it comes to alcohol.
‘While reaching for a drink feels the right thing when stressed, it often increases tiredness by disrupting sleep, can make hot flushes worse, increase our anxiety and lower mood,’ Dr Lewis says.
About 80% of women will experience hot flushes. The exact cause of hot flushes isn’t known, but it is thought to be related to changing estrogen levels impacting on the areas of the brain involved in maintaining temperature .
In addition to alcohol, there is some evidence that spicy foods and caffeine can also exacerbate hot flushes, worth bearing in mind during the festive period.
Falling levels of estrogen and testosterone in your brain can increase your anxiety. This can make socialising and planning Christmas events harder, especially as your confidence may have dipped, says Dr Lewis.
‘The perimenopause and menopause can really affect your self-esteem and confidence, and bring feelings of paranoia,’ she adds.
‘Some women find this really hard. Involving others can really help, so be open if you are struggling.’
Being aware of the issue and being open with your friends and family can help.
If you are unsure if you are in perimenopause or menopause, use the symptom tracker on the balance app to record how you are feeling, and take this information with you to a healthcare appointment.
‘If you are finding this Christmas really hard, then pause to think about whether it could be perimenopause,’ Dr Lewis says.
‘Often women don’t think about their symptoms could be menopause, and then miss the opportunity to get help.’
Worried about money?
Money worries can have a huge impact on your mental wellbeing, particularly with the rising cost of living this year.
Charity Citizen’s Advice suggests that you be realistic about what you can afford, and budget accordingly.
Work out how much are you going to spend on each person and stick it to avoid a January debt hangover.
Remember that all your usual bills of mortgage, utilities and council tax will still need to be met.
‘Christmas is a time of giving, but you don’t want to give yourself a headache in the New Year with bills and debts you can’t afford,’ Citizens Advice says. ‘It’s all too easy to overspend – there are tempting offers and pressures to buy, but you must decide how much you can afford before you start spending,’
The Money Saving Expert website has lots of great advice on saving money, including a list of £5 present ideas.
Prioritise your sleep
Feeling exhausted is only going to make the busy Christmas period feel harder. Sleep boosts brain power, immunity, heart health and curbs hunger hormones.
But during the perimenopause and menopause, declining levels of hormone can have a significant impact on sleep. Some women find it difficult to fall asleep when they go to bed, others struggle to stay asleep for long periods and wake frequently during the night, never feeling they have gone into a deep sleep, and some women find they wake up way too early every morning and can’t drift back off.
Having a regular evening routine, even during Christmas, going to bed at the same time and keeping the room cool can all help.
HRT will improve perimenopause and menopause symptoms such as night sweats and urinary symptoms like frequent urination, which can in turn improve your sleep.
1.Deecher, D.C., Dorries, K. (2007), ‘Understanding the pathophysiology of vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats) that occur in perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause life stages’, Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 10 (6) pp.247–57. doi.org/10.1007/s00737-007-0209-5