Ask your mother about her menopause and she’ll probably shrug and say it just happened, so why is it our generation finds it so hard?
From the fizzing anxiety, mood swings and foggy head that appear in your 40s right through to the crashing sweats, sleeplessness and diet-defying weight gain that follow in your 50s — it’s rare to escape this mid-life phase unscathed.
The answer, I am convinced, is the rise of Rushing Woman’s Syndrome. These days, women struggle to juggle families, career and the chaos of life, operating in a permanent state of stress that leaves our hormones in turmoil.
According to nutritional biochemist Dr Libby Weaver, Rushing Woman's Syndrome is the modern malaise of always being 'busy, busy, busy' - and it even makes symptoms of the menopause worse
Now, with mobile phones ringing, pinging and vibrating 24/7, there’s no true ‘down time’. Weekends are no longer ring-fenced for recreation, connection, gardening, or reflection, because work emails and social media continually interject. This relentless barrage instills a state of mild panic that our nervous systems aren’t designed to handle.
As a nutritional biochemist, I have witnessed the impact that a constant state of rushing has on women’s health and analysed the biochemical effects of always being in a hurry.
I have discovered that its impact is significant and that Rushing Women will all too often be setting themselves up for a very bumpy ride in menopause and beyond. But there are things you can do — read on to find out how you can stop the syndrome in its tracks.
ARE YOU A RUSHING WOMAN?
You know you’ve got RWS if your instinctive answer to ‘how are you?’ is ‘busy’ or ‘stressed’; if you rarely get enough sleep, make poor food choices, rely on coffee to rev you up in the morning and wine to calm you down at night.
You drive too fast and, afraid to let anyone down, will do everything possible to avoid saying ‘no’, squeezing every last drop out of your day, even if it means answering emails in the early hours of the morning.
For so many women today, rushing is the new normal. You might not think you’re particularly harried, but your liver, gall bladder, kidneys, adrenal glands, thyroid, ovaries, uterus, brain and digestive system certainly do.
And it can all make for an appallingly difficult menopause.
Women’s bodies are built to adapt to the natural drop in the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone that occurs in mid-life.
Our fat cells take over the production of oestrogen (in small amounts) and the adrenal glands should send out a constant trickle of progesterone.
It’s less than we might have been used to, but it’s something.
However, if you’ve spent the years leading up to this point on full alert, your adrenal glands, also charged with the task of producing stress hormones, can become overwhelmed and exhausted and give up on progesterone production.
If your adrenals have not been making decent amounts of progesterone for decades, there’s no reason they will do so during the menopause when you need it.
WHY YOU NEED TO BE MORE FEMININE
Rushing women put a huge strain on their adrenal glands to keep pumping out the stress hormones they need to keep going, but you can offset the masculine influence of your body’s chemicals by making a conscious effort to bring more feminine rituals into your life.
If your work requires you to be ‘masculine’, do it, but try bringing compassion into your heart and soften your gaze. Think of ‘creating’ instead of ‘producing’. Just that shift in language is more feminine and could be helpful.
When you get home, make the effort to shift out of work mode and into home mode. Change your clothes. Light a candle and notice the scent. Dance around your house to music that lights you up.
Later in the evening, have a bath with aromatic oils. Make a pot of herbal tea in your favourite teapot and think of this as a ‘special occasion’.
Notice the design of the pot and cup, the tea’s fragrance, and how you feel taking care of yourself.
In the correct balance, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone are wonderful substances that give you energy and vitality. But if they are out of balance, they can wreak havoc.
Few substances can impact on our body the way sex hormones do, especially when it comes to maintaining a sense of calm, mental clarity and the ability to be patient and maintain perspective.
They also have an effect on our weight. A good supply of progesterone is essential if you are to access fat reserves to burn for energy.
With insufficient progesterone, your body will prefer to burn glucose as a fuel, not fat, no matter how hard you diet and exercise.
If you’re rushing around, oestrogen and the stress hormone cortisol are telling your body to store fat, but you will have lost the counterbalancing hormone (progesterone).
Given that progesterone is an anti-anxiety agent, an anti-depressant and a diuretic (it allows us to get rid of excess fluid), its levels are vital to how we feel and function each day. It’s bad enough trying to cope with exacerbated hormonal fluctuations that RWS can trigger during your perimenopausal 40s, but stress can make things so much worse when menopause does finally arrive — and you are very likely to feel that loss of progesterone even more sorely.
Rushing women often experience a debilitating menopause because they go from a healthy supply of sex hormones to a crashing dearth seemingly overnight.
It is crucial to sort things out in good time. Your mid-life antidote comprises small steps to change the way you eat, exercise, live, think and behave.
FROM RUSH TO CALM: HAPPY STRESS FIX
Whatever your age or stage of life, there is so much you can do to reverse the Rushing Woman chemical cascade to ease your path through the menopause naturally. Your main aim should be to reduce your output of stress hormones so that your body can return to its own, natural hormonal balance.
Women can gain anything from 5lb to two stone in extra weight during the menopause, and it is completely understandable to want to try to run harder and faster in a bid to burn calories and lose weight.
But vigorous exercise which pushes your body to its limit is not the best option for you.
It will only further increase your physiological stress load and make you more likely to gain weight than lose it. When your body is constantly receiving the message that your life is in danger and that you must be prepared to run or fight at any moment, it won’t want to use fat as fuel.
If running or high-intensity exercise (combined with nutritious eating) hasn’t shifted your weight by now, it is not suddenly going to start doing so.
CALMING DOWN IS THE FIRST STEP
So switch to gentle forms of exercise, preferably one done slowly with a focus on breathing. Only when you have calmed your stress response can your body switch to burning fat for fuel.
Yoga, for instance, has been shown to take the nervous system out of the flight-or-fight response, giving a relaxing and calming effect. It is great for when you feel weak, fatigued, or stressed, and it’s the best way to help rebalance hormones.
The crucial criteria is that your exercise should make you feel good and allow your body to remain highly functional through the ageing process — if it tones your muscles and chisels your waist, too, consider it a bonus.
TAKE A WINE BREAK
If you suffer from PMS or menopausal problems, I recommend taking a four-week break from alcohol, or, at the very least, cutting back to drinking only two nights a week.
It’s not just the sugar and calories that can exacerbate symptoms, but regular drinking, even in moderation, puts a stress on your liver as it works tirelessly to metabolise the alcohol.
As you near the start of the menopause, your liver has to fulfil a highly important function of clearing out old and excess hormones, which makes it an important organ for keeping the levels of sex hormones as balanced as possible.
TRY SPINAL TOUCH
Book a session with a chiropractor. Many can perform a practice called Network Spinal Analysis (NSA), involving gentle, precise touch to the spine which cues the brain to create ‘wellness promoting strategies’. Just one session can be enough to trigger a spontaneous release of tension, helping to realign the spine and enhance wellbeing.
ADD ‘REAL FOOD’
Even if you survive on fast food and ready meals, aim to eat one more ‘real food’ meal, drink or snack a week.
If you eat 35 times a week (that’s three main meals and two snacks every day) and you are currently aiming to eat healthily at least once a day, that’s seven out of the 35.
But if you commit to adding just one more healthy ‘real food’ meal, drink or snack into the mix every week, you’ll be at 14 or 15 out of 35 within a couple of months and you will have doubled the amount of nutrients that you are eating.
Consider taking a vitamin supplement containing vitamins B and C for adrenal support, plus certain herbs are thought to help support adrenal function.
The following adrenal herbs are particularly good at helping the body adapt to stress by fine-tuning the stress response.
If you’re a worrier, try Withania. If you know you can be a bit of a drama queen, add a Rhodiola supplement to your routine.
For fluid retention try extract of dandelion, and if you’re simply exhausted then give Siberian Ginseng a go.
(A.Vogel products are closely regulated and made from fresh herbs and you can get personalised support from a health adviser at avogel.co.uk).
START A JOURNAL
Buy a beautiful notebook and divide each page into three columns, headed ‘STOP’, ‘KEEP’ and ‘START’ and jot one thing in each every day. Ask yourself:
l What am I going to stop doing (getting caught up in gossip; ordering a muffin with my morning coffee)?
l What am I going to keep doing (eating a nourishing breakfast every day; sticking with the yoga classes)?
l What will I start doing (standing up to take every phone call; saying “No” more often)?
Spend a little time alone each day, with your journal by your side, and take 20 long, slow, deep breaths. It has never been more important to try to create ‘islands of calm’ — time when you can release tension and simply ‘be’
Your psyche cannot push on for too long without some quality downtime. A little bit of alone time has been shown to decrease stress hormones, improve memory, mood and empathy, and it allows your body to recharge.
Adapted by LOUISE ATKINSON from Rushing Woman’s Syndrome, by Dr Libby Weaver (£12.99, Hay House). © Libby Weaver 2017