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Resilience in perimenopause.
“It’s coming home” are the words on many English tongues right now, with the national football team reaching the European Cup Final, their first major final in 55 years. When their (bloody awesome) manager Gareth Southgate was interviewed after they had won the semi final match, I noticed him using the word ‘resilience’ a lot. It got me thinking about the word, as it’s used a lot in the mental health arena too, and in the workplace, in fact it has become a bit of a buzz word these past few years. Whilst we were all excited about England’s win, I was also wondering about applying the term ‘resilience’ to those challenging times when our hormones are all over the place and we feel like we’re on the losing team against them. Honestly, I can relate most things to menopause given half a chance!
First of all, however, I need to get it out there that I don’t actually like the term resilience!! I never have. Why is this? Well, the definition is one of ‘elasticity’ and returning to the original state. It is the speed of which something or someone can recover back to the state of how they were. That does not sit well with me. In terms of mental and physical health, adversity, challenges etc, I don’t believe we should be encouraged to return to our original state. For one, it’s impossible, we are forever changed by every moment of every day and especially by any challenges, and why would we not want to be?
The potential for change and growth through the shit times of life is massive. There’s a fancy term for this called ‘post traumatic growth’ but basically, research has shown that things can be even better for us if we have the courage and support to go through our challenges with awareness rather than becoming numb to them, trying to pretend they’re not happening, pushing it all away. It can be extremely hard and we often need extra support but the potential is there.
So, back to the word resilience. I don’t actually think Gareth means the true definition of resilience when he uses the word, so I’m letting go of my pedantic nature (for now!) and going with what I think he means behind word. I think he meant that the team is able to cope with whatever is thrown at them and still continue to move forwards and towards their vision and their goal.
The main characteristic that I see in the England team that is their foundation to their ‘resilience’ is their ability (individually and collectively) to remain emotionally and physiologically regulated. Everything flows from there. I know there is so much more to it all including the belief they have in themselves, their vision, their personal and collective values that guide them and their courage, all of which are also important for us as we transition through peri/menopause but none of that is possible if they/we aren’t able to remain in the zone of regulation. As they say in sport, the England team can now ‘hold their nerve’ better and THAT is the key. And what a brilliant term that is …. ‘holding your nerve’ …
Let me briefly explain what this zone of regulation is and what it means to ‘hold your nerve’. I’ll then give you 3 ways to stay regulated in the zone, connecting it all back to peri/menopause and how you too can be “coming home” to yourself in midlife.
The zone of regulation is where your body goes in and out the lower levels of your sympathetic nervous system (which gives us motivation, action, drive) and your parasympathetic nervous system (where we rest, digest, feel soothed & calm). The key thing about this is that we can think AND act when we’re regulated. We can connect with our Selves and be aware of what’s going on in our bodies. We can decide how to act. We can reflect. We’re more in control of ourselves.
When we become dysregulated, we’re out of the zone and high up in the sympathetic nervous system zone. We’re in threat mode. We’re highly anxious. We become hypervigilant to potential threat in our environment. We can’t think straight. We become more narrow and focused in our thinking, which is why they call it ‘tunnel vision’. Our heart rate is high, our muscles are pumped full of blood and can feel tingly, our stomachs churn, we can feel dizzy. Our actions become automatic and we have less control over how we behave. We’re not able to reflect so well and we’re not aware of what’s going on in our body. Familiar? There are many factors that send us high into our sympathetic nervous system and one of those is perimenopause and the hormonal changes that take place.
Being high in your sympathetic nervous system is an inevitable part of being a human, especially a peri/menopausal one. There are many other factors that impact too (eg. genetics, childhood experiences, past trauma). What matter most, however, is being able to bring your body back into the zone of regulation if/when you spike out of it.
Going back to the England football team, I would suggest they’re more able to return to their zone of regulation than previous teams. On Wednesday, when they were faced with the challenge of going a goal down, with the pressure of the nation on their shoulders, I’m sure they will have spiked and felt some anxiety. However, they were able to ‘hold their nerve’ and stay regulated. But how?
1 - Emotional Safety. They’re all talking about the group environment. It sounds like they feel safe as a group, as a team. If we feel safe, we’re more likely to remain regulated and be able to return to the zone of regulation when anxiety has spiked for whatever reason. This is foundational. This comes from the leadership as well as the individuals themselves. No matter what, they have the safety net of the group. If they f*ck up, they will not be rejected. They are protected by the group and their leader. That helps to keep them in the regulated zone and of course, allows them to perform better.
How does this related to peri/menopause? Do you have the support around you to catch you when you fall, when you’re overwhelmed by symptoms and/or stresses? Are you in an environment where you feel emotionally safe? Do you have people in your life who give you unconditional love and respect. The time of life often makes us reflect on our relationships and friendships. We have less tolerance for ‘emotional hangers on’, as one of my clients called them and more focus on those who truly care about us.
2 - ‘Holding their nerve’. Coming back to this juicy term, this is also fundamental to performance, whether it be as an English footballer or a peri/menopausal woman! If you are ‘holding your nerve’, you are fully aware of your nervous system, you know how your body is feeling, you have good ‘body literacy’, you know when you start to feel anxious, you can feel when you start edging out of your zone of regulation. You have learned how to connect deeply with your body. You have the courage to feel your feelings.
The majority of us turn away from feeling anxious. We try to not feel it. This is often what we have been taught. But we cannot hold our nerve if we are turning away from it. If we try to ‘avoid our nerve’, we cannot find a way back into the zone of regulation. Holding your nerve also implies care and support. Going a step beyond awareness….actually caring and supporting yourself when you feel anxious. That will get you back in the zone, I promise.
3 - Finally, being present. I’ve noticed Gareth Southgate encouraging his players to soak everything up. They appear to be fully present in the occasion and enjoying it! Other managers have probably taught their teams to switch off from the environment as a way to focus on their football but I think that may breed anxiety. Regulation comes from having the ability to be present and aware, whether it be of our environment or our bodies. Being present is a skill and once we have learned this, we can be flexible and choose where we focus our attention. It helps us to ground ourselves in the present moment when we need to regulate our bodies back into the zone of regulation.
This is important during peri/menopause. With so much going on inside our bodies and in our lives, we need this skill! It also helps us soak up any moments of joy that come out way. Without a presence of mind, we miss these moments and my goodness, we need any drips of joy we can get!
So, football may be coming home (I have everything crossed) but I also want you to come home…to yourself. If you’d like to have a chat about how I could help you do that and become more ‘resilient’ during peri/menopause so you can enjoy more of life again then book in your FREE 30min session with me HERE.
How to step out of the brain fog and into a clearer mind.
In last weeks’ blog I talked about our emotional health and how that impacts our brain fog (have a read if you haven’t yet, it’s a juicy one!) This week, I’m going to focus on how our response to brain fog either keeps us stuck or helps us step into clearer thinking.
I’ll go straight in for the truth bomb….when we try to get rid of an unwanted physical sensation or an emotion it often becomes worse. Crap hey?!
As humans we have learned how to problem solve and if something is shit, we ditch it, yes?! Well that works for many things but NOT for body sensations or emotions. The more you try to push away the brain fog, the more it is likely to hang around. It may lift for a short while (giving you evidence that it works and reason to keep trying) but it then floods back in and rarely works in the long term.
How about you? Do you try to avoid and repress uncomfortable feelings like brain fog? And how is that working for you? If you’re still struggling despite attempts to fix and get rid, it likely is no longer working for you. It’s good to know this. You may, therefore, be willing to try another way.
When we are willing to embrace brain fog as part of the process of peri/menopause, (read my blog ‘Is it any wonder our brains are on go slow?’) and allow it to accompany us in the journey, we step out of the struggle with it. It is still there but we no longer fight against it and beat ourselves up about having it.
Taking that fight out of the equation is truly freeing. Brain fog is shit but battles and fights against it are what causes the most harm. They’re the things that cause anxiety, panic, worry (and make our brain fog worse).
So how do we do this?
It’s fair to say that whilst this seems like a simple switch from fight to embrace, it isn’t! We have lifelong ways of thinking and responding to our bodies and minds. We are in a society that promotes fixes for physical and mental health, including menopause symptoms. So you may need to set a long term intention to shift towards a more accepting perspective of brain fog rather than expecting an overnight transformation!
One good place to start is to notice your brain fog. If you’re in the habit of trying to get rid of it, you probably haven’t spent much time noticing what the brain fog actually feels like. Get curious about it. Can you describe it? If it was a colour what would it be? Talk to others about it, bring it out of the closet! The more awareness you have of it, the more you will allow it to be, giving you more energy to focus on living life the way you choose.
There are other strategies to use but the last thing I want to do is overwhelm your brain with many different options! Stick with the noticing and start shifting towards a more willing and accepting approach to brain fog and see where that takes you.
If brain fog is ruining your home and work life and no matter what you’ve tried (HRT, meditation, nutrition, yoga etc) you cannot shift it and you’re ready to invest in yourself to cope better with this and any other of the menopause symptoms, then book a FREE chat with me to see whether my coaching or intensive therapy programme could work well for you right now.
How our psychology plays a part in brain fog.
Whilst our hormones and biology play a part in brain fog (a commonly reported experience in peri/menopause), our psychology plays two parts in this issue.
1. Our emotional health impacts whether or not we experience brain fog, to what degree we experience it and the type of brain fog we experience.
2. How we respond to our experience of brain fog then has additional impact on how it gets in the way of life or not.
Let’s start by looking at how our emotions impact brain fog and the different types of brain fog. I’ve not heard anyone talking about different types of brain fog before but it seems to me that this is a varied experience depending on our psychology. Some people describe their brains being on ‘go-slow’, like the brain cogs can’t get going and are kind of limping along. This can be related to underlying chronic stress. When our bodies have been living in a state of anxiety (threat) and/or drive (that incessant ‘go,go,go’ culture) without spending lots of time in deep rest and renewal they become exhausted and stressed. Many of the people I work with have been chronically stressed for years. Peri/menopause is the final straw.
Stress impacts the whole of our bodies, especially our adrenal system which is intrinsically linked to our hormones. Stress = slower brains. It really is as simple as that. We need body based ways to discharge stress from our bodies (think nutrition, movement, massage, sleep, supplements etc) and we need psychological skills to take a whole new look at our lives. How can we soothe our nervous systems and bring about ways of living in a more regulated way? How can we develop relationships that help us feel safe and secure.
If your brain is patchy, sometimes it’s ok and other times not, this could be related to acute anxiety. When anxiety strikes, we can’t think straight. We can’t take in information and we struggle to recall information. This is when psychological skills to increase awareness and then unhook from anxiety can be true life savers. I use these skills on a daily basis and teach them in my courses, community and 1:1 support.
A brain that feels truly ‘foggy’ might be more prone to worry. This is a different process from anxiety. Although both worry and anxiety impact our overall stress levels. All of these ‘types’ of brain fog can easily intermingle. What a cocktail of stress, anxiety and worry that is!
Worry is an ongoing psychological process by which we ruminate with our brains ticking over threat based information in the background all of the time. Sometimes we’re not even aware that we’re worrying and it’s only when something is resolved and we relax that we realise that we’ve been worrying about it for such a long time. When our brains are worrying, we can’t take in, process or recall information very well. It’s not unusual for people who worry a lot to have significant memory problems.
One way to help with worry is to allocate specific ‘worry times’. When you notice yourself worrying, can you postpone it for a short while until the allocated time? This can give your brain the freedom to get on with things without telling yourself to “not worry” because how helpful is that anyway?! Never works for me!
The final type of brain fog is the one that makes us feel disconnected from the world around us. It's like we’re in a bubble but not a very nice one. This can come when we’re overwhelmed. Too much on our plates for too long. Hormonal changes then intensify things and tip us over the edge. This can feel scary and lonely.
If this resonates with you then maybe it's time to look at your overwhelm. What responsibilities can you ditch? Can you create more space in your life?
So, brain fog seems to be more than one type of experience. Maybe your description is something entirely different. Please get in touch with me and let me know, I’d love to hear from you.
I’ll talk about the second way that our psychology impacts our brain fog next week. How we respond to it decides whether it gets in the way of life or not.
'Life: An inside job' - Inside Perimenopause
This week I wanted to share with you my latest podcast 'Inside Perimenopause'. This is one of the very many things I've discussed with the truly wonderful Kate Codrington on her podcast ‘Life: An inside job’.
Below is Kate's summary of the podcast.
You can click to listen to the full episode HERE.
Dr Becky Quicke aka The Menopause Psychologist shares the psychological skills she uses to help her perimenopause clients find their essential self and voyage through their transformation into Second Spring with peace and confidence and be the change the world needs to see.
• She shares what she did to make her PMDD-like, premenstrual symptoms disappear
• How to remove fear and panic in perimenopause
• How to manage negative thinking
• How to connect with your true essence and how easily available this is for you!
• How cultural negativity about menopause can get in the way
• Living as a flexible being in a rigid world
• Why quick fixes won’t work for perimenopause
• How postmenopause brings the change the world needs to see
• The psychological reason for brain fog
Checkout all of Kate’s podcast conversations whilst you’re there, they are rich and fabulous chats with awesome humans.
Until next week,
Is it any wonder our brains are on go slow?
Brain fog is one of the most talked about issues in relation to peri/menopause. There are biological factors and I’ve noticed the medics talking about the role of testosterone but I’m here to say that there are other psychological factors that need taking into consideration.
Well…one big one and that’s CONTEXT. And this time I don’t mean our own individual context and whether we’re on our knees with exhaustion etc (I’ll talk all about that in my next blog). I’m suggesting we turn our attention to the deeper transformational context that’s going on underneath all of that.
Peri/menopause is a phase of life when our identity is changing in a huge way. Many people talk about it being a time of review, to sift the sh*t from our lives, shed the layers that no longer suit or serve us, detoxify physically, emotionally, relationally, to reclaim parts of us that we lost along the way. Grief and loss are easily triggered as we end one phase of life and enable second spring to be cherished and nurtured before we are in full bloom during our mature years (and yes, I mean this. Maturity = full bloody bloom).
And this is regardless of the life events that often take place – promotions in work to more senior roles, caring for elderly relatives, children leaving home, bereavements, the list goes on.
So….given all of this shedding, reclaiming, healing and letting go is it any wonder that our brains are on go-slow?!
We need to drift to allow these process to take place. We need space and time. This is not the time for sharp brains and being ‘on it’ all of the time. What’s going on underneath does not fit in the world that’s going on up top.
There are adaptations we can make and whilst I am going to share with you some tips in my next blog to help with the brain fog, they will not come before I say….it’s normal for your brain to be foggy and slow right now.
Shift your perception, embrace your more drifty or slower nature, stick 2 fingers up at the system that tells you that’s not ok and let’s all ditch the shame and anxiety associated with this issue in this powerful phase of life.
I’m writing this blog 2 days before my 43rd birthday and I’ve been reflecting on this notion of celebrating ourselves. Birthdays call for that in some way (although many of us shy away from celebrating ourselves, even on our birthdays) but celebrating who we are needs to come more than once a year.
I reckon it needs to come at least once a month. Those of us who still have menstrual cycles (erratic and intense though they may be in perimenopause) have the ‘Inner Summer’ to celebrate ourselves and say “YES” to who we are. Our inner summer is half way through the menstrual cycle, approx. days 12-19. Our monthly hormonal and psychological cycle primes us to fully embody and celebrate ourselves. It’s the time to enjoy being in our bodies and connecting with others.
Whilst we may not wish to create a baby, ovulation also stimulates our creative potential and our ability to put ourselves out there, to share ourselves with the world. I know I’m always banging on about doing less but this is actually the time to do….wholeheartedly! Whether that be putting new ideas out into the world, making new connections, hosting an event, connecting intimately with your partner, going out with friends. Commit to doing and connecting.
It’s also a time to enjoy pleasure with yourself and others. Our sensual energies often rise up at this time. Spend some time enjoying sensual dance and sensual touch. It doesn’t have to be sex (although it can be of course) but focus on the word sensual. Sexuality and sensuality doesn’t need to be about penises and vaginas in midlife, we can enjoy intimate pleasure through connection and touch from all over the body. We don’t focus on this enough. We’re too busy focusing on the pleasure of others. Sod that! Bring some harmony and peace into your relationship with your body, with or without a partner. I promise you, this will help reduce your stress like nothing else.
For those without a menstrual cycle, try tracking the moon and celebrating yourself and seeking pleasure around the full moon. Or whenever you goddam feel like it!!
This idea of pleasure and celebrating myself during my inner summer first came to my attention when I read ‘Wild Power’ by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer from Red School a few years ago. When I journeyed through their Menstruality Leadership Programme I practiced this intimately. I was going through divorce at the time. Connecting with my sensuality and celebrating myself was quite possibly a sanity saver. I started to love being inside my body for the first time in a long time. Sounds cheesy but I was loving myself from the inside out. And it felt f*cking delicious.
I also noted how this ‘buffered’ me from the stress and storms that often threatens to derail me during my premenstruum. It didn’t help me by-pass the tricky PMS (I wouldn’t want it to) but it was way less intense. It meant that I could focus on the potential power of my inner autumn. I could listen to the wisdom of my inner critic instead of feeling overwhelmed by it. I could speak my truth in a discerning and meaningful way, instead of losing it in an outburst of rage.
So, given all of this, can you imagine how delighted I am to be ovulating on my birthday this year! YES!! I am right in my inner summer as I celebrate my birthday and myself. I shall be celebrating myself fully and enjoying every moment of it. And I encourage you do the same. Not just on your birthday but regularly. We get one life, let’s have a more pleasure filled one!
Repair the Rupture
What to do after you've lost your sh*t in an angry outburst.
It’s almost inevitable that we will have angry outbursts during peri/menopause. I’ve already covered why that is in a previous blog. I’ve also shared how to express yourself meaningfully instead of fully losing your shit.
However, I’m also here to say that will still happen. You will lose your sh*t. With your partner, children, parents, work colleagues, friends, random on the street. So it’s important we talk about this.
My first response when working with women who have lost their sh*t is often, “Oh good, there’s been a big rupture in the relationship”. Sound a bit bonkers?! Well, maybe I am but all of the research in this area tells us that ruptures within relationships create possibilities for growth, change and deeper connections.
There will always be breaks, people will always piss us off, that’s not the biggest issue. The important bit is how we repair the rupture. Not only does the repair provide the potential to strengthen relationships but in the context of peri/menopause, it creates an opportunity for us to go back and express our needs or issues in a clear and meaningful way. This is important. It will reduce the chances of uncontrollable rage and increase the chances of us expressing ourselves with more clarity and confidence in the future.
So, how do we do this? How can we ‘repair’ things in a healthy way?
Here’s a 7 step process that you can follow: (4 steps to prepare, 3 steps to repair)
- AGREE to repair. Within family and friend relationships, come to an agreement (before the outburst!) that you all want to repair things if/when you fall out. Start cultivating a family culture that accepts ‘break ups and makes ups’ because this is NORMAL and a very human process.
- WAIT until everyone is completely calm and relaxed before even contemplating a repair. This may mean you need to wait a few hours or even a day or so. That’s ok.
- WORK with your shame. This is probably the biggest reason why many of us avoid repairing relationships. We can’t tolerate the shame. Because it is pure pain. And if you find that you want to repair but the other person, (your child, partner, friend, colleague) doesn’t, then maybe they’re deep in shame. I’ll do a longer blog on shame soon but in a nutshell, shame is when we feel we are bad, worthless, we are innately flawed. Guilt is when we recognise our actions are bad, what we have done was not ok. Ideally, we will feel guilt rather than shame when we begin to repair. Self compassion is a great way to soothe any shame (see my point on fierce compassion in my last blog).
- REFLECT on what was going on for you in the outburst and write this down. What was fuelling it? Was there something underlying the rage that needs to be expressed? What are your needs right now?
- LISTEN. The ultimate repair is when we both/all feel heard and felt. Model that with whoever you’re repairing with. Listen to how they felt and feel how it felt for them without interjecting or responding (this is hard!!!!!!! And is where your own self soothing and compassion is needed in buckets loads). Then you can express the reflections you had. Share any underlying issues or needs that you weren’t able to express at the time.
- FEEL. Open the pathway to be mutually feeling each others feelings. In your bodies. NO PROBLEM SOLVING yet!! Pure feeling. If appropriate then physical touch would be the cherry on top at this point. A hug. This helps to hold and regulate all of the feelings. If not then a moment of quiet ‘holding’ all the feelings together will ‘seal the feel’.
- THINK. Then you can go back into your brains to work out and agree ways to get your needs met and feel heard, or whatever the issue was. Trust me, this will flow if you’ve done the listening and the feeling steps.
Guiding you through,
The importance of anger in peri/menopause and how to step accross the bridge from hormonal rage to assertive self confidence.
Anger and rage in perimenopause and menopause throws many of us off kilter, it frightens us and takes us into the darkness, into the fear zone. Here we feel out of control, stressed, like we’re going mad, losing our sh*t, going crazy. It can make work feel hard and relationships even harder. I wrote about some of the context to this in my previous blog.
It can also be, however, a force for change and a time to find our voice. It can give us the energy to transform and step towards our second spring (aka post menopause) empowered with reclaimed confidence.
This is the empowered side of these emotions. This is where truth speaking, clarity and fulfilment lie. This is where we express ourselves meaningfully and model a whole new way of responding to these powerful emotions to the next generations.
So how can we bridge across from the uncontrollable rage to the empowered and more meaningful anger?
Here are 4 possible ways:
1 - Fierce compassion.
There are many official definitions of compassion but here’s mine … ‘Compassion is a deep commitment to soothing the suffering that you are feeling’.
Self compassion is a process by which we express deep care towards ourselves. We have unconditional love, honour and respect towards ourselves. This is a radical 360 for many of us who have endured years of verbally abusing ourselves, criticising ourselves and struggling with self doubt, all of which trigger our threat system.
The fierce bit is an extra layer of protection. Fully committing to having your own back.
If this feels very self focused and individualised, let me tell you this...compassion for self and compassion from others flow together in one energetic pipeline!
Care for yourself and you are more likely to open to receive care from others (and you’re more able to care for others too but let’s leave that bit for now).
Compassion soothes your nervous system and help you to think clearer. Practicing fierce compassion is one bridge across to a more meaningful and confident way of expressing yourself. Look at Neff’s work for more info on this.
2 - Space.
I reckon that everything I talk/write about and teach comes down to creating space! Psychological and physical space. It’s central to everything in peri/menopause!
S P A C E
Feeling constricted will keep you in the uncontrollable rage place.
Space between us and our thoughts/feelings as well as physical space can calm our bodies and help us plan how and when to express ourselves (instead of blowing up all of a sudden).
Feels impossible? Others in your space (head and living) all of the time? I hear you, I truly do! But we can always gain 1 or 2% more space in our lives.
Create a physical place or space in your home where no one else is allowed. This may be a cupboard, a drawer, a corner of a room, a whole room (oh how blissful that would be – do it if you can). This is your place to have only your things, a place to retreat and de-compress.
Take yourself to spacious places where you can see the horizon. This helps to soothe our bodies...
Create emotional space through fierce compassion (see above).
Create thinking space through awareness and discernment. Become aware of your thoughts and feelings. Choose to engage with the ones that take you across the bridge towards clarity, meaningful living, fulfilment.
3 - Clear boundaries
I don’t think I need to tell you to put boundaries into your life. You likely know that you need to have more time for yourself, to reduce the number of responsibilities you take on, to delegate, to not accept sh*t from others anymore etc etc. We are told this time and time again.
Knowing about boundaries is not the issue. The issue is why we don’t do this.
And it’s mainly to do with the guilt and shame we feel when we set these boundaries.
So…know that any boundary is likely to trigger a whole load of emotional crap. We need to learn how to be willing to have those emotions AND set clear boundaries?
This willingness to have these emotions is tough. I know. But it is the most effective way to maintain these boundaries. If you’re willing to ride the wave of shame, you’re more likely to stick to that boundary.
(ps. I teach this ‘willingness’ skill to the Meno Stars in our Collective. If you’re interested in joining when we open the doors again next month then sign up HERE for the waiting list. £10 per month for a recorded workshop each month teaching these skills and monthly events to put them into practice)
4 - Discernment
Oh yes, let’s end on discernment. For this one I shall give you the official definition: ‘The ability to judge well’. In the context of anger and rage in peri/menopause, it’s the ability the decide when to rant and rave and when not. To take us into the place of clarity, truth speaking and meaningful expression try following this process:
- press pause once you feel the temperature rising
- step back out of the autopilot angry outburst loop
- soothe your stress system just a little
- and then think “is now the time?”
If we are speaking the truth about something then we need to do this with our thinking heads on and not when our blood is boiling. Ask yourself “will this help me express what matters to me in a meaningful way?” If not, give it time, reflect and decide how to express yourself in a way that will.
There’s a lot to think about here. Take your time to digest it and, as always, let me know your thoughts/feedback.
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Guiding you through,
Where does all this perimenopause anger and rage come from?
Of all the ‘symptoms’ in perimenopause and menopause, the one that often feels the most frightening is anger and rage. Brain fog is a close second (and I will write about that very soon) and anxiety is, by its’ very nature, frightening but the rage….well it’s in a league of its own!
Understanding the context around anger and rage in peri/menopause is important and rarely talked about.
But before I talk about context, let me describe how anger varies amongst us.
Some of us are raging left, right and centre. We feel one step away from causing serious harm at any irritation at home and in work … an overflowing bin, dirty dishes in the sink, lazy behaviour by our colleagues…our partner…our children… We’re ablaze with rage and it feels like we’re going crazy at times.
There are some who manage to keep a lid on it. Most of the time… Beneath the lid, however, it brews and bubbles and simmers and boils before we finally BLOW. And what an almighty eruption that can be. Often triggered by a tiny issue but fuelled by days, weeks, months, years of stress, frustration and anger.
Then there are others who tread carefully. The anger button is switched to OFF. They don’t dare to think, even for one minute, about their deep down feelings of anger and rage…it’s like they know it’s there but the thought of it coming to the surface is too overwhelming and too frightening for them. Their fear of what damage the rage may cause is too much. So they swallow it back down. But where does it go? Into other emotional pockets such as anxiety or maybe into their body, causing unexplained health issues and/or more intense menopause physical ‘symptoms’.
Some of us cycles through all 3 – that’s me for sure! Often depends where I am in my perimenopausal (ie. way more intense) menstrual cycle.
Regardless of how we cope with it, anger and rage is a huge issues for many of us in midlife. But where does it come from?
Here are 3 areas that seem to be fuelling our fires:
1. Historical and ancestral wounds.
• It’s simply not safe for women to feel and express strong emotions…
“For centuries around the world, the ultimate punishment for women was public death by fire. Perhaps the most well-known Burned Woman was Joan of Arc who was burned at the stake for her actions and beliefs…So when we feel the fire rising in our bellies, we also smell smoke in our nostrils. We feel passion and sense danger…bad girls are branded witches. Bad girls get burned”‘Burning Woman’ by Lucy Pearce.
We feel the pain of our ancestors. We are the descendants of those who survived and we have learned to stay small and quiet in order to stay safe.
• We are also at the end of the line of repressed women. We have received ‘genetic transmission’ from our mothers and grandmothers who were taught to squash their own needs and serve their men.
Taken from ‘Tips to look after your husband’, an extract from a 1950 Home Economics Book... “Have dinner ready, Prepare yourself, Clear away the clutter, Prepare the children, Minimize all noise, Make him comfortable, Listen to him”
• And within the workplace, we have inherited a culture of repressed women. This quote was taken from a ‘Punch’ cartoon from the 1980’s :
“That’s an excellent suggestion Miss Triggs, perhaps one of the men would like to make it”
So…we feel the pain and repressed anger from our ancestors.
2. Biological changes
As our hormones fluctuate and decline, we are psychologically ‘cracked open’.
Estrogen has left the building and has taken with it our ‘nice girl’ attitude and our ability to see the best in everything/one. Rather than having the hazy summer sun (estrogen) painting life as a lovely, rosy picture, we have the sharpness of the autumn light showing us the shit (ie truth!) that lies beneath. Our souls demand a clean up and clear out. We stand for no nonsense. This can feel like a personality change but it’s not. The nonsense was there all along and we will no longer put up with it!
Our rollercoaster hormones also dial up our threat system (via the sympathetic nervous system) so we can become hypervigilant, fists up, ready for a fight and easily triggered.
But before we all think that a good dose of estrogen will sort us out (it can help ofcourse, HRT can be a lifesaver for some) let’s also be aware of…
3. Our psychological responses
Many of us come to peri/menopause over stretched and over stressed (resulting in an exhausted adrenal system). We have no more stretchiness left to stretch and we…snap, break. Most of those who I work recognise they’re knocking on the door of menopause burned out. It’s important to recognise this to ensure the right approach and support going forward.
We also tend to stick our fingers in our ears when it comes to listening to our feelings. We try hard not to feel them and, actually, there may have been good reason for that. It’s often worked well for us to this point. However, we are given less choice once we get to peri/menopause. The ‘cracking open’ mentioned above means that unresolved issues rise to the surface and demand some attention. It’s common for past trauma to reappear at this time. Plus we have less energy to push our feelings away (overstretched/stressed) and so they can easily come flooding through when we least want or expect them and that often includes anger.
Finally, anger and rage can sometimes shield us from deeper feeling of grief and loss. It can act as a protective barrier. Menopause is a huge initiation (ending and beginning) so many women start connecting with feelings of grief and loss at this time. They can go through a phase of swinging between the grief and the anger before eventually recognising the need to stay beyond the anger and face their grief and loss. It’s time to heal those hidden parts.
So, whilst this informaotion isn’t going to take your anger and rage away (I would never want to do in any case…I’ll explain that in my next blog ‘The importance of anger in peri/menopause and how to step across the bridge from hormonal rage to assertive self confidence’) it sheds a little light on some of the context behind our strong feelings.
If you take anything away from reading this, I would hope it be this…
Anger and rage are common experiences in peri/menopause,
You’re feeling it for yourself AND your ancestors,
Expressing it is scary for many reasons,
Now may be the time to turn towards your feelings and let them fuel you forward rather than blow you up.
If this has resonated with you and you’d like to talk to me about personal therapy or coaching to help you navigate your way through these stormy waters, email me [email protected] I have 2 spaces available for my 12 week personal programme. I will email you details and you can book a free consultation to see whether now is the time for you to commit to some personal development and whether we are a good ‘fit’.
Want to know more about the going forward rather than blowing up?! Watch this space for next week’s article...
Does reassurance reduce anxiety?
Before I jump into my reflections about reassurance, I want to mention how I have procrastinated for a couple of weeks about which topic I should choose to start this blog. Maybe the back story of my own journey from fear to fulfiment, my career pivot, the importance of self compassion, letting go of the Imposter Syndrome...."What is the perfect way to begin?" I wondered. Making decisions can be tough. Searching for perfection is futile. The decision process is one of bringing together our heads and hearts and tuning into our 'gut' intuition. To do this we need to give those thoughts and feelings space to settle and be. Then we can move freely towards our chosen direction. "Sod it", I thought once the thoughts had settled, I'll write my blog on the issues that were running through my mind this morning because they are current, authentic (as always) and will resonate with many of you, I am sure! Action over procrastination. There will be plenty of time for those other topics in the future...
How many of you use reassurance to help you feel better? We all do. We try to turn our worries and anxious thoughts into positive "it's ok" ones. I am often talking to clients about the long term issues with this strategy. We may feel ok for a short while but boom...there comes that anxiety again so as well as having the original anxiety we then beat ourselves up for not being able to get a handle on it. These layers of anxiety and criticism turn our bodies into battlefields, switching on our sympathetic nervous systems. Then follows the heart pumping, stomach churning, chest tightening fight or flight response.
So this morning, I did a little experiment to check out whether my advice of letting go of the thoughts (taken from ACT - Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Training) is a helpful one or whether positive thinking reassurance actually does the trick. I constantly 'walk my talk' and trust me, being an ambitious business woman who cares deeply about juggling my contribution to the world through my business with being the best mum, wife and friend that I can to be, I have anxious thoughts and feelings galore!
The anxious thought of the morning was related to me choosing to go for a morning run rather than do the weekly 'stay and read' at school with my two young daughters (aged 5 & 7). As I ran off from school I noticed a tightness in my stomach and the thoughts "that's really selfish of you to run rather than read, they'll be sad you're not there, these are precious times whilst they are little - you should embrace them all, you're a crap mum etc etc" (familiar guilt trip anyone?!).
These sorts of thoughts used to overwhelm me and quite frankly, I would never have chosen the run over the read. This, however, was the path towards overwhelm, stress and exhaustion.
Added into the mix were the thoughts "I have so much work to do today, I should be doing that rather than running".
So instead of automatically using my ACT based way, I decided to do an experiment. I spent a few minutes reassuring myself - "You work school hours so the girls are lucky to be with you before and after school", "You have spent the whole of half term with them last week, they have had lots of time with you", "You read pretty much every week, one week won't make a difference". These are true and I focused on them for a few minutes. The result - the anxiety feeling did reduce...a bit... but there was still a tiny pull in my stomach. I went through some mini cycles of relief, phew, then the "yeah but..." thoughts kept popping up. I was in my mind and not completely aware of the lovely surroundings of my local park.
I then tried the ACT approach of acknowledging the thoughts, "I'm noticing my mind thinking that I'm a crap mum", "ah ok, that makes sense" with being willing to feel the feelings by tuning into the tightness in my stomach and opening up some internal space for it. I then said to myself "ok thoughts and feelings, you're coming with me on my run, so let's go". I let go of doing anything with them, I just let them be. It was a hand's off approach. The result.....I was free to focus on my surroundings and enjoy my run regardless of the anxiety. My mind then had the capacity to notice how my personal value of self care was priority for that half hour, which gave me purpose and a sense of fulfilment. I knew that the time would come for family relationships and commitment to work and they would take priority later.
This process of thinking and feeling really does take us from fear to fulfilment. It is not easy and can take some practice and guidance. If you are interested in dipping your toe into my appraoch then sign up for 'Ideas and Inspiration' on my website.
If you want a great and easy to read book on the foundation of this approach - get yourself 'The Happiness Trap' by Russ Harris. It is awesome.
If you are an ambitious woman wanting to let go of anxiety and self doubt so you can progress you career, grow your business and love you life right now then book your FREE call with me via the website. I would love to guide you towards your own freedom and fulfilment.
Bye for now,