Menopause symptoms can start as early as 35—are you ready?
For some women, menopause seems as simple as the flicking of a switch, yet for others, it is as tumultuous as hurricane season in the Atlantic. No matter who you are, you will experience it—whether it’s early because of ovary removal or premature menopause, or later due to nature running her course. With many women today choosing to establish their careers before having kids, more moms will find themselves parenting while in the midst of menopause.
A woman’s regular cycle involves the release of estrogen and progesterone at the right times in order for an egg to be released, fertilized, and sustain a pregnancy. When that doesn’t happen, you get your period because the hormones drop off causing mood swings, irritability, bloating, cramping, and even depression. Eventually your ovaries determine that your eggs are too old to make a baby and begin the process of shutting down. Very few women are lucky enough to have their ovaries just turn out the lights one day with no warning or symptoms. Most go through the fluctuation of those hormones, similar to the lights flickering during a storm. All of this generally starts, unnoticeably to most, in the mid-thirties when the production of these hormones starts to diminish gradually. This leads to irregular periods, changes to vaginal lubrication, mood swings, lack of energy and interest in sex, and emotional changes like depression and irritability.
Why? There are estrogen and progesterone receptors throughout the body, including the brain, that try to compensate by producing the mood-regulating chemicals serotonin and endorphins.
Ultimately, this phase of your life, commonly known as perimenopause, could last up to twenty years. In that time you could easily raise a child from a tot to a teen with as many changing hormones as you!
Parenting is stressful enough, and even more so when you’re going it alone. You are responsible for making the right decisions for you and your child every day. You lose sleep at night worrying about those decisions. Just the emotional stress of single parenting is enough to start menopause earlier.
What impact will this phase of your life have on parenting?
Irregular periods is the most common sign that you have entered this new phase of your life and sometimes they will be shorter and lighter, other times heavier and longer with an increase in the number and size of clots, and possibly a heavy dose of cramps. This discomfort, like having a pounding headache, can easily increase stress levels and the feeling of wishing everyone would just leave you alone—meanwhile you’re trying to focus on the math question you’ve been asked to help with.
Emotional changes can include mood swings, irritability, anxiety, aggression, and depression. It is difficult enough to be at work all day and hold it together. You can’t wait to get home but when you get there, your hormonal teenager is dancing around the house, singing loudly, earbuds in place, and hasn’t started dinner like you asked. You immediately lose your temper and go off on a tangent yelling, wanting to know why nobody can give you a break and do what you ask. You immediately feel horrible for losing it and just want to close the curtains, curl up under the covers and forget about the world on the other side, but you can’t and you tearfully begin making dinner. Fatigue, whether related to sleep disturbance or not, will only increase the emotional changes you are experiencing.
What can you do to ease these symptoms?
Getting more sleep and relieving tension are the two best ways to alleviate symptoms on your own. Even if you sleep through the night, your estrogen levels could be awake and partying, which will still interrupt a healthy sleep. Then you get trapped in a vicious cycle because the lack of sleep knocks your hormones further out of whack, which causes your daytime to be filled with more emotional problems. It’s also important during daytime hours to reduce stress. Even small stresses affect hormone balance, which greatly impacts mood swings.
When you do have an altercation with your child, it is best to not engage immediately. It’s very easy to say something you’ll regret when you’re experiencing these feelings. Take a deep breath and let a little time pass before you act on your emotions.
To improve sleep, avoid hot and spicy foods and caffeine several hours before bed and engage in relaxing activities 20-30 minutes before bed.
If you feel your symptoms are not giving you any relief, then it may be time to talk to your doctor. Depending on your age and your overall general health there are several options that can help to either alleviate the symptoms or mask them entirely.
Being a single parent isn’t easy, and going through menopause at the same time adds stress, but you can still be a great mom and have a positive relationship with your child despite the struggles.
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