Menopause self-care is something I wang on about constantly. But a question while helping create a menopause survey the other day caught me short.
“How do you look after yourself?”
I wanted to talk about all the ways I practise self-care, the moments of self-love I put into my day, but I needed to be honest to make the survey work and so I said: “I don’t.”
Yup. Menopause self-care is something I tell other people to do and rarely do myself. I preach the message but don’t practise it at all. Between a full-time job, family matters, helping women who contact me and campaigning with Pausitivity, I’m lucky to get a cup of tea some days.
Okay, slight exaggeration because I actually wouldn’t work without tea and coffee – I need the caffeine to keep me going. And therein lies the problem: I’m running myself ragged and I know that isn’t good, not just for me as a woman going through the menopause, but as a human being.
Answering that survey question – or rather, not being able to answer it – was a real epiphany; a sign from the universe to start looking after myself better.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it hard to look after themselves, so here’s my guide to menopause self-care and the 5 easy life hacks we can do to nurture ourselves a little more.
What is menopause self-care?
Putting it simply, it’s the way you look after your own physical, mental and emotional health throughout menopause. It is a vital way of having a healthy relationship with yourself and feel good – and that then means we can have healthy relationships with other people. And let’s face it, the way menopause makes us feel at times (yes, I’m looking at me, Mrs Bruce Banner), we need all the goodwill we can get at times…
My problem is, I grew up feeling I had to take care of others and have done this ever since – right down to helping others look after themselves while neglecting myself to do so! I’ve always felt it was quite selfish to spend time on me when there are so many people in real need.
In addition, we were a family reliant on benefits as one of my parents was ill and unable to work. Money was always tight – and sometimes non-existent – and that’s given me a huge reluctance to spend it on “fripperies”.
Basically, I never feel “I’m worth it”.
But by not looking after myself, I end up feeling overwhelmed and tired and that has an impact on my life with Mr 50Sense. So really, by spreading myself so thin, I’m hurting those around me.
The benefits of self-care
There are lots of benefits to menopause self-care and many of them are interconnected, so looking after your wellbeing in one area of your life can have a knock-on effect in another.
Menopause self-care can:
- improve your physical health;
- reduce stress and anxiety;
- boost your self-esteem and confidence;
- look after your mental health,
- and help your relationships.
It can also help reduce the stress on the NHS. Now there’s a reason for all of you who, like me, think it’s selfish to look after yourself!
So, now the benefits are clear, here’s how to practise menopause self-care.
1. Do the task you don’t want to do
Most days, I have one job that never seems to get done. Usually the same job. The same, boring job that I don’t want to do, probably the household accounts or the ironing.
The trouble is, I may put these tasks aside but they don’t put me aside. They whisper away, reminding me they’re outstanding, pouring their boringness into my very being until my head is full and my shoulders are down, feeling the weight of the task.
And then I do it and – surprise surprise – it’s not as bad as I thought. Especially with the household finances, when knowing what we’ve spent and what we have left makes me feel settled, while doing the ironing means the stress of having nothing to wear lifts, too.
For a while the whispers are gone… until I decide the task is too awful again…
So my first menopause self-care hack is to get the horrible stuff out the way first. It rarely takes as long as you thought, it is often not as bad as you thought, and then you can go about the rest of your day doing what you enjoy knowing the worst of the tasks is behind you.
2. Eat well for self-care
A nutritionist’s guide to eating well in the menopause was one of the first articles on 50Sense and there’s a reason – it’s vital!
Making good food choices is one of the best ways to love your body. I mean, you don’t give your car the wrong fuel, do you? So why do that to the most important vehicle you’ll ever have?
Eat a varied diet with lean protein, calcium and Vitamin D and stay away from processed food. I love crisps like the next person, but I know I feel groggy, bloated and sore after eating them. Self-care is saying no to the Cheese ‘n’ Onion.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have the odd treat – I’m not living without chocolate – but go for quality over quantity.
And hydrate. My Pausitivity colleague Clare Shepherd is always nagging me to drink water and she’s so right. It’s good for our bodies and also our skins, helping keep us moisturised and looking good.
3. Get your body moving
Menopause self-care isn’t about indulgence, it’s about doing what is good for you and exercise should be high on the list.
I ran a half-marathon when I was 50 and loved it. Not only did I feel strong and powerful, but getting out in the fresh air and pounding the streets was the best way I’ve found of getting rid of the woes of the day.
Then perimenopause fatigue hit me hard and I stopped. Then lockdown came and suddenly, even leaving the house was an effort. And I have no doubt that has had a huge negative impact on my menopause and health.
But it is never too late to put that right. I’ve joined up with a group of MenoWarriors to run or walk a marathon over July for the Samaritans (our link is here if you’d like to sponsor us) and I’m back on the C210K so I can do it as a few runs.
I’ve also signed up for Pilates classes. Group exercise is my favourite form – there’s something about seeing everyone in action together that I love – and it will get me out of the house. Walking is also a great exercise, after all.
4. Leave work behind for self-care
Working from home is wonderful. No more commute, soggy sandwiches, bad office coffee… Bliss.
But the lack of a distinct office space and routine means work can also spread into our home lives. I even have my work email on my phone and check it after hours in case of a query or simply to keep up to speed with what is going on.
Well, I did. That’s now gone. My colleagues have my number so if there is a problem, they can always contact me (and they know I will be there). There are reasons why we have a working hours directive – because it’s important for our wellbeing to relax and get away from the pressure of work. Having your office on your phone means that isn’t possible.
I’m lucky I have a spare room that is my “office”, but lockdown has been so lonely I’ve been working downstairs so I can see people and life out the window! That isn’t good for either me or my work, to be honest, as I don’t feel I’m mentally in the zone for work, leading to stress and worry. And when you’re menopausal, there’s enough of that anyway!
By setting boundaries – both physically and mentally – you’ll look after yourself and also be fresh to give your job your full attention.
And yes, I’m going to start applying this to Pausitivity, too. I can’t preach menopause self-care without following my own rules.
5. Be honest and say no to others
People-pleasing is a real problem with me, but one I’m learning to overcome. That sounds awful – I mean, #BeKind and all that – but people-pleasing isn’t really about helping others, it’s about them not rejecting me or thinking bad of me or being disappointed with me. So ultimately, it’s quite ego-centric and narcissistic and ultimately false because I’m not being honest with the other person.
Menopause has changed me. I’ve had such a bad time that I want to be with people who want the best for me, who can support and help me the way I support and help them.
It also means I don’t have the energy – mentally or physically – to worry about people who only want to be with me while I’m doing what they want. I can’t be a***d pretending to enjoy things I don’t anymore because it’s too much effort.
Most importantly, menopause and all my battles getting HRT have taught me how I’m not secondary. My wants and needs are as important and vital as the next person’s. Here I am, take me or leave me.
Which is why I’ve found myself saying “no” when once I would have automatically agreed. It hasn’t been easy and I’ve lost a couple of e-friends from it, but I’d rather have fewer, truer friends.
So perhaps my most important menopause self-care tip is: find someone who loves and honours the real you; not the you they want you to be. If a person says they can’t be with you because of what you want or feel, you’re better off without them.
Finally, one final word of advice that applies for menopause self-care and beyond: treat yourself. Do something that makes you truly happy, whether that’s listening to music, spending time doing your make-up, splashing out for a nice perfume or simply switching off and staring out the window. Leave everyone and the world behind and luxuriate in just who you are.
Because we are worth it.
What are your self-care tips? Let me know in the comments below. And for the ultimate in menopause self-care, sign up for my newsletters and download your 20-page guide to a better, healthier and happier menopause and midlife