If you’re in your 30s or 40s and have recently noticed mood swings, night sweats, and other strange symptoms cropping up, you might be a little confused. It’s too early for menopause, isn’t it? Could these symptoms be indicative of something else? Why on earth am I experiencing hot flashes and headaches out of nowhere at this age? If you’ve had these thoughts, you’re not crazy. You might just be experiencing perimenopause.
What Is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the transition time leading up to menopause when your hormones begin to fluctuate to prepare your body for the end of menstruation. As your estrogen levels rise and fall, symptoms of perimenopause will come and go—which explains why one week you might be dealing with unexpected hot flashes and mood swings and the next you feel like your old self again. Whereas menopause is precisely defined as occurring 12 months after your last menstrual period—marking the end of menstruation—perimenopause has a much looser timeframe. It can begin anywhere from your early 30s to your late 40s and can last anywhere from a few years to a decade. (Yeah, those decade-ers deserve a medal.)
Not a lot of people talk about perimenopause. In fact, writing this article, spellcheck has decided that the word perimenopause doesn’t exist. Well, let me tell you: it does exist, and if you’re going through it, you’re not alone. Here are 20 of the most common perimenopause symptoms women experience during this time:
How To Deal With Perimenopause
While that list might be a little depressing, here’s the good news: you’re not alone! All women are a part of this club or will be eventually. That means you not only have others to lean on, but many tried and true remedies that others have used to help relieve some of those unpleasant symptoms. As always, if symptoms persist or become overwhelming, see your doctor since there are clinical remedies that can be tried. In them meantime, here are things you can do yourself to be proactive and take control of your health.
1. Talk About It
Every woman goes through perimenopause and every woman out there has a story to tell as well as ideas to help ease some of the symptoms. So the first tip in dealing with perimenopause? Talk about it! Talk about it with your girlfriends or co-workers. Tell them about your issues. See what other women are feeling and especially what they’re doing to help their symptoms. Most women are more than happy to share their misery with someone else who understands, and likewise most of these same people are excited to tell you about things that helped ease their discomfort.
2. Exercise Regularly
When you’re bloated and crabby, exercise might be the last thing on your mind. You might want to reconsider, however, since exercise is likely the ticket to feeling better. First and foremost we know that regular exercise helps keep your weight down. This is important since being overweight has been shown to increase hot flashes and night sweats. Beyond the weight, however, exercise helps improve your mood, reduce anxiety and raise self-confidence. Regular exercise can also reduce heavy bleeding and cramping. So get out there and move! Want something simple to try at home? Try our 10-Minute Beginner Tabata Workout.
3. Food + Sex = Sleep
That’s right: you might actually need to plan out your pre-bedtime routine in order to sleep better. First and foremost cut out the sugar and alcohol before bed. Both will not only wake you up in the middle of the night, but also increase night sweats. Instead, have a glass of water before bed and if you’re hungry, eat a 150-200 calorie snack of protein/carb mix like a tablespoon of almond butter on whole grain toast or a handful of nuts and some fruit. Next, set up a “lovely” place to sleep. Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Use some lavender pillow spray or other aromatherapy to help you unwind. No screens allowed! Turn on a small fan both for the white noise and the cooling.
Finally, say yes to sex! That’s right—you might think you have another perfect excuse in perimenopause to say no to sex, but having intercourse before sleep will actually help you sleep better. Dr. Saralyn Mark from the Yale School of Medicine says it’s all about the hormones. Sexual intercourse boosts your production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, and estrogen while decreasing the production of the stress hormone known as cortisol. All of this leads to a calmer, more relaxed you!
4. Quit Smoking
Add perimenopause to the long list of reasons you shouldn’t smoke. A Norwegian study found that women who smoke are 59% more likely to have reached menopause before age 45; for the heaviest smokers, the risk of early menopause is nearly doubled. Yikes! Yet another incentive to seek out some help in order to break the habit.
5. Take Action
Finally, despite all attempts to intervene in a natural way, you may feel the need to seek out medical attention and find another way. Don’t suffer in silence! There are a variety of things that a doctor may decide will help. Some forms of birth control pills can regulate your menstrual cycle and relieve certain symptoms. Other hormone replacements can be prescribed to you in pill form, patch, vaginal ring, gel or spray. There are even over-the counter natural remedies such as black cohosh that have been reported to help. Just keep in mind that with every medication, there are potential side effects. You have to decide for yourself if the relief is worth the risks. When push comes to shove, be your own advocate. If you’re having hot flashes, get some cool girl pearls or sleep with the air on. For mood swings, be gentle to yourself and treat yourself to some daily self-care.
Finally, remember: this too shall pass. As a woman, you’ve done plenty of hard things in your life. Consider this to be another hill to be conquered and remember all the good things that come along with each new phase of life.