We’ve mentioned mindfulness several times when talking about the ways that women can help themselves develop a lifestyle that supports them through the menopause, but what is mindfulness and where’s the evidence?
What is mindfulness?
The Mental Health Foundation defines it like this, “Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences. It involves paying attention to our thoughts and feelings so we become more aware of them, less enmeshed in them, and better able to manage them.”
As any menopausal women can testify, our thoughts and feelings can become overwhelming – especially if those thoughts or feelings are very different to our pre-menopause ones. When we feel ourselves becoming angry or anxious or stressed about things that we used to take in our stride, it amplifies our emotions, because we aren’t just experiencing strange and unfamiliar reactions, we’re aware that we don’t have control of those reactions, and that they often seem to be controlling us!
Where is the evidence for mindfulness and menopause?
There’s a lot of talk about mindfulness, but considerably less solid research. As Scientific American reported in 2017 “[this] … technique for relieving stress and pain has remarkably little scientific evidence backing it”. Doesn’t sound great, does it? However, the report goes on to detail where mindfulness does have real value, based on peer-reviewed research studies. In fact the three problems that mindfulness has been proven to help are all problems that many women end up contending with through their menopause.
Studies in 2013 and 2014 found that mindfulness helped with anxiety, depression and pain. We’ve already written at length about menopause and anxiety, and it’s claimed that women’s risk of depression doubles (or quadruples) at menopause – but what about pain?
Many women experience joint pain, vaginal pain, sore breasts, severe headaches and fibromyalgia as a part of their menopause journey. These pains are often minimised by women – and sadly, sometimes by their GPs too – as an unfortunate but unavoidable part of ageing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Pain relief can come in a number of ways, prescription medicine, referral to a pain clinic, or … yes … mindfulness. There’s good evidence that focusing on the here and now allows people to experience pain less intensely and to feel they have better control over their pain responses.
How can I get started with mindfulness?
Many GPs are prepared to prescribe mindfulness courses for their patients, so that’s a good place to start. If you find that you have to wait too long to get a place, it’s also perfectly possible to find a mindfulness practitioner for yourself and join a class or have a one-to-one session. There are mindfulness apps available too, and many mental health charities keep lists of mindfulness resources that you can explore.
Finally, the point about mindfulness is that we have to practise it for it to help us. It’s always a good idea to engage with other women on the HFC forums and commit to doing your mindfulness work every day because when we encourage each other, we also find the time and space to take care of ourselves.