I’m getting to that time in my life where I’m finding myself having more and more conversations about ‘the menopause’.  Then towards the end of last year the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) proposed an update to their guidelines to include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as a treatment which can help during menopause.  I realised that this was something which I needed to explore further from both a personal and professional point of view.  I’ve been busy reading up on the subject and I attended some excellent training with the BABCP, so now I would like to share some of what I have learned with you.

What is the menopause?

Menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life journey.  It’s the time when the reproductive system begins to slow down and levels of hormones such as oestrogen start to reduce.  This usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 years.  In the UK the average age is 51, however it’s different for everyone.  The menopause is made up of three stages.  The first stage is ‘perimenopause’ when hormone levels are fluctuating.  ‘Menopause’ is defined as when periods stop but it can be difficult to know if this has happened until you’ve not had a period for 12 months. The stage following your periods ending is called ‘postmenopause’.

What symptoms might I experience?

The menopause is different for everyone so it’s important to listen to your own body and not fall into the trap of comparing yourself with others or worrying about what might be round the corner.  Figures suggest that around 80-90% of women will have some symptoms and 25% of women describe them as severe and debilitating.  Symptoms may include: hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, fatigue, low mood, anxiety, low sex drive, poor memory, brain fog, headaches, vaginal dryness and urinary symptoms.  You may find it helpful to use the ‘Menopause Symptom Questionnaire’.

How can CBT help?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is an evidence based treatment for depression and anxiety so can certainly help if you are experiencing these symptoms during the menopause.  CBT can also help you to better understand the menopause and to consider different coping strategies.  You may look at behavioural changes, emotional regulation and/or exploring your thoughts.

What else can I do?

It’s important to take a holistic approach and to ensure that you are living a healthy lifestyle.  Consider regular exercise, a balanced diet, healthy sleep habits and ensure you stay hydrated.  Introducing good habits like these are things which you could choose to discuss with a CBT therapist.

What other treatments are there?

It’s important to bear in mind that CBT and lifestyle changes can only help you to manage the symptoms and do not address the underlying cause which is the drop in hormones.  Therefore, it’s important to speak to your GP and consider additional treatments such as Hormone Replacement Therapy.

Resources to explore

Menopausing by Davina Mcall and Dr. Naomi Potter

The Definitive Guide to the Perimenopause and Menopause by Dr. Louise Newson