What come to mind when you think of mindfulness? sitting in silence, emptying your mind? quiet meditation? Have you wondered can Mindfulness could ease the menopause? Can you have a mindful menopause?
When I say menopause, I’m talking peri menopause (the transition to menopause) and menopause (an bases of periods for 12 months)
What actually is mindfulness? well its not emptying your mind because as Ruby Wax put so eloquently, if your mind was empty you’d be dead.
So mindfulness is not emptying your mind or entering so zen state where you transcend to an area of inner peace. It can actually be quite the opposite, and we know that this can be key to a mindful menopause.
Your mind has, based on studies 20,00 to 80-,00 thought a day! and many are the same thoughts you had yesterday and the day before and so on.
What mindfulness based practice does is allow you to notice the thoughts, and make a purposeful decision not to react to them, you let them pass. It’s not easy, particularly when you atart and you may have jumped on to the thought and only realised later that you were in fact ‘hooked in”.
The important thing is that you noticed you were hooked and with a gentleness to yourself, because you did nothing wrong, you return to the intended focus.
So basically your mind wanders and you gently with intention, notice where it went, and this is the key part, and then bring it back to. the here and now.
The intended focus can be your breath, sensations in your body, but it can be the feeling of your feet on the ground, attention to this as you walk, it could be colouring in, it could be taking a shower, or cleaning your teeth. Yes, you see you don’t have to adopt the lotus position and sit in quiet stillness with attention only on your breath for 40 minutes (which of course you could if you want to).
I attended an 8 week mindfulness course some years ago and I’ll be honest it served me well, really well in terms of managing the anxiety associate with a health condition. But my daily practice slipped and I struggled to find a routine and the time.
My practice was reignited when I became a Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy Teacher, bit my practice is intermittent.
As a result, I developed a much more adapted practice more akin to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and this is the framework that I share elements of with my clients now.
And I want to run you through the basics, more a more detailed explanation see the Book, The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.
The title is key and based around the fact that we all want to be happy. Its a basic human instinct to avoid pain and seek pleasure, its innate and instinctive but we need both. You cannot know what one is without the other. But in the pursuit os happiness we repellants and fight against its opposite.
Pain and Pleasure are both important
You cannot be happy all the time, if that were the case you would be happy hearing about the sad and atrocious things that occur in the world on a daily basis. Pain is something we learn from, in both physical and emotional sense.
Back to the primal design. You’ve heard of fight or flight? But what is your current day fight or flight behaviour? In fight or flight, your primal brain is in play, survival is key, there a tiger! But todays tigers are different, still present and perhaps more so, they are fear, worry, anxiety, being late, an argument, judgement of others and more.
Fight or Flight and the primal brain
Mindfulness allows us to step out of this primal brain, it allows this area to shrink and the human, thinking part to expand, and some amazing research has demonstrated this. It makes us over time, slower to ignite and apply rational thought not emotion.
Harris identifies these modern day fight or flight strategies as
- Hiding/Escaping- perhaps you drop out of a course or cancel a social event to avoid any feelings of anxiety
- Distraction- You distract from those unwanted feeling by focusing on something else: smoking, eating, shopping, watch TV all night to ‘keep your mind off it”
- Zoning Out/Numbing -Trying to cut off from these thoughts: medication, alcohol, drugs or sleeping or literally zoning out and staring at walls
- Suppression – in effect pushing away either from your mind or deep down inside
- Arguing – you are really having in an internal argument: “You’re no Good” ” yes I am, look at what Ive done and can do”. Or you could be arguing against. protesting in effect.
- Taking Charge – Telling yourself to “snap out of it” or “calm down”, or forcing yourself to be happy, often when you say other people are worse off than me, I should be happy.
- Self Bullying – starting to call yourself names, like loser or ‘stupid’, blaming yourself are key traits here
Take a moment and consider these, where do you sit? It may not be the same place for all uncomfortable thoughts, experiences or emotions. you can flip about them. It could vary depending on the situation.
This applies to all worry and anxiety and we know this is heightened in the peri menopause particularly. This is why so many women are put on anti depressants. It is this stress, this high level of stress hormone taht is aggravating menopause symptoms.
So reducing this with mindfulness based strategies is key
What happens when you experience menopause symptoms? A hot flush for example.
How to have a mindful menopause
Here are some strategies you can use
- Take ten slow deep breaths: focus on the rise and fall of your belly. Let thoughts and images come and go, pretty much in the background. Its important to acknowledge any new thoughts that appear, almost as if you are nodding recognition to someone as you pass, not jumping into interaction. Harris suggests and this is something I do, that you may say to yourself ‘thinking’ I extending this an may differentiate, ‘planning’ worrying’ etc.tart with 10 amndthen if it feels comfortable keep increasing in sets of 10.
- Acceptance: This can be confused a little, you are not accepting a situation but you are accepting that you are having the thoughts you are having about it. You are stepping into the observing self. when the thoughts come into your mind throughout the day, I’m no good, This is rubbish, I’ll be …, say to yourself, “Here is the thought that” . Distance even further with “I notice I am have the thought that I am….” this distances it and tells your brain its a thought not real.
- Bring an awareness to the physical: When you notice where you feel emotions, you can start t recognise the thoughts coming’s. You can do a body scan exercise for 20-40 minutes, or you can sit and in abut 10-20 seconds. Notice does not mean assess or analyse: Notice your feet, notice the position of your legs, notice your posture, notice you breathing, notice where your arms are, notice what sensations you have in your neck and shoulders, notice you body temperature (and be careful to stay on nothing here), notice the air on your skin, scan your body head to tow and notice any tension or peohapsstiffness, scan again and notice any uncomfortable feelings. this brings in awareness, awareness.
- take a mindful walk: notice the feeling on your feet on the ground, the ground and the surroundings, notice. if you find yourself making an opinion or, your mind wanders, notice where it went and say Thanks Mind, and bring your attention back to your feet. I love doing this barefoot in the grass.
So these are steps, baby steps towards a more mindful menopause. If you want to know more or want support, why not book a discovery call with me.