“I struggled to feel festive because of my menopause”
Taking time out for family celebrations, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Divali or Eid, should be a time of happiness. But menopausal symptoms can make big celebrations feel even more stressful than usual.
Carole, 53, shares her story:
“I’ve always loved Christmas and taken pride in putting on the best festivities I can for my family, making everything myself from food to hand-made cards. I especially love the build-up – the Christmas markets, the decorations, the parties, festive lunches with friends and going to a pantomime with the kids. But two years ago, my menopausal symptoms almost ruined Christmas for me.
My sleep had been bad for a while, and I’d often find myself awake in the small hours, overheated and anxious. During the daytime I felt exhausted and fuzzy-headed. I worked for a toy company and work was stressful during the last two months of the year, with all the extra orders to cope with, so the festive preparations that I usually relished just left me stressed and anxious.
Overwhelmed and tearful…
One day while out Christmas shopping, I got palpitations and had to go home. Simple things like getting the tree and decorations down from the loft left me feeling overwhelmed and tearful. The heat of the kitchen as I made the usual three batches of minced pies caused such bad hot flushes that I had to go and stand outside. I was uncharacteristically bad-tempered and often in tears. I just wasn’t myself and felt on a knife-edge.
With all this going on, and feeling so exhausted, work was extra-challenging. Brain fog made me unable to think straight, and I’d sometimes lose the thread of what I was saying in the middle of a sentence. Luckily, I could share what was going on with female colleagues. But I didn’t feel I could tell my boss, and what good would it have done anyway? Even the usual socialising was out of bounds that year. One really maddening symptom was itchy skin around my neck and chest, which got much worse the moment I had any alcohol, so the usual parties and nights out with work friends were miserable.
I knew I was menopausal but didn’t want to use HRT and thought I just had to live with the symptoms. My husband, while sympathetic, wasn’t much help as he was away a lot in the run up to Christmas. Eventually things came to a head when my teenage son, fed up of being scolded, snapped back one day and I just burst into tears. I was embarrassed to tell him what was wrong, but I realise now that was silly. He went and looked up the symptoms, bless him, and once he’d got his head round the menopause, urged me to go and see my doctor.
Christmas wasn’t easy that year and I definitely lacked Christmas spirit, but at least I had some support, and, on the advice of my doctor, scaled back my expectations of myself. In the end I did most of my shopping online, sent shop-bought cards, got my husband to help in the kitchen and had to avoid alcohol altogether. Long walks with the family really helped me feel much better – and cooled my skin down. I actually went off for a nap on Christmas Day afternoon, even though we had family visiting, and it made such a difference.
The best thing was that in the days after Christmas I got my bike out and started cycling again on the advice of a work friend, and found this really helped keep the menopausal symptoms at bay. By the time I went back to work I felt a bit better and more able to cope. We’re not superhuman, and the menopause is tough – so my advice is don’t expect too much of yourself. Do whatever it takes to make it manageable.”
Expert tips for managing menopause over Christmas time
Expert tips for managing menopause over Christmas time by Kathy Abernethy, Director of Menopause Services at Peppy and immediate past Chair of the British Menopause Society.
Identify your trigger points
It might be a particular family member or a tradition you’d rather avoid, but we all have those things that just ‘set us off’.
Be honest with yourself about your triggers – if you dislike a certain part of the holidays, try to take a smaller role or just give it a miss. Ask a trusted friend or family member to help you deflect any questions.
Watch your temperature
Meeting lots of people over the holidays often leads to closer contact, warmer rooms and higher stress levels. This can be bad news for those with their own disrupted thermo-regulation and can cause an increase in hot flushes. Pack a cooling spritz spray in your bag and have your own bottle of iced water in the fridge at all times – both can really help.
Write a to-do list (and share it too)
Having every gift wrapped, dish cooked and bed made for the holidays can hard enough without brain fog. Take the pressure off yourself by writing a list and allocating jobs to family and guests – that way, it’s not just your responsibility.
Take care with alcohol
Alcohol, especially red wine, may worsen flushes, exacerbate low mood and affect your sleep, which won’t help your stress levels. It can be easy to end up drinking more than you meant to, so try alternating your drinks with non-alcoholic choices, or making sure you have mixers available to dilute alcoholic drinks.
Christmas and other celebrations are a great time to join with others and indulge yourself.
Be aware that while processed party foods feel like a treat, they are rich in salt and can make you retain water and feel bloated. But don’t be too hard on yourself – it’s only one day and you can get back to your usual routine after you celebrate.
Dress for the occasion
Look for clothes made of natural fibres like cotton, bamboo or merino, and layer up so you have the option to take off your jumper if you get too warm.
Make time for you
If you are continuously busy, your stress hormones will go into overdrive and only make menopausal symptoms worse. Whether it’s as simple as taking time out to have a warm bath or going for a walk, don’t forget to give yourself space to regroup and refresh.
Keep the house ventilated
Keep the house well ventilated to minimise your flushes and step outside for a moment and take some deep breaths when you need to. If you don’t want to explain why to visitors, use Covid as an excuse.