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Mental Health

Build Mental Toughness: 5 Ways to Stay Strong

Nov 01, 2022

It’s never too late — and always a good idea — to use resilience skills to adapt to any difficulties you’re facing. (Karolina Grabowska/Pexels)

Even if you know a big hormonal dip is probably in your near future, (peri)menopause symptoms can catch you off guard. Whether your go-to solution is lifestyle changes or medication, chances are your healthcare provider will also tell you to minimize stress. Cortisol exposure is a known trigger for many symptoms. In an already overwhelming time, protecting yourself from stress can keep mental health conditions like anxiety and depression at bay. 

Parting ways with stress is easier said than done, of course — if it were that easy, we wouldn’t be having this convo in the first place. So when you can’t change certain stress-inducing circumstances, focus on empowering yourself to take them in stride by building resilience.

Hollye Jacobs, RN, MS, MSW, a resilience coach, nurse, social worker, and author, defines resilience as “the ability to withstand, adapt, and recover from any significant stress or adversity in life.” You can promote your own resilience anytime — it’s easier to think creatively about solutions and learn new skills if you’re not already stressed. “We can put deposits in our emotional resilience bank and be able to pull on that account in the face of challenges,” Jacobs says. 

5 resilience skills to practice during menopause

Just as adversity causes emotional and physical stress, resilience requires investment in those areas. Here are five ways to ensure you can build mental toughness to survive and even thrive in stress, before, during, and after menopause. 

Shore up your support system

Having supportive, validating people in your corner — ideally, those who have already gone through what you’re going through — can be a game changer during peri/menopause. But it can be tough to find the support you need when you’re not in a good headspace. That’s why Jacobs recommends identifying there-for-you people before you hit (peri)menopause or before it gets harder. Link up with friends or family members who are open to talking about challenges without diminishing your experience. It can’t hurt to have a therapist or OB-GYN you like on call, either.

Infuse your life with meaning

Not to get all spiritual on you, but a sense of purpose can be hugely helpful when you’re going through something hard — you can see the big picture and get outside your own head a little bit. Whether you start volunteering at an organization you’re passionate about, take up a new hobby, or invest more deeply in your marriage or friendships, find a couple of ways to infuse your day-to-day with stuff that means something to you. 

Jacobs especially recommends focusing on ways to help others. “If you feel stuck, there is no better way to infuse purpose into life than being of service,” she says. “It’s one of the greatest ways to find meaning, build self-efficacy, connect with something greater than yourself, and find balance and optimism.”

Reflect on what a badass you are

When the proverbial shit hits the fan, self-efficacy — your own belief in your capacity or ability to get through something — tends to go out the window. Those “I can’t do this” thoughts can make you feel pretty crappy, which only zaps your motivation. One way to nix those thoughts is to regularly reflect on other times you’ve done hard things. How did you cope with IVF, childbirth, divorce, or a scary medical diagnosis, and how can those skills help you get through another difficult situation? 

“Reflecting on times when you’ve thrived during past difficulty provides perspective to your current situation,” says Jacobs. “This is not to lessen your very real and justified feelings but to remind you that the situation will pass and motivate you to think through next steps.” 

Nourish your body 

Stress is just as much a physical experience as it is a mental and emotional one. You can help your body adapt to stress by nourishing and strengthening it with plenty of exercise, good sleep, and water. Eating a balanced diet of complex carbs, lean protein, fiber, and healthy fats can also reduce stress on your body so that when hard times hit you’re not as easily drained. Practicing deep breathing techniques, meditation, and body-mind activities like yoga can also equip your body to respond to stress in a healthy way, essentially shifting you out of the fight-or-flight response and into a calmer rest-and-digest state. 

Practice gratitude 

Gratitude might not reverse your stress, but shifting your perspective toward positivity can play a big role in shaping your thoughts, emotions, and behavior so you can tackle stress. Scribbling a quick “I’m thankful for” list won’t hurt, but Jacobs suggests a different approach: In a notebook, answer “What would my intuition, nature, or higher power have me know today?” 

Maybe you decide you’re loved or strong. Maybe you realize you haven’t been very good at self-care. Either way, taking the time to reflect can help you tap into a sense of deeper meaning and take better care of yourself when you need it most. 

“The silver lining is that in all likelihood women going through (peri)menopause already have resilience skills that can be engaged and utilized to get through this experience,” says Jacobs. So even if you’re already knee-deep in the trenches of (peri)menopause symptoms, it’s never too late — and always a good idea — to use resilience skills to adapt to any difficulties you’re facing. 

Staying strong

Mental toughness isn't the same as sucking it up or grinning and bearing it. Think of yourself as a house. You're building a solid foundation to help you weather storms and emerge intact from tough times. And with the right support, maybe even stronger. 

By Ashley Abramson

Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer primarily covering health, psychology, and relationships. She's been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Guardian. She lives in the Milwaukee area with her husband and two young sons.