Stress can be a useful tool in the short-term —it revs you up in the moment, giving you the energy to fend off a threat. But if your stress levels stay high over time, you’ll likely begin to see negative effects on your mental and physical health. And when your body’s going through the drastic changes of menopause, stress can worsen your symptoms (more on that later) and even increase your risk of health problems later on in life.
Because of all this, adding relaxation resources to your menopause arsenal is essential, whether your period is just starting to get spotty or you’re already a few years deep into the (peri)menopause process. If you’re having a tough time adjusting to your new normal, you might be tempted — and rightfully so — to focus on anything but how you’re feeling. One hugely helpful skill to help cope? Practicing mindfulness, or the act of staying present in the moment, without judgment.
“Stress is an uncontrollable, overwhelming feeling, and meditation allows us to feel centered,” says Markesha Miller, a clinical psychologist based in Columbia, South Carolina. “When you and your thoughts are centered, the world doesn’t look as overwhelming.” (Equally good news? Research shows meditation can even help fend off hot flashes.)
Meditation for menopause: 5 tips to get you started
Benefiting from meditation needn’t require a lot of time or special skills and training — according to Miller, you can do it anywhere, anytime. The key is being willing to practice. Here are five ideas for integrating meditation into your routine as you approach menopause.
Download a meditation app
Stressing about menopause can worsen your symptoms, but other sources of stress — like your job or kids — can also contribute. Download a meditation app like Calm or Insight Timer and carve out a few minutes to tune in when you notice tension rising in your mind and body. This is a super easy way to learn the principles of meditation and stop the stress response in its tracks before it starts to take a toll on your mood and physical symptoms.
Body scan meditation
Your thoughts can tell you how you’re feeling, but so can your body, which holds stress and tension. Another way to practice mindfulness meditation is through a simple body scan. Find a quiet place, take a few deep breaths, and tune into your body, starting at the top of your head and going all the way down to your toes.
Pay attention to any sensation you might feel: tightness, pain, aching, pressure, temperature, or anything else. Then move on to the next part of your body. Body scans help you stay in tune to your physical experience so you can practice self-care (say, releasing tension in your jaw or relaxing your shoulders). Spending time focused on your body can also help your mind slow down when your thoughts are negative or spiraling out of control.
Your five senses are another great way to anchor yourself in the physical experience, which can help drown out anxious thoughts and keep you grounded in the present moment. Sit with your back straight and place your hands in your lap palms up. Close your eyes. Now, focus on the sounds around you. It can be your coworkers talking in the distance, printers working, an engine running, or a coffee machine preparing a cup for you or someone else. Try not to think about anything and simply focus on the sounds surrounding you. When you feel like you are relaxed enough, get out of the meditation and continue with your activities.
It’s easy to be hard on yourself when you’re not feeling 100 percent, but plenty of research shows that self compassion — basically, extending kindness to yourself as you would other people — can help manage stress and improve well-being.
A loving-kindness meditation can set the stage for more self compassion in your everyday life and promote positive thinking. In a quiet space, sit in a comfortable position and put your hand on your chest. Out loud, speak kind phrases to yourself. Whether you remind yourself that you’ll get through this trying time or tell yourself you deserve peace and joy, focus on kind wishes. If it helps, envision people who care about you embracing you or encouraging you with compassionate words.
If you’re struggling with menopause-related insomnia, a bedtime meditation practice can prepare your mind and body for rest. After you have gone through your nighttime routine, lie down in bed and simply close your eyes. Let your body relax and stay still. Then focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply through your nose and out through your mouth. While you are breathing, visualize the air going through your body and reaching your heart, your lungs, your arms, hands, even your feet — every body part.
When exhaling, focus on the air leaving your body, taking with it all the tension you have experienced during the day. Think about breathing in as energizing your body, and breathing out as clearing it from toxins and that which you no longer need. You might feel like you are drifting into sleep, but this is the goal, so just let the relaxation take over.
Uncomfy as mindfulness meditation might feel at first, it can eventually teach you how to be more comfortable in your ever-changing body, by attuning you to your needs and soothing your stress response. Midlife is a crazy time and it's important to stop and take a breath.