The holidays are a crucible for relationship meltdowns. Loved ones with differing expectations, familial patterns, and needs get together to create a “Hallmark moment.” Even in the best of circumstances, this can be a set up for dysfunction and stress. At midlife, it can be even tougher. I wrote about this in the newly revised edition of The Wisdom of Menopause, which will be available in January 2012.
“It is no secret that relationship crises are a common side effect of menopause. Usually this is attributed to the crazy-making effects of the hormonal shifts occurring in a woman’s body at this time of transition. What is rarely acknowledged or understood is that as these hormone-driven changes affect the brain, they give a woman a sharper eye for inequity and injustice, and a voice that insists on speaking up about them. In other words, they uncover hidden wisdom—and the courage to voice it. As the vision-obscuring veil created by the hormones of reproduction begins to lift, a woman’s youthful fire and spirit are often rekindled, together with long-sublimated desires and creative drives. Midlife fuels those drives with a volcanic energy that demands an outlet.
“If it does not find an outlet—if the woman remains silent for the sake of keeping the peace at home or work, or if she holds herself back from pursuing her creative urges and desires—the result is equivalent to plugging the vent on a pressure cooker: Something has to give. Very often what gives is the woman’s health, and the result will be one or more of the “big three” diseases of postmenopausal women: heart disease, depression, and breast cancer. On the other hand, for those of us who choose to honor the body’s wisdom and to express what lies within us, it’s a good idea to get ready for some boat rocking, which may put long-established relationships in upheaval. Marriage is not immune to this effect.”
And neither are your relationships with other family members.
Your family and friends are bound to respond differently to you as you grow and change. When it comes to these dynamics, change makes people uncomfortable—how will your newly adopted lifestyle affect them? Even changing your hairstyle is enough to stir the pot, sometimes.
So what can you do? Here are some ideas:
- See it for the Petri dish it is. Expect resistance!
- Remind yourself that it’s OK not to be the good girl who sees to everyone’s needs except her own. This goes for any pattern you’re trying to break.
- As you end or update some relationships, you may feel a little sad. That’s OK. Grieve and let go. By doing so, you’ll be protecting your health for years to come.
- Laugh. Bringing humor into a situation almost always eases tension.
- Distance yourself—even if it means skipping the traditional family get together—so you don’t become emotional or stressed by others’ behavior.
I would love to hear about how you’ve established new boundaries as you have grown through the years. Please leave a comment below! Note: Comments are not posted immediately, but often show up in 24 hours or less.
There’s no question that heart palpitations at menopause are related to changing hormones. However, my experience has been that in many midlife women, heart palpitations are primarily from increasing heart energy trying to get in and be embodied in a woman’s life. At midlife our hearts and bodies often become increasingly sensitive to those things that don’t serve us, including caffeine, refined carbohydrates, aspartame, alcohol, or monosodium glutamate, all of which may overstimulate our hearts. You also might need to avoid scary, violent, or emotionally draining news, movies, books, or individuals. Your heart may also be telling you it’s time to pay attention to your deepest desires or what your heart is longing to express.
The following letter from Terri, one of my e-letter subscribers, is typical of how midlife heart palpitations are often present.
I am a forty-eight-year-old female with no major health problems. I do not take any prescription medicine. I walk five times a week and go to the gym about twice a week to do some light weight lifting. My periods are still fairly regular. I have a fairly healthy diet, although it could be better. I drink about a cup of coffee a day, but usually don’t drink soft drinks. About a month ago, after a fatty fast-food meal and a large cup of coffee in the early evening, I started experiencing heart irregularities. I felt like my heart was skipping a beat and was going to beat out of my chest!
This went on for a couple of days and I went to see my doctor. She did an EKG, which was slightly abnormal, and scheduled me for a stress echocardiogram and Holter monitor. Of course, by the time I had these tests, the palpitations had stopped and the results were normal. Then about a week later, they started again.
I have cut out drinking coffee and started doing more yoga. I have also started taking more magnesium, in addition to my multivitamins. I have monitored what is going on with my life and I can’t seem to find any pattern to when these occur. Most nights when I lie down in bed they usually start up, especially when I lie on my left side. My doctor wants to start me on a low dose of a beta- blocker. I told her I would like to start using natural progesterone cream routinely for a couple of months because I feel these palpitations may be related to hormonal changes.
I would really like to avoid taking heart medications. However, these palpitations can interrupt my sleep and are very uncomfortable. Are these palpitations hormonally related?
My suggestion to Terri was that she go through the program for creating heart health I outline in the chapter “Living With Heart, Passion, and Joy” in the revised edition of The Wisdom of Menopause. Her midlife heart is obviously becoming very sensitive, alerting her to the need to balance freedom and connection and also to nourish her heart fully. I concur with her intuitive desire to start on some natural progesterone as a way to balance potential estrogen dominance. (Note: Natural progesterone is not the same as Provera. Provera is a man-made form of progesterone, and studies have shown this synthetic hormone can harm the heart.) Besides, progesterone is known to be very calming to the nervous system. It may well help her with sleeping. In addition, her heart is telling her to stop drinking caffeine. The caffeine in one cup of coffee can take up to ten hours to be metabolized in women, so it exerts a stimulatory effect on the central nervous system and the nerves of the heart for quite some time. For many women, heart palpitations stop as soon as they begin to take progesterone cream or estrogen, stop caffeine, and also normalize blood sugar and insulin levels through dietary change.
But it’s also important to find out what your heart is yearning for. One of my patients with heart palpitations found that they stopped soon after she asked for a promotion at work, something she hadn’t had the courage to do before. She got the promotion and finds her work more fulfilling than ever. Her heart no longer has to speak so loudly.
What kinds of messages have you received from your heart? What steps have you taken to honor those messages? Please leave me a comment and let me know.
(Comments are not posted immediately, however, are typically visible 3-36 hours after you enter them.)
Adapted with permission from The Wisdom of Menopause (Random House, 2012).
One of my Facebook friends was asking me for advice for her sister, who has hypertension (high blood pressure). I didn’t suggest a statin or a blood pressure lowering medication, as the first choice. I explained that, while there are factors like high blood pressure or a stressful lifestyle which contribute to hypertension, sometimes the root cause is deep emotional tension from the past.
In the Wisdom of Menopause (2012), I write about the experience of my colleague Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., a pioneer in the whole foods movement and founder of the Natural Gourmet Cooking School in New York City. Annemarie—who has eaten a mostly vegan, organic diet for decades—was diagnosed with hypertension “out of the blue” in the second half of her life.
Annemarie had read about the work of Samuel J. Mann, M.D., professor of Clinical Medicine at the Hypertension Center of the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Dr. Mann has seen thousands of patients with high blood pressure over the years. In his book Healing Hypertension: A Revolutionary New Approach (Wiley 1999), he notes that, over the years, he has observed a pattern which doesn’t fit the common view of hypertension as being stress-related. He wrote, “Even patients with severe hypertension did not seem more emotionally distressed than others. If anything, they seemed less distressed.”
It appeared that their high blood pressure was more related to avoiding one’s feelings than to addressing them. Mann came to the conclusion that old, unhealed, repressed traumas were the major culprit in his patients’ high blood pressure. I agree it is our hidden emotions—the ones we don’t feel—that lead to hypertension and many other so-called “unexplained” disorders.
In any case, Annemarie Colbin found herself suddenly grappling with episodes of extreme high blood pressure (sometimes as high as 220/110), along with insomnia. Rather than giving in to the typical treatment, which would mean taking drugs for the rest of her life, she went to see Dr. Mann. She was encouraged to look into any hidden emotions she might be harboring. It didn’t take her long to figure out that her problem stemmed from what I call an “energetic imprint” of trauma from her childhood.
When Annemarie was a child, age 2–5, she spent three years in Hungary during WWII. She lived there with her mother, her father having been forced into a labor camp. She and her mother spent many nights in cellars and basements with 30–40 strangers, hiding from bombs and grenades. She said that she had no memory of this at all. But one day she took a walk and found herself just “waiting.” For what, she didn’t know.
Then she remembered her mother telling her about one of the times they stayed in a basement. Her mother had been summoned upstairs by the occupying soldiers for a party and had to leave her alone in the basement with strangers, none of whom cared about her. She suddenly felt profound terror that her mother might not come back. She said, “I remember knowing that I would die if she did not return. I had no home, no family, no friends, nothing. Just the two of us. I think I must have stayed awake all night waiting for my mother. And now—in my sleepless nights—I was reliving it.”
After this revelation (when walking), Annemarie says, “I lay in the grass, on the safe ground, and shook and cried, feeling and releasing that old terror. After a while of shaking and crying, I calmed down, got up, and went home, feeling strangely relieved. Then I checked my blood pressure. It had gone down to 137/82 in one hour.” Over the next several months as she cleared out additional, old emotional baggage, her blood pressure eventually stabilized at a normal level.
We are living in a time when the light is getting much brighter. And because of this it is much more difficult to hold on to our inner darkness—our old, unhealed pain and terror. Failure to release those old dark emotions, and release them fully, increases our chances for becoming ill—whether that’s high blood pressure or something else. We’ve been taught to be very afraid of our tears, our rage, our grief. But these are NOT the problem. Keeping them bottled up is.
For some of you, just reading this will bring up the emotions that require releasing. Others may need the help of a skilled therapist or bodyworker. Regardless, here is an affirmation to help you release what needs to come up and out—if anything!
Divine Beloved, please change me into someone who can easily release any dark emotions that I may be holding—even if I don’t know about it. Help me to feel and then to release everything that needs to come up. I am safe and all is well.
After you practice this a bit, please leave me a comment here or on my Facebook page and tell me about your experience. For more encouragement, listen to Flourish on February 27, 2013, when I’ll be helping listeners through this important process.