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The Brain Catches Fire at Menopause

An exploration of the physical and emotional changes that can spur growth and creativity for women at midlife.

Continued from page 3

It is well known that providing two hours of full-spectrum artificial light in the evening, to trick the body into thinking the days are longer, can reverse the weight gain, depression, carbohydrate craving, social withdrawal, fatigue, and irritability of SAD. But studies have shown that without continued use of the artificial lights, the symptoms return the following autumn unless the wake-up call is heeded. The link between PMS and SAD is a profound example of how women's wisdom is simultaneously encoded into both our monthly cycles and the annual cycle of the seasons.

Perimenopause: The Mother of
All Wake-up Calls

For many women perimenopause can be, as one of my patients described it, "PMS times ten"--and this is particularly the case for those who, for one reason or another, hit the snooze button instead of heeding their monthly and seasonal wake-up calls.

This is not to discount the direct physical effects of changing hormone levels. However, it is a safe bet that any uncomfortable symptoms that reveal themselves during times of hormonal shift will be magnified and prolonged if a woman is carrying a heavy load of emotional baggage. Throughout a woman's childbearing years, a kind of "debt account" is established where existing and future issues accumulate, compounding interest with each passing month that the debt goes unpaid.

For many women perimenopause can be, as one of my patients described it, "PMS times ten."

Thus the average woman, blessed with approximately 480 menstrual periods and 40 seasonal cycles to bring her to the threshold of menopause, gets about 500 progress reports. How is her physical health and nutrition? How are her emotions? What's happening in her relationships and her career? There have been approximately 500 opportunities to resolve those issues or sweep them under the rug.

At perimenopause the process escalates. The earnest, straightforward inner self, which has tried for years to get our attention, makes one final hormonally mediated attempt to get us to deal with our accumulated needs, wants, and desires. This is likely to turn into a period of great emotional turmoil, as each woman struggles to make a new life, one that can accommodate her emerging self.
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Christiane Northrup, M.D.
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