Written by Bonny Osterhage
You've probably heard the phrase, "aging isn't for the faint of heart," but you may not have understood it until you noticed that first gray hair, experienced your first night sweat, or struggled to button your favorite pair of jeans over your inexplicably expanding waistline. But while it’s true that growing older comes with challenges, it's not something to dread or feel embarrassed about. After all, aging is universal and inevitable: we all experience it, and it can come with a lot of benefits, like greater wisdom and life experiences.
Unfortunately, despite an aging population, America still holds negative attitudes toward getting older. We are constantly reminded by media that aging is something to be fought. We tweak and tighten, lift and laser, Botox and bleach, attempting to preserve our youth and beauty just a little bit longer. It’s no wonder that when women reach menopause, the physical changes that occur can affect not only the way we see our bodies, but also the way we see ourselves and our place in society. That perception can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation for many.
According to Margot Rittenhouse, a Certified Counselor, a study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 60% of American women aged 50 and older reported concerns about weight and shape negatively impacted their lives. She writes that it is uncommon for a woman to love her body through the transition to menopause because of the stigma our society has created around aging.1
But what if we could rewrite the narrative? There is real power in positivity and changing the lens through which you view yourself. But how, exactly, do you do that? By understanding the changes your body is going through during menopause, controlling what you can, and shifting your internal dialogue to one of love, gratitude, and most importantly, acceptance.
“What we think about all these changes is a choice,” says Susan DeLorenzo, Registered Nurse and Certified Life Coach. "It is in resistance to these changes that we suffer."
Understanding and Supporting Physical Changes During Menopause
To begin a more positive relationship with your changing body during menopause, you may need to reacquaint yourself with it. When you understand why it is changing then you can spend less energy fighting and more time supporting it.
Yes, it is frustrating when you haven't changed your diet or exercise routine, yet you begin to gain weight. And no, dealing with acne on top of dealing with wrinkles isn’t fair. But your body isn’t out to get you. It’s simply reacting to a combination of factors that occur during midlife, including slower metabolism, genetics, and shifting hormone levels.
Aging isn't optional, but before you get discouraged, you need to realize that the way you handle it is entirely up to you. There are plenty of ways to take back control of your body, your energy, and your life.
One of the quickest ways to boost your mood and metabolism is to get moving. Exercise is nature’s antidepressant, and you don’t need a prescription to do it. Walk around the block. Pick up some light weights. Join a gym or exercise class. It doesn't have to be intense to be effective. Along with that comes your nutrition. They don't call it a mind/body connection for nothing.
What you eat has a serious effect on your energy, and your mental health. The 2-3 glasses of wine you used to enjoy every night may be interfering with your sleep, and the sugar is doing neither your skin nor your scale any favors. Aim for plenty of fruits, vegetables, and proteins, while avoiding processed and sugary foods. Watch your alcohol intake and drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Even if you aren't going anywhere, the act of putting yourself together, showering, brushing your hair, and even applying a pop of color on your cheeks and lips is an act of self-care. "It really is about showing yourself respect, spending a few minutes a day taking care of yourself," says DeLorenzo. "It's a mindset that says, 'I am worth it.'"
An attitude of gratitude is a habit and one that becomes easier with practice. DeLorenzo recalls sitting on the beach and watching older ladies flaunting their bikinis and soaking up the sun, unconcerned with whether or not they had wrinkles or put on weight. It was in that moment, inspired by their energy, that she decided to shift her focus to gratitude for her body in all its changing glory. "It’s by having gratitude for 'what is,' that we find the true foundation for beauty and energy," she says. "You have to choose the thought that says, 'This is where I am, and I am grateful to be here.'"
Remember Who You Are
“When we relate to ourselves through only our physical self, or the things we accomplish, we are doomed to spiral into a feeling of never-ending loss when those things begin to fade,” cautions DeLorenzo. “We have to value ourselves and others on the spirit inside.” That means remembering that you still have plenty to offer, including the wisdom that comes with life experience, the love that you show others, and the joy that you share.
Get A Sense of Humor
Especially in the bedroom. Sexuality is more than how we look; it is about how we feel about ourselves. DeLorenzo says that being lighthearted and having fun can go a long way in keeping the passion alive. “Sex is about so much more than what our bodies look like,” she says. “It is the giving of one to another, accepting one another, and loving one another.” If sex is painful due to hormone imbalances, supplements or hormone replacement therapy can help alleviate some of those symptoms. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider for recommendations to determine what’s best for you.
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Perhaps the most important thing you can do to stay body positive is to remember that you are not alone. Surround yourself with a solid group of friends who understand what you are going through. With the right mindset and support, you can embrace aging and menopause with grace and confidence.