Menopause Myths: Your Period Just Stops

Note: this is Part 3 in a series that will bust some common myths about menopause and midlife hormone changes. To read Part 1, click here. To read Part 2, click here.

 

It would be SUPER NICE if one day you just never had a period again, but yeah…that isn’t how it goes for most people. Menopause is talked about as an event, but it’s really a process. That includes what happens with our periods.

The range of possibilities is big:

⚡️ Your cycles might get shorter, coming as often as every 2-3 weeks.

⚡️ Your cycles might get longer, not showing up for well over a month.

⚡️ You might sometimes have a normal cycle length, around 28 days.

⚡️ You might skip months entirely.

⚡️ You might randomly spot all month long, with or without an actual period.

⚡️ You might pingpong through all of these.

⚡️ When things are winding down, you might even come close to the magic 1 year mark without a period, only to wake up bleeding one day.

This can be a pain in the ass. To some extent, it can be managed using holistic or conventional therapies. But hormonal fluctuation is part of the process, and therefore so are wacky cycles.

If your period is changing a lot, I encourage you to talk to you doctor and make sure all is well. This is ESPECIALLY true if your period has been gone for over a year and then returns — this is a possible red flag that should be looked at as soon as possible.

If all is well but you’re miserable with the unpredictability? It’s definitely worth getting some help. I use acupuncture, Chinese botanical medicine, and supplements to help smooth out the rollercoaster, but there are lots of options available. Find what’s right for you!

Menopause Myths: It Isn’t a Thing Until You Hit 50

Note: this is Part 2 in a series that will bust some common myths about menopause and midlife hormone changes. To read Part 1, click here

I hear this ALL the time: “My periods are super weird and I’m hot at night and I just don’t feel like myself, but my doctor said I’m too young for menopause.”

Here’s the thing: there’s menopause, and then there’s PERIMENOPAUSE. Menopause is when your period goes away and stays gone for 12 consecutive months. Average age for that to happen? 51 years old.

Perimenopause is the whole phase BEFORE that, when hormones begin to shift, and that can last for . . . up to 10 years. Yeah. (I’m sorry.)

So doctors are right that it would be unusual for a person in their late 30s or early 40s to go through actual menopause. But could all those new symptoms be part of perimenopause? TOTALLY. Irregular periods, periods that are much heavier or more painful than usual, weight gain, irritability, weepiness, brain fog, hot flashes, insomnia, fatigue: all are possible.

If you feel like something is changing in your body, it probably is. You know yourself better than anyone else, and I want you to NEVER let anyone tell you that what you feel is imaginary or insignificant.

The good news is that there are lots of options for managing the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause: diet, exercise, acupuncture, botanical medicine, supplements, stress management, and hormone replacement can all be super helpful. So: trust yourself, and don’t suffer.

I offer support for women during perimenopause and menopause in my Austin, Texas clinic as well as through online health consultations. To book a free discovery call and see if it’s a good fit, click here.

 

Menopause Myths: Everyone Has Hot Flashes

Note: this is Part 1 in a series that will bust some common myths about menopause and midlife hormone changes! More soon…

So you’re in your 40s, noticing weird changes with your period and your body, but you think “I’m not having any hot flashes, so I guess this isn’t menopause yet.”⁠⠀
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Think again! Hot flashes during menopause and perimenopause (the period of time before menopause) are common, but not universal.⁠⠀
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Some women only have hot flashes during the very late stages of perimenopause. Some women have them after menopause is complete (which is defined as no period for 12 consecutive months). ⁠⠀
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Some women don’t ever get the classic hot flashes, the ones with sudden sweating, red face, racing to pull clothes off and find the nearest air conditioner vent.
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Instead, they might just feel warm at times, especially at night. I can get restless while sleeping and sometimes notice my feet are burning hot.⠀
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And some women never get hot flashes at all. ⠀
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The transition through perimenopause and menopause is a sneaky creature that looks different for everyone. Moral of this story? It’s not just about hot flashes! ⁠⠀

Have you been wondering about any midlife funkiness you’re experiencing?

“I tried meditating. I’m not any good at it.”

Let’s talk about your brain. So many people tell me “I tried meditating. I’m not any good at it.” And that makes me sad.

Here’s the thing: most people who feel like they “failed” at meditation only feel that way because they’ve been given bad information about what meditation really is. Let’s poke some holes in that narrative.

MYTH #1: The goal is to stop thinking. Your brain should be empty. (Nope.)
MYTH #2: You have to meditate for 30 minutes or more for it to help. (Nope.)
MYTH #3: You have to sit perfectly still in a pretzel position. (Nope.)

Some folks do have a practice of sitting quietly, mind relatively calm, for a long time. And that’s wonderful. But do you have to do that to receive the benefits of meditating? No. It can be so much more simple.

And I really like simplicity. So here’s my take:

  • Meditation involves being aware in the present moment. The most common tool is to focus on each breath. Here’s where you might have gone off the rails. You get distracted and think “I suck at this.”
  • But your brain is made to think. If you set a timer for one minute, it might wander off 1,000 times. THAT’S OKAY. Pretend your brain is a puppy and say “Come on back now. We’re just breathing.”
  • Each moment you notice distraction and bring yourself back to your breath — with kindness — is the KEY moment. That’s you training your “present moment” muscle. It takes time, but all that matters is to practice.
  • You can do this for 2 minutes a day and it will still benefit you.
  • You can do this washing dishes, sitting at your desk, in bed. Most every new patient in my clinic is given the “prescription” of 25-50 calm, deep breaths before going to sleep.
  • Or you can breathe while moving! The most profound meditation I ever experienced was during a walk in Golden Gate Park. I wasn’t trying to meditate. I just walked and tried to notice every tree. After a while my mind and breath got very quiet. The park was suddenly a place of magic. I wasn’t stressed anymore.
  • I thought that was a fluke until years later, when I had the privilege of joining a walking meditation led by Thich Nhat Hahn, the great Buddhist monk and teacher. So if walking works for you, walk. If being in nature works for you, go outside. If yoga works for you, do yoga. You can live in the present moment in many ways.

Still struggling? Here are a couple of extra tips for you:

If you’re anxious, you might find that meditating with your eyes closed makes you feel worse. A stressed nervous system can shift into hypervigilance when it feels unsafe. The solution? Just keep your eyes open. Look a little bit in front of you and keep your gaze soft.

Also, some people benefit from guided meditation. This can help focus a busy brain, or help you meditate on something you want to cultivate in your life, such as gratitude, calm, or acceptance. There are so many great apps for this. I love Insight Timer, and I know many others who love Headspace or Calm. Check them out.

To sum up? You CAN meditate. Meditation brings more emotional calm, mental clarity, and resilience. Keep it simple, don’t try for perfection, and start with your breath, wherever you are.

Thoughts on Gratitude From A Recovering Pessimist

It’s possible I was born a pessimist. Or maybe it set in later, during a sometimes difficult childhood and adolescence. Regardless, I spent a lot of time wearing a “glass is half empty” badge with a certain amount of pride.

I told people I wasn’t a pessimist, I was a realist.

Deep down, I knew my attitude was protective. When you believe bad things are going to happen, it feels vulnerable to focus on good things, or (gasp!) to expect them.

But as I got older, my pessimism started to wear thin. I knew my inner landscape needed to change, but there was still a tug of war between my habitual mindset and the new place I was trying to reach.

Enter the 30-day gratitude challenge I recently completed with a group of colleagues. It’s the first time in my entire life I’ve noted what I’m grateful for, every day, for a consistent period of time.

I think it’s started to rewire my brain.

Every day I wrote down 5 things I was grateful for. They could be big or little. They could repeat. Sometimes I shared them with my colleagues, sometimes I kept them to myself.

During that month, I had rough days. I DID NOT WANT to think about gratitudes on those days. But I’d made a promise to people I respect, and I’ve also learned if you only do things when they feel easy, you’re skipping out on the most valuable part of the game.

So I wrote those gratitudes down, every day. Some days all I could muster was that my blankets were warm, or that I was breathing. Other days I could have easily listed 10 things that felt amazing and joyful.

It probably comes as no surprise that I learned the most from the hard days. On those days, stopping to focus on anything – ANYTHING – that didn’t suck started a positive feedback loop. I’d struggle to think of one good thing, but once I’d managed that, several more would follow. And I’d feel lighter, happier.

It’s easy to turn being grateful into a platitude, something that denies our difficult feelings. I don’t ever want to do that, because feelings like sadness and anger are part of being alive, and have things to teach us.

But maybe taking the time to feel gratitude, every single day, is a powerful way to remind us that everything ebbs and flows. Where there is darkness, there will always be light again.

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll be keeping up my new daily practice. If you give it a try, I hope you find it as powerful as I do.

My Top 3 SIMPLE Self Care Tips

Earlier this week I talked about the true meaning of self care (love and kindness toward yourself).

I also discussed the BIG things that change when you treat yourself with love. You naturally shift toward healthier choices. You set healthy boundaries. And you become CONSISTENT with actions that bring you more happiness.

So what are the best ways to make self care into action, not theory?

When I struggle, I think of myself as a plant. If a plant is wilting, we water it. We might feed it. We make sure it’s getting the right amount of light. If we do that regularly, the plant will grow and thrive.

Humans aren’t so different. We just THINK we are because our big brains like to make things complicated.

But when in doubt, always start simple.

So here are my TOP 3 recommendations for simple self-care steps. They may sound basic. But I know from talking to hundreds of people in clinic that MOST of us AREN’T doing these three things regularly.

If we do, our lives change for the better.

#1: Rest on a CONSISTENT schedule: go to bed at the same time every night, preferably no later than 11 pm. Get up at the same time every morning. Sleep for 8 hours if you can.

There are times this isn’t possible (nursing babies, night jobs, etc.) But for most of us, we just don’t always choose to do it.

Sleep is when we heal. Our cells repair themselves, our brain processes emotions and experiences, our nervous system shifts out of stress/activation mode.

To allow ourselves this healing time is a huge act of loving kindness.

(If you have trouble sleeping, remember rest is also beneficial. Relax your muscles, take deep slow breaths, and know that you’re still treating yourself with care by taking time to rest.)

#2: Drink water. Think back to the plant. Just like a plant, we’re mostly water. And just like a plant, we wilt when dehydrated – even if we can’t always see it.

Without adequate water, our digestion and nutrient absorption is compromised, our thinking gets cloudy, our muscles get tight, our joints lack proper lubrication…the list goes on.

If you begin drinking enough water regularly, you WILL feel more awake, alert, and energized. And that makes it easier to do all the other things that improve your life.

#3: Take time EVERY DAY to sit quietly and breathe. You might think “I don’t have time for that.” Or “I tried meditating and it didn’t work for me.”

But you only need a few minutes, and you don’t have to think of this as meditating. It’s just sitting quietly, breathing, wherever you’re comfortable.

When you take 5-10 minutes a day to do this, you send a signal to your nervous system that all is well. It’s a POWERFUL reset button for our busy, stressful lives.

Please know this: your mind WILL wander. You’ll have thoughts. That’s okay, the goal isn’t to stop thinking.

Every time you gently shift your attention back to your breathing, you’re loving yourself. You’re gaining a moment to treat yourself with kindness instead of thinking “Stupid brain, shut up!”

When you make this a daily practice, your self-directed kindness muscles grow stronger. You’ll notice that you’re nicer to yourself at other times too. Your entire relationship with yourself begins to shift in profound, lovely ways.

And that’s it. Do these 3 simple things and notice what changes. You are 100% worth it.

 

P.S. Don’t forget your initial consultation is free. Come into the office to talk about your health goals and see if acupuncture and Chinese medicine is a good fit. Click the schedule button in the upper righthand corner of this page to request a consultation time.

 

What Shifts When You Practice True Self Care

In my last post, I talked about the meaning of true self care – that it isn’t just about fun indulgences, but about loving ourselves.

When we’re able to make this shift towards self-directed loving kindness, BIG changes take place.

Think about it in another context – what happens when children receive harsh words, judgement, or indifference? They often act out, shut down, or both.

Do you speak to yourself with the same kindness you’d offer a child? Or are you habitually hard on yourself? Do you respect or ignore your own emotional needs?

(If you’re someone who tends to beat yourself up, you’re not alone. Just acknowledge that tendency gently. No beating yourself up about beating yourself up!)

So what ARE the changes that happen when you begin to truly practice self care, no matter what?

  1. You choose healthier habits out of genuine self-respect, not external or guilt-driven motivation.
  2. You get much better at saying NO. When you’re not always putting your own needs last, you recognize when something or someone doesn’t serve you. This includes taking time to rest when you need it – something many of the women I see in my practice struggle with.
  3. You gain CONSISTENCY of action, which can change your entire life.

Consistency goes back to the New Year’s resolutions I mentioned in my last post. Take exercise as an example.

When you say “I’m going to start working out” because you feel guilty or hate the way your body looks, you’re more likely to choose physical activities that don’t work for you. Or to overdo it, injure yourself, or just quit because it feels bad.

But when you say “I’m going to start working out” because you want to be loving toward yourself, you choose physical activities that truly makes you feel good (even if they won’t result in 6-pack abs).

You also stick with it more consistently because you recognize that when you do, you feel happier, sleep better, and enjoy life more. And you KNOW you’re worth that happiness.

If truly caring for yourself is something you struggle with, you’re might think “Great, but HOW do I do this?” I’m going to talk about that in the next post – there are simple, quick steps to begin shifting how you relate to yourself. I promise they really are simple and quick, and anyone can do them.

In the meantime, give yourself a mental hug, no matter how you’re feeling today. Talk to you soon.

P.S. Don’t forget your initial consultation is free. Come into the office to talk about your health goals and see if acupuncture and Chinese medicine is a good fit. Click the schedule button in the upper righthand corner of this page to request a consultation time.

The True Meaning of Self Care

I’m guessing you see the phrase self care everywhere these days. It’s become a trendy thing to talk about.

Lots of us – especially women and mothers – put ourselves last, and that can hurt not just us but everyone around us. So I’m happy we’re talking about self care more!

But . . . here’s the catch. What does self care actually MEAN?

If you hang out on Instagram or Pinterest, it might look like massages, bubble baths, and chocolate. Or maybe binge watching Netflix during a hard week. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. (I love all those things!)

But I think we miss something important when we only focus on those “treat yourself” moments. True self care is something else, something extremely powerful. When I talk about this in clinic, I’ve had people later tell me it was life-changing.

(It’s something you already know. But sometimes you need to hear it again.)

TRUE self care is first and foremost about being loving and kind toward yourself. In other words, CARING about yourself.

I can’t tell you how many years in the past I’ve made these classic New Year’s resolutions:

1. Work out more
2. Eat better

Some years I was pretty good, and of course I felt better with exercise and healthy food. But did I always stick with it? Nope. And did those things give me consistent energy, improved mood, and focus? Nope.

Why? Because they didn’t take away anxiety, constant mental chatter, or loneliness. They didn’t actually fill what needed filling.

That’s because self care isn’t just about taking care of our physical bodies, or indulging our wants. It’s about about taking care of ALL of ourselves – body, mind, and spirit.

And that starts with being truly loving and kind with ourselves, so that all our actions follow from that motivation. Here’s the amazing thing: when we begin THIS kind of self care? Everything changes.

In my next blog post, I’ll talk more about why this is so important. And I’ll discuss some of the powerful shifts that occur when you operate from this place of self-kindness. Talk to you soon!

Springtime Love for your Liver

Hello and happy spring! Any of this ring a bell for you?

You feel irritable or frustrated

You’re sluggish and tired

Your digestion seems off

You’re having headaches

You find yourself sighing a whole lot (maybe in irritation…)

Your periods have been hellish recently

If any of those have popped up for you and you’re wondering why, here’s why: it’s springtime!

I can hear you thinking, “But spring is great! The mountain laurels and red buds are blooming! I can wear sandals again!” All of that is true! But spring is also liver season, and the transition from winter to spring can be tricky, especially in our hyper-productive society that doesn’t allow much time for winter hibernation.

Spring is associated with the liver in Chinese medicine. It’s a time of growth and expansion, but it’s easy for things to get stuck, and our livers are made to process things, not be stuck. Suppressing emotions, not getting enough water or physical activity, heavy foods, and lack of sleep can all make it difficult to grow your (metaphorical) tiny green leaves and flowers.

Human beings contain huge amounts of potential energy at all times, but we have to keep that energy flowing. When flow is restricted, it’s like a kink in your garden hose. The water won’t come out, and over time that hose is going to crack from too much pressure. The result? Frustration, irritation, fatigue.

So how do you move into spring full of flow, growth, and joy? Add some (or all) of these simple solutions into your life:

Drink plenty of water with a squeeze of lemon or lime (the liver loves sour things).

Move your body in whatever way feels good – don’t overdo it if your winter has been sedentary. Walking, yoga, qigong, and stretching are all perfect if you haven’t been moving a lot lately.

Eat springtime green veggies.

Let yourself feel anger, sadness, and fear – and then let them go with kindness. The best way to move through being stuck is deep love and compassion for yourself.

Breathe deeply.

Get outside: take a hike, look at the sky, get your hands in the dirt, take your shoes off in the grass.

Take time to think about what you want to see MORE of in your life. Think of ways to make that growth happen.

Need some extra help? Acupuncture is a great tool for seasonal transitions and the discomfort that can come with them. Schedule a free 15 minute consultation or (for existing patients) schedule a followup appointment.

Five Reasons to Eat a Pumpkin!

It’s peak pumpkin season, folks. This month many of you will carve faces into them, decorate your home with them, put your babies into pumpkin costumes (so cute!), and eat pumpkin spice everything. (Although I saw a picture of pumpkin spice hummus the other day and that’s going TOO FAR.)

But how often do you think to eat a pumpkin? You should, because they’re full of amazing benefits!

  1. Pumpkins (nan gua in Chinese) correspond to the Earth element in Chinese medicine, which represents the digestive system. They’re the perfect thing to eat as the weather changes and cold/flu season begins. Pumpkin is considered warming and deeply nourishing to the body.
  2. When pumpkin is cooked into soups or stews with warming spices like ginger, garlic, cinnamon, or cloves, the effect is even stronger.
  3. Because it strengthens our digestive system, pumpkin also has a beneficial effect on the lungs and can offer an immunity boost.
  4. Pumpkin is high in antioxidants, vitamin A, and fiber and low in calories.
  5. Let’s not forget pumpkin seeds! In Chinese medicine, the seeds (nan gua zi) are a traditional remedy for parasites and low milk supply. But even if those issues don’t apply to you, they can also lower cholesterol and help you sleep better. In my house, we always roast the seeds from our jack o’lanterns with a bit of olive oil or butter, some salt, and whatever spices sound delicious.

Note from the cook:

  • Smaller pie pumpkins will often taste sweeter and more tender than large carving pumpkins.
  • If you do try one of the big ones, buy one just for eating. Once they’ve been carved, unsafe bacteria and molds can grow.
  • The same health benefits apply to all yellow/orange fall squashes.

Happy Halloween and happy pumpkin eating!