If you live in one of the few Gen-X households in the US that still has a landline (don’t ask why), you know that the only people that really call you on that number are your parents and TELEMARKETERS. And while I do have Caller ID on my landline (again, please don’t ask why), every once in a while, I’ll pick up the phone on an unrecognizable number for a reason that I really can’t explain (kinda like why I still have a landline). One such occasion happened last week, during which I was reminded that winter is coming and it’s time to “winterize” my home. While I can look at the calendar and see that winter, is indeed, coming, I’m still not quite ready for the cold weather, and am admittedly behind on my weatherizing checklist.
That got me to thinking -- apart my from home…and oh yeah, my car -- what else might need winterizing? While we might think about winterizing our homes and our automobiles in preparation for the change in climate, we don’t always (or rarely) apply the same care and planning to ourselves.
Monday, December 21st marks the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. And depending on where you live in the world, the onset of winter means shorter days and colder weather. For many of us, this means our access to sunlight will decrease, and we’ll likely be spending even more time indoors. For me, this usually means less movement and a proclivity for seasonal depression, due to the limited sunlight and increase in gray days.
The air will be colder and drier, which means our skin, nails and hair are subject to the same – adding to their already mercurial and ever-changing state, the closer we get to menopause. So, what can we do to ready ourselves for our menopausal journey through cold, dark(ish), winter?
Like most things lately, I’m finding that taking notes on new discoveries I’d like to try or making lists helps a lot. Even though I misplace or throw them away half of the time (brain fog and all), when I do manage to hold on to them, they prove quite useful. With some of my newly gained insights and learnings in mind, I’ve mapped my own plan for winter according to a mind, body & spirit orientation. Certainly it’s not original, and may even seem a bit un-inspired, but it’s easy to remember and sums up my range of needs pretty well…
The onslaught of stress and anxiety we’ve all been processing for the past several months has seen the need and demand for mental health services increase significantly. And for those of us trying to manage our menopause transition, the hormonal fluctuations associated with perimenopause can exacerbate that stress.
With all of this mental trauma and social isolation, it’s no surprise that more Black women are seeking help. Yet, finding and accessing a range of qualified mental health service providers who are also Black women, can be challenging. I recently read an article which cited that in the US, women of color make up less than 5 percent of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers available to treat those who need help.
That said, the emergence of digital health clinics and innovations in tele-health services can help make it a bit easier to find the limited number professionals of color who are out there. Through digital platforms like Black Female Therapists and apps like Health in Her Hue, you may be able to find a qualified counselor or psychiatrist in your area who may be able to treat you in-person or through a virtual session.
Mindfulness and breathing apps can also provide helpful support in managing your stress and anxiety, day-to-day. Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried a few different ones and Calm was a longtime favorite until they started charging for pretty much all of their content. In the past year I shifted to Oak, which I like a lot. It’s pretty straightforward and offers (free) options for meditation and breathing exercises, both guided and un-guided. I also like that you can see how many people are meditating and breathing along with you in real-time, letting you know that you’re not alone.
Protein, protein, protein! The importance of eating a protein-rich diet can’t be overstated. Last month, for World Menopause Month, I interviewed registered nutritional therapist, Jackie Lynch about her new book, The Happy Menopause, in which she emphasizes the importance of protein for women as we age:
“...to extent possible, every meal [should be] a protein-rich meal. Of course, with protein, it can be the meat and fish or eggs. But it should also include your plant-based proteins, like soya and lentils, chickpeas and your grains like quinoa, nuts and seeds… Really think about getting in your protein with every meal and snack. We need protein for so many different things and it’s crucial for balancing your blood sugar, which will help reduce your sugar cravings.
We also need protein to support our muscle function and muscle tone, because after menopause transition, most of us have lost about 40% of our muscle mass, so protein will help with that. We need strong muscles to keep us fit as we grow older to help with balance and reduce our risk of falls, and also support our bone health.”
A regular intake of Vitamin D can be helpful in alleviating many of the most frustrating symptoms linked to perimenopause, including depression and weight gain. Vitamin D has also proven effective in helping to manage hypertension and Type II diabetes -- conditions which disproportionately affect Black women.
While moderate exposure to direct sunlight is one of the best and most efficient ways to get a regular intake of Vitamin D, Black and South Asian women tend to have lower levels of Vitamin D, due to a darker skin pigmentation. And with shorter days and more time indoors, you can ensure you’re getting in your daily dose of Vitamin D by taking an over-the-counter supplement (I currently take 1000 IUs per day).
If you’re unsure of how many daily units to take, you can ask your doctor or pharmacist. You can also get your daily intake through limited foods like, fortified milks and cereals, and fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines.
Stay hydrated and moisturize… During menopause transition our skin loses some ability to hold water and can get pretty dry. This can be especially noticeable and uncomfortable when the air is cold and dry. In addition to drinking plenty of water each day, Dermatologists recommend that as we get older, we use a mild cleanser on our skin instead of soap. And using a fragrance-free moisturizer after showering can help keep our skin hydrated and reduce irritation.
Personally, I’ve always struggled with dry skin – and had a bad time with eczema when I was growing up. Although I eventually outgrew it, I’ve been pretty discerning about what I put on my skin, sticking almost exclusively to Dove soap and Aquaphor over the years. However, earlier this month I was inspired to try a couple of moisturizing products from the new stateomenopause line, largely because of their focus on menopause transition and their commitment to designing products with and for women across a diverse spectrum.
I have to say that after just a couple of weeks, I’m a big fan of the Whipped Body Cream (an 8oz. container retails for $24) and the CBD Body Oil (the 4oz. spray retails for $38). I’ve been using the fragrance-free body cream right after I get out of the shower and my skin feels soft and (I want to say supple, but won’t) hydrated for hours after. I REALLY LOVE the body oil, which has a very faint, but pleasant fragrance. I’ve been using it on my hands several times a day – mostly after hand washing – which is more times than I can count in the midst of COVID-19. Thanks to my new friends at State Of, Menopause Made Modern subscribers will get 20% off of your first order when you use the MenopauseMadeModern promo code.
A couple of months ago I invested in an annual subscription to Shine. They were offering a discounted rate of $35 for one year -- which is just under $3 per month -- so I decided to try it out (BTW, they’re currently running a Black Friday promotion on their site for the same rate). In all fairness to Calm, I’ve evolved on my general principle of not paying for apps when I can get a seemingly comparable service for free. But even more so, I’ve come to appreciate the practice of mindfulness as a lifestyle approach to better managing my overall well-being and something worth investing in (though I continue to struggle with daily practice).
I was compelled to invest in Shine, because it’s woman-owned and its programming is designed and produced, inclusive of women of color…and because they kept showing up in my Instagram feed (I can personally attest to the effectiveness of their marketing). Technically, this entry could also go under “mind” along with the other “meditation” resources, but ultimately, I logged it under spirit, because of the thoughtful and intentional curation of content that resonates with me personally, including their libraries dedicated to Black mental health and managing during COVID-19.
You can select from a range of guided meditations based on how you’re feeling or the time of day. The meditations and affirmations also vary in length – making it convenient to work into your lifestyle. I’m currently loving “Morning Mindset,” which reminds me to be accepting of myself as I am, and to be intentional in thinking and bringing about the kind of day I’d like to have.
These were just a few things that came to mind as I thought about how I’m 'winterizing' my menopause. Metaphor aside, it’s really just another reminder to be thoughtful and intentional about our self-care as we head into a time of year that can be more challenging for some of us.