How to survive Christmas with menopause
As the year comes to an end it’s time to fess up. I don’t like Christmas. There. I’ve said it. For as long as I can remember Christmas has rarely been something I look forward to, or even get excited about. It began in childhood, for which there are many explanations, but as each year has passed, I’ve felt increasingly overwhelmed so just long for it to be over.
As an adolescent tomboy I resented having to ‘dress up’ (read here ‘put a frock on’). As a young, hip n happenin’ teenager I was way too concerned about what other people thought so subsequently remained vaguely on the wrong side of chic and cool. And as a young professional I was preoccupied with controlling both events and people to fit with my expectations of a flawless Christmas, a behaviour I explained away as simply ‘being organised’.
However, the real fun didn’t begin until my fifties. This was when all the neuroses of my Christmas Past met with my Christmas Present ……. Rejoice! Rejoice! Menopause is born and has joined the Christmas party!
Let’s be honest, during my ‘menopause phase’ I’d need little provocation to feel upset about something. However, last year was my annus horribilis where the impact of the menopause was concerned, so I guess it was inevitable things would become intensified on the build-up to Christmas. On reflection, I feel like I spent most of it fuming with disappointment and resentment. Making both my life, and that of others, an absolute torture. Such joy.
Being organised has its advantages, and as someone who always loves a system or a process, I’m never happier than when making a list. Christmas is no exception. There’s the card list. The gift list. The grocery list. The who, what, where, list. The list …is endless!
The making a list, and checking it twice, didn’t in fact bring everything nice. It was just plain naughty. An experience I now prefer to think of as my Christmas epiphany (more later).
Let’s begin with the Christmas card list…
In a fit of curious, and entirely uncharacteristic behaviour, my menopausal brain decided it’d be fun to play a game of ‘how much can I remember?’ (I know, I know, rather like the woman straying into an unlit room in a horror movie, it was never going to end well), and so began the creation of a free-flowing list, randomly writing down names I could recall from various aspects of life. Boom! I’m ahead of the game. Hoorah for me. Cards duly written and mailed.
Fast forward several weeks. Total panic on opening cards from relatives who I’m convinced I’ve forgotten. Suffice to say several confused relatives and friends received three or more cards from us that year. Smug satisfied no more.
The Christmas gift list
This same Christmas I distinctly remember thinking that my forgetful, confused, menopausal brain wasn’t going to get the better of me. Oh no sir. I’d totally got this. And so, with gift shopping complete, and even with a few ‘emergency gifts’ thrown in (see, I told you I’d got this), I set up in the spare room like one of Santa’s helpers ready for the marathon wrapping to commence.
Due to a large family, including lots of ‘little people’ to buy for, meant this Christmas it was a case of quantity over quality. Naturally this monumental task required a process (any excuse*embarrassed shrug*) so I decided the most efficient method would be to write the gift tags, complete the wrapping, then attach the gift tag……..and you can see where this is going can’t you?
In my confused, menopausal state (here rests the defence M’lord) the gifts were beautifully wrapped ready for the gift tag to be attached. However, with no obvious way to identify which label went with which gift I was obliged to open each one before the right gift tag could be attached. Doh! Palm to forehead. Throw self on floor, frothing from the mouth in frustration.
And now, to Christmas Day …
A tradition in the family is for the children’s stocking-fillers to be hidden around the house for them to find in the style of a treasure hunt. They love it. Little parcels sparkling bright, each individually wrapped and labelled. So far, so Pixar.
However, this is the year of the forgetful, confused and frankly ridiculous, resulting in Christmas gifts being discovered in rather clever hiding places …….in April! The children loved it as throughout the Spring, yet another gift was discovered that I’d totally forgotten about. It has become the thing of legend. So, thank you menopause, your work here is done, my legacy now firmly established.
My Christmas epiphany
Every. Single. Experience. Was. Avoidable…
…had I managed my expectations, accepted my limitations, and generally recognised the futility of being some kind of superhero Mother Christmas, it would indeed have been the most wonderful time of the year.
And so, because I love a list, here are my top tips for taking the pressure off and creating a holly jolly Christmas and rocking around the tree:
- Get others involved in the card writing (even if it’s only the envelope) it’s less tiring and means someone else is responsible for checking the list!
- Reduce the list. Radical I know. Sending a short, repeat short, Christmas message using social media or electronic means, is now seen as customary. I admit, the thought of this leaves me feeling uncomfortable, but guess what? I’m going to embrace being uncomfortable. Especially with the current financial climate, this could be seen as progressive even…
- Gift wrapping can also be a shared ‘task’. My significant other can’t wrap for toffee (resembles something wrapped by a dog wearing a blindfold) but I have friends and family who would love to spend time together doing this, and it could be reciprocal. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
- Ask family and friends coming to dinner to bring something. Not only does this lighten the load, others will feel delight for the opportunity to contribute and feel needed. Enough said.
- Understand there is in fact something wonderfully genial about working together with your guests to create a relaxing, laughter-filled day. I’ve been ‘practising’ during the year and have shared some of the most cherished moments during the preparation, serving, clearing up elements of the day. I know, who’d thought?
Prepare your family
Now might be the time to have ‘the menopause talk’ with your partner and children. If they are aware of why you might be more forgetful, tired and let’s say it…stressed, then they might be more inclined to lend you a helping hand. Read How to talk to your teenagers about perimenopause and menopause and How to explain menopause to men
It’s also important to take things into your own hands and there is lots that can be done to help you feel more like yourself during the Christmas period.
This might not be what you want to hear, but one of the best ways to help you feel your best is to understand what triggers your menopause. And sadly this involves the whole Christmas feast. Health & Her conducted research over the course of a year and involved over 76,000 UK women . The findings help us to understand the real-life concerns of those going through this transitional time.
- Stressful events – There is clear correlation between stressful events and worsening menopause symptoms, and we can all agree Christmas comes under this. In the run up to Christmas, try to include some relaxation techniques like yoga & meditation in your daily routine. Many women have also benefitted from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) a type of talking therapy which teaches coping strategies including how to change negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours into more positive ones
- Caffeine – Sensitivity to caffeine will differ person to person but the Health & Her study shows us 2 in 5 women noticed they became more sensitive to it as they headed towards menopause. So it might be worth avoiding that extra pumpkin latte. To find out your caffeine level, you could use the trigger tracking feature on the Health & Her app, available for free on iOS and Android.
- Alcohol – It can be hard to turn down a drink, especially in the festive season, but alcohol has few (if any) health benefits and 4 in 10 women reported becoming increasingly intolerant to it’s effects during perimenopause. Alcohol has been shown to raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol, disrupt your sleep, worsen depression, cause mood swings, increase dehydration and worsen hot flushes and night sweats. Perhaps choose a lower alcohol level beverage to celebrate, or switch to a non-alcoholic alternative, bubbles without the bad effects…
- Sugar – It is near impossible to have a diet that is completely sugar free, especially around Christmas. It was shown that just over 1/3 of women in the study said eating sugary snacks and drinks proved an issue for their symptoms. The crashing lows of a sugar crash can impact your energy and mood levels. It can also affect concentration and magnify the effects of brain fog. Aim to satisfy sweet cravings with more natural and healthy sugars like those in fruit, dried fruits and try substituting cinnamon for table sugar in hot drinks, which will definitely give you that festive feeling.
- Fatty food – Just under 1/3 of women said eating fatty foods was a ‘moderate’ trigger. Foods with high trans fats (which raise the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease) are also thought to reduce serotonin (the so-called ‘happy hormone’ responsible for stabilising mood) in the brain, leading to low mood, depression and memory problems.  Cut down on unhealthy fats (like the ones found in cakes, pastries and biscuits) and eat more healthy ones (like olive oil and those found naturally in avocadoes, nuts and seeds and oily fish like salmon). So dig into the smoked salmon blinis this Christmas. For more expert nutritional advice read Everything you need to know about diet for menopause.
Accepting that one person is not responsible for keeping everyone amused and content has been my most profound insight. As I’ve learned to gently let go of things a little, to take a step back, and invite others to help lighten the load, my life has become richer, kinder, and immeasurably happier. Christmas is so fraught with expectation and promise it can be difficult to gain a much needed perspective. However, the very thing we strive to achieve by taking on everything ourselves becomes lost entirely. It’s said it is more blessed to give than to receive – well, actually, no it’s not. Receive all the offers of help, allow others to feel needed, and quit with the belief this means you’ve failed as a host. There is true joy and wonder in sharing the responsibility of having a truly Merry Christmas.
 Health & Her research with 76,817 women experiencing perimenopause & Menopause symptoms, conducted Oct 2020 – Sept 2022