Psychologist & Clinical Neuropsychologist, Dr Nicola Gates’ The Feel Good Guide to Menopause is a science-packed, research-based book and the result of my desire to inform women and thereby empower them during this major transition period in their lives. The book is full of information and practical strategies to boost your wellbeing from head to heart, brain and body as well as sex and relationships through the transition and your next life stage.
We chat to Dr Gates about the book and get her advice for women going through menopause.
How did The Feel Good Guide to Menopause come about?
I began writing the book as I was seeing more women ‘of a certain age’ in my private practice concerned about their forgetfulness and brain fog or worried about their mental health due perhaps to heightened feelings of stress, anxiety or sadness. I am a Clinical Neuropsychologist whose discipline examines brain-behaviour relationships and in this context set about researching the impact of menopause on the brain and psychological health of women. I discovered that there was very little information available to women about how menopause can mess with their brains and minds.
Along the writing journey my life was hijacked by grade three breast cancer necessitating a double mastectomy. Biopsy confirmed the cancers were driven by oestrogen and progesterone, and as I was not yet in menopause I had to be put into medical menopause to reduce my recurrence risks. Menopause symptoms commenced immediately.
How did this help manage breast cancer?
I did have a theoretical understanding of what I was in for after my research which meant I was somewhat prepared for the hot flashes, brain fog, headache, and achy and stiff joints. Medical menopause is particularly hard on the body as there is no gradual waning of hormones, it is like menopause on steroids, and increases all the associated disease risks of menopause. The knowledge I had accumulated helped me ask my treating health team good questions to disentangle the impact of anti-cancer medication and menopause and meant I was armed with strategies to manage each symptom.
How does your guide to menopause help other women?
I have spoken to many women in writing the book and subsequently in public presentations and they all say the same thing, “why isn’t there more information available”? Or “why don’t we talk about menopause”? In writing my book many women shared their stories about menopause too which brings the health and medical science of menopause to life. The stories also reveal the diversity of women’s experiences and demonstrate that our transition experience is our own but we can borrow support from the collective.
What’s your advice for women in terms of management strategies?
From talking with many women I think the key survival strategy is acceptance. Menopause is a natural phase, a sign of health without cycling hormones, periods, or pregnancy fears. It will happen and it will pass. Next, I think it is essential for women to prioritise themselves, to invest in their health and address any health issues or lifestyle habits that do not support optimal physical, psychological, mental or spiritual wellbeing. For many this means stopping their inner ‘compulsive carer’ of others and shifting to ‘conscious caring’ of themselves and those important to them. This way they will have more energy and focus to address each symptom that needs to be managed. For example, going to bed early to increase hours of sleep before midnight, learning to relax so when they wake can return to sleep quicker, and exercising regularly to help sleep, as well as bone health, joints and muscles. Stressing less, being mindful and focusing on what is important and embracing the excitement of midlife, which heralds our last thirty summers.
The Feel Good Guide to Menopause, was published by ABC/Harper Collins in January 2019.
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