Soaking Wet and Miserable
Most women over fifty are experts on hot flashes. We all know the feeling. For no obvious reason, one lights up like a neon sign, feels like yelling, and sweats profusely. So what have we done to deserve this?
Blame it on hormones, the chemical messengers for our nervous systems. Estrogen levels drop at the onset of menopause and this confuses the ‘thermostat’ in our brains (the hypothalamus). It sends ‘hot-hot-hot’ signals to our bodies, causing hearts to beat faster, blood vessels to dilate and sweat glands to release moisture. Skin temperature can rise as much as six degrees during a flash, sweat glands rush to the rescue, and there you are, soaking wet and miserable.
Can you do anything about it? Of course you can. I don’t mean that you can alter the process itself, but you can certainly make it less vicious and vile. There are some very simple things that you can do when your body starts to emit warning signals and one of them is to drink lots of water. It may make you sweat more initially, but you will cool off faster. Do anything to lower your temperature quickly. If you are at home, grab a pack of frozen peas out of the fridge and cool your pulse points (forehead, neck, wrists, etc.) or use a cold cloth the same way or take your shirt off and stand in front of the fan or suck on an ice cube or take deep breaths until your heart slows down.
Choices are more limited when you are in public, but remember that fans are a great option. Carry something in your purse to fan yourself with – a pamphlet or a bus schedule will work fine, or you can buy one of those nostalgic little paper fans at the dollar store. A good option for keeping cool in the crowd is a Cool Tie, one of those neck bands filled with water crystals – you can run it under the tap each morning and carry in a plastic bag in your purse until needed. Cool Ties work wonders, and contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to keep them in the fridge. They work exactly like a wet cloth but without the drips – i.e. the moisture in the band condenses when it touches your warm skin. Condensation = cooling effect, so the neck bands will remain effective as long as the crystals hold water. If you can sew, buy some water crystals at your plant shop and make your own. Otherwise, look for them on the web. They feel great on your wrists too.
Hot flashes are triggered by your hypothalamus, but something has to pull the trigger. If you can find out what it is you can try to avoid it. Some common triggers are sugar, alcohol, junk food, spices, anything hot, chocolate, caffeine and (the most common one) stress. Analyze the pattern of your flashes and you should find out when and why they occur. Then you can work on a plan to avoid being ambushed by them. If one starts, fight back with any kind of cooling device you can lay your hands on. Don’t just suffer.
Of course stress is the hardest thing to avoid, but the time-honored mantra of ‘Ten Deep Breaths’ really does help. Use meditation, yoga or any of the gentle disciplines to ride herd on your emotions and reactions. Exercise lots. Plan to avoid people who stress you – ‘I was just going for a run, would you like to come?’ can get rid of them tidily.
Looking on the bright side, your body is undergoing major changes during menopause, so this is a great time to get rid of some bad habits. A bit more discomfort will be barely noticeable! Weed out some of those things you know you shouldn’t be doing and replace each one with a good and pleasant habit. The replacement is very important, because kicking out the bad old habit leaves a gap that must be filled before it sneaks back. Sort of a weed and feed process. Look around for things you have always wanted to do and do them!
Now take a good hard look at your wardrobe. Flash control depends on being comfortable, so donate your synthetic undies, your pantyhose and your three-inch heels to Sally Ann and go shopping for a whole new look. Cotton is what you need, and it can be gorgeous. Use strippable layers and long, full skirts with comfortable low shoes. Pretty cotton undies can be found if you hunt for them. Cotton never feels clammy like synthetics do. It is better than silk if you are sweaty and is easy to look after. Use pure cotton for bed sheets and pillow slips as well – night comfort is very important. As for cotton socks, they may not sound sensual, but just pull on a clean pair after your shower and your feet will purr (panty hose is not in the same class). Cotton definitely does not mean that you have to look like a rumpled old sack – it can be as flowing, feminine and frivolous as you care to make it.
Perhaps you are one of the unlucky ladies who suffer a menopause that seems to go on for ever. Definitely talk to your doctor, but research any prescriptions before you use them. Women have survived for a long time without hormone therapy. A good practitioner of Chinese medicine is worth your consideration. This discipline has a name for every type of menopause, and there are a lot of types, so you can be sure that you will be offered very specific help.
Cheer yourself up by remembering that flashes are temporary and can be controlled to some extent. Instead of gritting your teeth and suffering through them, fight back. Eventually your body will behave!