A recent study suggests that mindfulness may be a promising tool to help menopausal women struggling with irritability, anxiety, and depression.
The word "mindfulness" has been trending in recent years, but what is it exactly?
Simply put, it is the ability of a person to focus on the present moment.
Unfortunately, our minds wander too often in the past or the future — and we can become stressed.
When we are mindful, we instead observe our thoughts without judgment; we become more aware of who we are, and we learn how to appreciate the present.
Can mindfulness help during menopause?
Menopause is the time in the life of a woman when her menstrual periods stop, marking the end of the reproductive years. Most women reach menopause between 45 and 55 years of age.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 6,000 women reach menopause every day in the United States, and they estimate that by 2020, the number of women who will be older than 55 years will be 46 million.
As life expectancy increases, many women will spend up to half of their lives in the postmenopausal stage. With these numbers in mind, it becomes increasingly important to find ways to help menopausal women deal with this delicate phase.
A study by Mayo Clinic that appears in Climacteric: The Journal of the International Menopause Society, discovered that mindfulness might result in women experiencing fewer menopausal symptoms.
"In this study, we found that midlife women with higher mindfulness scores experienced fewer menopausal symptoms," said Dr. Richa Sood, Mayo Clinic general internist, women's health specialist, and the study's lead author.
Mindfulness as a treatment
About 1,700 women between 40 and 65 years of age participated in the study; Mayo Clinic's Women's Health Clinic in Rochester cared for them between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2016.
Participants filled out questionnaires that rated their symptoms, the level of stress they perceived for themselves, and mindfulness.
The results showed that women with higher mindfulness scores had fewer symptoms — but the impact of mindfulness was not the same on all the symptoms. The researchers did not associate the positive impact of mindfulness with lower hot flash and sweat symptom scores, for example.
Dr. Sood believes that the reason why mindfulness had no effect on these specific symptoms is that they have more to do with individual personality. Mindfulness did have a positive effect on symptom scores for irritability, depression, and anxiety in middle-aged menopausal women.
"The goal during mindful moments is not to empty the mind but to become an observer of the mind's activity while being kind to oneself. The second step is to create a pause. Take a deep breath and observe one's own space, thoughts, and emotions nonjudgmentally. The resulting calm helps lower stress," Dr. Sood explains.
In conclusion, the research team says that its findings suggest that mindfulness could become a useful tool to help women experiencing the menopause who struggle with anxiety and depression.
Dr. Sood profers that the area of research needs more studies to confirm the effectiveness of this method. However, because we know that mindfulness is beneficial to psychological health, doctors could start to discuss using mindfulness as a potential treatment option for menopausal women.