Are 40s The New Tween Years?
This article was contributed by Clinical Psychologist Dr. Nancy Boksenbaum.
Did you know that perimenopause has its own developmental stages just like adolescence? This “prelude to menopause,” which may include shorter menstrual cycles, sleep issues, mood changes, changes in libido and a whole host of other lovely symptoms related to hormonal changes, usually starts in the late 30s into the 40s.
Conjure up what a 12-year-old looks like, then a 16-year-old, then a 19-year-old. When we get to midlife (aka the 40s), we have a similarly staged progression. It can be stressful, unpredictable, frustrating, scary and freeing all at the same time—just like adolescence. Here are a few things to know about perimenopause—and what to do to navigate it smoothly.
Perimenopause Can Start Earlier Than You Think
When we think about perimenopause and menopause, we may think about grey-haired ladies and retired Grandmas. But many of us are having kids later; we might be taking care of toddlers, as well as our own aging parents, and of course, have no gray hair (thank you, hair dye!).
Perimenopause typically lasts from 6 – 13 years. On average, the last period is at 52 years, with a range as early as 40 to as late as 58. Being in the “sandwich” stage of life, while going through hormonal changes, can make perimenopause feel a little bit like a pressure cooker…that flipped upside down.
Knowledge is Power
At age 11 or 12, you take sexual education classes and watch awkward movies about bodily changes, but learn about what to expect. Unless you take some time to learn about perimenopause, it’s unlikely you know more than surface level information—because not only are women not talking about it, gynecologists aren’t, either.
But hormonal upheaval, hot flashes, stormy emotions, and a greater need for “me” time can be disorienting and distressing. Sometimes the inability to think or find words feels like a harbinger to the decline on the horizon.
It’s An Opportunity to Re-evaluate your Priorities
The symptoms are a calling card to re-evaluate and adjust all areas of your life so you can step into your next chapters vitalized and fully present. You might notice that your usual routine of living for your family (and maybe your boss), and leaving no time to take care of yourself, isn’t exactly working anymore. Maybe you’re short-tempered or rapidly gaining weight.
If you can take these as signs to finally take care of yourself, you’ll be better off in your 50s than you were in your 30s. Just like an adolescent needs time to discover who they are, so do you.
Take that time. Slow things down. Nourish your body and your mind and your spirit to bring all three into alignment. Find time to check in with yourself with Mindfulness Meditation, Journaling, time in Nature—and perhaps even a therapist who is knowledgeable about this stage of life.
To avoid seeing this change as a negative one, acting on these new priorities and changing patterns that aren’t serving you are key. Perhaps you no longer want to accommodate, avoid or over-react. You may start to have concerns about your reaching for a glass of wine or flirting with the idea of having an affair. ‘The change’ is calling for a change. And a qualified psychotherapist will help you harness the emotional upheaval of this developmental stage to guide you to what you need.
The greatest tool to find your center is your breath and the practice of taking a Mindful Moment. My online mindfulness series Catch Your Breath was created to help you shift from your automatic patterns to deepen into your Self and into the here and now, instead of holding your breath until you find the time.
The good news is that if you put the work in, when menopause is fully realized and your hormones settle, you might just experience the most authentic version of yourself yet!
About the Expert
Dr. Nancy Boksenbaum is a Clinical Psychologist, Relational Psychoanalyst and Mindfulness/Meditation Teacher, with a private practice in Stamford, Connecticut, where she works with children, adolescents and their parents, individual adults and couples both in person and via tele-health. Dr. Nancy leads Mindfulness Meditation Seminars through her Catch Your Breath program. Follow Dr. Nancy on Instagram @withdrnancy, visit her at withdrnancy.com or feel free to
connect via email: [email protected]