Nancy Travis 9.21.1961

Posts Tagged ‘Menopause Symptoms’

Stress Reduction Tip #1: It’s the Thoughts (& Actions) That Count With Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

5.18.12

Our first stress reduction tip is brought to us by Daryaneh Badaly, a doctoral student, psychotherapist, and researcher at the University of Southern California (USC). She has worked in the Departments of Psychology and Neurology at USC, as well as at the Kedren Acute Psychiatric Hospital in Los Angeles, California.


Does this scenario sound familiar?

 

“Hi, Carrie. Were you able to finish Mr. McGuire’s report? The doctors need it for feedback.”

 

Oh my gosh! Was I supposed to be working on the McGuire report?!? I haven’t even finished with last week’s reports.

I’m too slow, I should be faster. I’ll bet that if I were younger I’d be sharper, quicker, and more able to focus. I don’t even know where I put the McGuire test results. Did I even test McGuire? I can’t even remember McGuire! If I say that I don’t remember testing McGuire, the doctor will just think I have finally lost it. He’ll stop referring patients to me and start complaining about me to the other doctors. And, then, gradually I’ll lose my practice.  Then, I’ll have to dip into the college fund to pay the mortgage. It’ll be my fault that the kids can’t go to college.  Argh!! I should have been putting more money in the college fund. I fail at being a mother.


“I don’t have those results. Are you sure that I tested McGuire?”

 

“Oh, you’re right. You don’t test him until next week.”

 

Carrie’s benign encounter with a co-worker stressed her out.  When her heart finally stopped racing, she felt exhausted and drained so (naturally) she dug out that bag of mini Snickers bars.

 

When watching someone else, it’s easy to see how anxiety is truly in the eye of the beholder. It’s not necessarily an event or a situation that causes anxiety, but rather our perception of the event – our thoughts and feelings that the event triggers.  Stress and anxiety are most often the product of us “should-ing” all over ourselves. Thinking that you should be working harder, doing better, or looking better can add up overtime resulting in high (and potentially fatal) levels of stress.  Of course, we need to learn to manage our stress. But how do we do it?  How do we turn off those worries when the hot flashes wake you up at 4am?

 

Through Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), you can learn tools and techniques to help you manage your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Although this can be done on your own, most people benefit from working with a therapist who can take an objective view of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If a therapist isn’t an option, chat it out with a friend (but keep in mind this won’t be totally objective). Many research studies have shown that CBT can effectively reduce stress, as well as anxiety, depression, and even menopause symptoms.

 

So, what’s CBT… really?


 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is one approach to stress reduction. It focuses on the interaction between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The great thing about CBT is that making a change in any one of these three areas can elicit changes in the others. For example, changing the way you think about a situation can change how your feel and behave in that situation or others like it. When Carrie began thinking that she’s a bad mother, she could stop herself and reevaluate this thought. Is this really true? Isn’t there proof that she’s not a terrible mother? This can make her feel less anxious or disappointed in herself. It could also lead her to figure out a different way to manage her time. Changing a behavior, like Carrie taking a walk instead of downing that chocolate, could lead to more positive emotions and feelings about herself, especially since exercise can help your mood improve. Then her thoughts become less negative, and so on.

 

CBT is a form of psychotherapy, BUT it’s not like psychoanalysis, which can take years involves digging around into negative childhood experiences. CBT is different…

 

It’s usually limited to 12 to 16 sessions.

 

It’s goal-oriented and problem-focused, and emphasizes learning a variety of new skills.

 

Sessions are structured, and homework assignments are given between sessions so skills can be practiced in real-world situations.

 

 

The CBT approach typically focuses on teaching you how to:

 

Identify troubling situations, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In treatment, Carrie might be asked to log each time during the day during which she felt stressed, note where she was and what she was doing at the time, and record her thoughts. (You can use your handy spiral notebook for this!).

 

Manage your thoughts. Techniques such as “thought stopping” and “thought substitution” can help to keep negative thoughts from spiraling out-of-control.

 

Reevaluate the probability of a negative event actually happening. Carrie’s therapist might ask her to her to review the probability that doctors would stop referring patients to her.

 

Put things into perspective. Carrie’s therapist might also ask: “So what would happen if you had to cut back your practice?” Yes, this sounds scary but deep down, do you think you can survive this? Our bet is that the answer is yes.

 

Engage in relaxation techniques. For example, deep breathing exercises can dramatically diminish the physical side effects of stress (e.g., headaches and heart racing). Or, by taking a short walk after her encounter at work, Carrie might have been able to avoid those Snickers bars.

 

Reward yourself.


How do you find a therapist who offers CBT?


Finding a therapist can sometimes be tricky and may require some detective work on your part. A good place to start is asking for a referral from your primary care physician or specialist. This is probably the most common approach to therapist hunting, but keep in mind that your physician may just have a name of someone s/he met at a cocktail party, so there’s no quality guarantee here. Personal recommendations are probably better. Then there’s always your health insurance provider list, which will take some trial and error to find a good match for you, but it’s not impossible. Once you get a name, do some research. A simple Google search can get you a therapists training history. Once you make contact, ask about the therapist’s general therapeutic approach and if s/he does CBT. (We’ll have a post coming up with more tips on finding a therapist, so stay tuned!)

 

Read more about cognitive-behavioral therapy:


Online:

Mayo Clinic: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

These resources are designed to provide background on what cognitive-behavioral therapy is, whom the treatment might be helpful for, and what you might expect from therapy sessions.


In Print:

The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns

Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky


Both of these books can be used alone or in conjunction with psychotherapy. They provide clear instructions for identifying and tracking your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, changing the thoughts that contribute to problems, and taking action to improve daily living and relationships.


Coming Soon: Stress Reduction Techniques

3.5.12

Okay,  okay, stress is BAD! Bad for the body and bad for the brain – I get it!  But I’m busy! Don’t lecture me about doing yoga or meditating – it just increases my stress. And what is this new kind of meditation everyone is talking about – Mindfulness? I’m suppose to relieve my stress by focusing on the moment? Unless the moment includes a momentous margarita it’s not gonna happen. Hmm, Margarita Mindfulness – now that sounds promising.

 

Last night I ranted to Lina (my blog partner and psychotherapist) about this new form of Mindfulness Meditation and her response was simple: maybe it’s not for me. Each person has to find their own stress-reduction method.  What works for one person can drive another one batty.

 

But stress reduction IS important and it’s important to find one that works for you, or at least give some news methods a shot. We’ll be starting a series of posts on a variety of stress reduction techniques and we encourage you to find one you like. We’ll talk about exercise, yoga, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, old fashion meditation, and of course, the new hot topic, Mindfulness.  We’ll also talk about ways to motivate yourself to reduce your stress and preserve your menopause mind.

 

Meanwhile, if you have any stress-reduction tips (that don’t include food, tequila or anything illegal) let us know.

 

 

Vitamin D & Menopause: Put a Lil’ Sunshine in Your Life

2.6.12

 

Here comes the sun…doo dooo, doo doo. Okay, depending on where you live, this may not be happening anytime soon.

 

If the sunlight is scarce or it’s too cold to go outside in your neck of the woods, you might not be getting enough vitamin D.  Unfortunately, rates of vitamin D deficiency are particularly high amongst post-menopausal women. What’s the big deal, right? Well, not only does vitamin D play a critical role in the absorption of calcium, low levels of it  have been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, and breast cancer, as well as lower cognitive functioning and slower information processing speed. Yikes! We’d say that’s a pretty big deal.

 

Lengthy sunbathing is frowned upon for a variety of reasons (for example, skin cancer and, eh hem, wrinkles) and anyway, who really wants to get into a bikini?  But the problem is that our major source of vitamin D is from sunlight on exposed skin – skin without sunscreen.   It’s recommended that we be out in the sun for at least 15 minutes, three to four times a week.  If you can’t get this much sunlight, vitamin D is also available in some fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and tuna.

 

 

As mentioned in Science Daily (1/10/12) low vitamin D levels are so prevalent in Europe (50 to 70% of the population) that the European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) has recommended that post-menopausal women take supplements.  They’re so concerned about this vitamin D deficiency epidemic that they’re calling upon the World Health Organization (WHO) to address the issue.

 

Here, closer to home, the North American Menopause Society recommends a daily intake of 800-1,000 IU either through 15 minutes of sun exposure daily (again, without a sunscreen), diet, or supplementation. So if the sun is shining – get out there and enjoy it. It’s good for you…and your mind!


Relationships: The Menopause Test

1.15.12

As you’ve probably figured out by now, menopause can wreak some serious havoc on your mind, body, and relationships. Which actually might not be such a bad thing. If this sound familiar to you, Dr. Hyman, a functional medicine expert known for the Ultra-wellness series and one of Dr. Ozs favorite guests, recommends that you take a peak at The Wisdom of Menopause, a menopause wellness guide by Christine Northrup, MD. One thing she points out is how a Menopaused Mind can actually offer you a creative and social renaissance!

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Northrup’s book that Dr. Hyman highlights in his most recent post:

“It is no secret that relationship crises are a common side effect of menopause. Usually this is attributed to the crazy-making effects of the hormonal shifts occurring in a woman’s body at this time of transition. What is rarely acknowledged or understood is that as these hormone-driven changes affect the brain, they give a woman a sharper eye for inequity and injustice, and a voice that insists on speaking up about them. In other words, they uncover hidden wisdom—and the courage to voice it. As the vision-obscuring veil created by the hormones of reproduction begins to lift, a woman’s youthful fire and spirit are often rekindled, together with long-sublimated desires and creative drives. Midlife fuels those drives with a volcanic energy that demands an outlet.


“If it does not find an outlet—if the woman remains silent for the sake of keeping the peace at home or work, or if she holds herself back from pursuing her creative urges and desires—the result is equivalent to plugging the vent on a pressure cooker: Something has to give. Very often what gives is the woman’s health, and the result will be one or more of the “big three” diseases of postmenopausal women: heart disease, depression, and breast cancer. On the other hand, for those of us who choose to honor the body’s wisdom and to express what lies within us, it’s a good idea to get ready for some boat rocking, which may put long-established relationships in upheaval. Marriage is not immune to this effect.”


Check out the rest of Dr. Hyman’s post for Dr. Northrup’s tips on navigating those stormy social waters.

 


Memory Tip #4: Avoid Multitasking!

1.7.12

As the holidays approached, my girlfriend Tina began calling her cat Seymour. Her cat’s name is Garvey.  Seymour was the cat who lived next door many, many years ago. Tina wasn’t dementing. She wasn’t losing her memory. She was just another victim of Holiday Haze - a state of mind that occurs when you try to keep track of way too many things at one time and usually gets worse around the holidays.


Multitasking, keeping “too many balls in the air” or mental tracking (as psychologists call it), requires a great deal of attention and it’s exhausting. In fact, in terms of using up the brain’s energy, multitasking  is very expensive. Think about it this way: when you have a ton of programs running on your computer, it’s processing speed just isn’t as fast as when you’re only checking your e-mail.  Mental tracking is also a cognitive skill that declines dramatically with age. Hooray.

 

 

Unfortunately, we tend to beat ourselves up when we can’t manage everything as well as we  used to. Even though my gal pals now work full time, they’re still the ones who remain determined to create the perfect family holiday: festive decorations, yummy sweet treats, merry gatherings and thoughtful gifts for everyone. The need to recreate a 1950s vision of the holidays is probably nuts, but it seems that most moms suffer from this delusion. Mom may be the glue that holds the family together but she’s starting to melt!

 

 

So how do we avoid the overload of multitasking ? Here’s how:


1) Cut out anything superfluous. Learn to say “no” to commitments and delegate tasks to others. Acknowledge that you only have so much cognitive capacity and if  you commit to handling too much, you’re going to probably do a crummy job of it, or worse, drive yourself batty. Keep in mind that this will require some of us control freaks to get comfortable with others helping out and doing things their way. I know, perish the thought. But remember that this is all in the name of saving your brain. Trust us. Real Simple offers some great tips on how to politely say “no” to extra commitments.


2) Don’t try to juggle details or hold information in your mind, write it down, make a list, add it to your “log of the dayand then dismiss it. Keeping things off of your brain’s hard drive will allow it to run more efficiently.


3) Get organized! Don’t waste precious cognitive energy trying to retrace your steps to find those keys and that lost mitten. Organize your life so that it requires as little extra attention as possible.


4) Try to create a quiet, distraction free environment in which to work. Even something as simple as extraneous noise or voices drains attention.  In my office, voices permeate the walls.  I have found that a simple white noise machine or the background noise from a fan improves my concentration immensely.


5) Focus on one task at a time and finish it before moving on. Tell yourself that until you finish your task, you are not allowed to check your e-mail, answer the phone or roam the internet (yes, that includes Facebook).


Obviously, we can’t completely avoid multitasking, so here’s how you can perform your best while doing it:


1) Complete your multitasking  in the morning when you are fresh and rested. As the day progresses and you get fatigued, your skills will decline.


2) Eat a piece of fruit in the afternoon. The brain relies on glucose (sugar) and when glucose is depleted, attention skills suffer.  If you don’t have access to fresh fruit, keep prunes, raisins or cranberry juice on hand. Your attention should improve and you’ll be  getting those important antioxidents as well.


3) Avoid stress. Worries use up brain energy and diminish our ability to pay attention. (Yes, easier said than done, but we’ll be posting a list of some stress busters soon. Stay tuned!)


4) Avoid alcohol. Surprise, surprise: alcohol impairs our ability to perform tasks that require a lot of attention.  Now, before you throw your laptop across the room in protest, there’s good news: At the end of the day, when the multitasking demands are over, that one margarita may not be such a bad thing. In fact, in the long run, it might even improve your memory. Say what? Yes, you read that right! Cheers!

 

 

 

Menopause Mind Proof: Not Losing Memory, But Brain Works Harder

12.8.11

Although we’ve been convinced that the Menopause Mind is real for a while now, hence this blog, finding empirical support for the connection between menopause and memory declines has been as easy as finding those car keys you left in the fridge.

 

Well, it seems like we’re both right and wrong. The Los Angeles Times just ran an piece on the findings of a recent study designed to examine whether or not post-menopausal women complaining of memory problems performed significantly worse on memory tests than women who did not share these complaints.  Researchers at the University of Vermont and Vanderbilt used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine the brain activity of 22 women while they worked on various memory tasks. It turns out that the performance of the 12 women who complained of memory problems on these tests was no different from that of the 10 women who claimed that their memory was fine.

But, the researcher’s also found that the brains of the complainers were much more active than the non-complainers. Specifically, the action was increased in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in intellectual functioning and working memory, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in a variety of autonomic  functions (think blood pressure,  heart rate) and cognitive functioning including decision making, learning and emotion.

 

So, what does this mean for you? Even though you feel like your memory is shot  (the subjective experience of menopause mind), it may not really be that bad (your objective memory ability), but your brain is probably working overtime to compensate for memory slips.  To us, this translates to the following:  if you feel like you have memory problems, they probably exist, but your brain kicks into high gear to make up for them. Keep in mind that this study was done with 22 women, all of whom were post-menopausal. They did not compare post-menopausal women with pre-menopausal women  This does not yet support the theory that physiological changes during menopause cause memory deficits. But it seems we’re one step closer to grasping the workings of the mind’s mysterious metamorphosis during and after menopause than we had been–although not entirely there.

 

The LA Times piece also includes a discussion of the findings from another recent study that examined hormone changes and brain matter. To put it very simply, they examined the brains of women before and after a brief round of hormone therapy (increased estrogen). They found an increase in the density of grey matter after hormone therapy. This suggests that hormones may influence brain’s functioning by playing a role in how much grey matter–the more grey matter, the better your cognitive functioning. But it’s still unclear what exactly is going on.  The University of Vermont and Vanderbilt researchers plan to test hormone therapy as a way to improve memory among the complainers.  Or, maybe they’ll just get them to stop complaining. We’ll keep you posted.