Menopause can be a challenging time for our mental health. Anxiety, low mood and stress about coping with symptoms can take it’s toll and it’s essential to have tools in your box to cope with this. This blog post outlines the many benefits of yoga in menopause.
The stress response
Any situation your body perceives as dangerous or threatening triggers the stress or “fight or flight” response in your body. This threat can be overt physical danger or more subtle, such as dealing with interpersonal conflict or situational pressures, like coping with financial problems.
Your body’s efforts to deal with a threatening situation cause a series of reactions. Your heart accelerates to provide maximum oxygen levels to organs and cells. Your muscles tighten and shorten to prepare for action, to fight or to flee from the danger. Adrenaline courses through your body heightening your awareness and providing a quick burst of energy. Sound familiar? Probably, since this is how your body reacts to any perceived threatening or scary situation.
This automatic stress response serves a purpose. It protects your body. However, chronic stress (staying in a stress response state for a prolonged period of time) takes a negative toll on your body. It causes physical and psychological distress, which affects your overall health and wellbeing.
Effects of stress
- A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of people have felt so stressed in the past year that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope
- 46% reported that they ate too much or ate unhealthily due to stress. 29% reported that they started drinking or increased their drinking, and 16% reported that they started smoking or increased their smoking
- Stress is a key contributor to heart disease, headaches, body aches, high blood pressure, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, anxiety, and depression
- The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports that stress is a significant hazard in the workplace. Along with anxiety and depression, it resulted in 26.8 million lost working days in 2019/2020.
Symptoms of chronic stress
- The digestive system experiences stress in the form of stomach aches, nausea, and intestinal irritability. This might manifest in bowel problems such as diarrhoea.
- Mental symptoms of chronic stress include racing thoughts, excessive worrying, lack of focus, disorganised and negative thoughts.
- Irritability, feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
- Overeating or under eating, avoidance and nervous behaviours such as nail-biting and pacing
- Aches and pains can occur in different parts of the body. When the muscles shorten or tighten to prepare for action during the stress response then remain that way, it causes aches and pains to manifest. Where muscular tension might manifest under stress varies from one person to another. Some people might clench or tighten their jaw causing pain and discomfort in this area and possibly across the forehead and scalp. Other people hold tension in the shoulders and neck or experience chronic backache.
How can yoga help?
Yoga acts as a therapeutic antidote to stress. It provides physical, mental, and emotional relief. This occurs during the actual yoga practice and the benefits continue beyond this when you do it regularly.
Yoga poses can ease stress-related aches and pains caused by muscular tension. They stretch, lengthen, strengthen, and relax tense muscles. The meditation and breathing exercises calm the mind and the nervous system. They also allow you to reestablish mental focus and clarity during and following the practice.
The breath work and poses practiced during yoga elicit a relaxation response in the body, which helps to decrease and regulate your stress hormones.
It’s also important to note that yoga has been found to have a positive effect on various aspects of health, including regulating blood pressure, regulating blood sugars in diabetes, and decreasing anxiety and stress.
How to use yoga to manage stress
If you intend to use yoga as part of a stress management plan, consistency is key to making it work. Results won’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process so don’t give up after a few days if you don’t see results.
Yoga poses reshape and improve the health and functionality of the muscles, the joints and organs over time. It’s a form of training. As with any training, regular practice makes progress.
This also applies to the meditative and relaxation exercises associated with yoga. According to Dr. Debra Fulghum Bruce, Ph.D., recent studies show that as little as three months of weekly yoga practice, can relieve stress-related headaches, backaches, reduce stress, and lower cortisol (stress hormone) secretions. It also lowers blood pressure and improves mood. That’s gotta be worth a try, hasn’t it??
Practicing yoga has also been shown to relieve the immediate symptoms of stress-related aches, pains, mental distress, and negative emotional states. It is also known to effectively counter the fight or flight stress response by lowering cortisol levels and teaching the mind to observe rather than react to situations.
It’s also really important to learn the proper techniques for breath work to reap the full benefits that yoga has to offer.
The best way to get started with yoga is to join a class led by a qualified instructor. This will be really useful in helping you to learn some of the more common poses and how to do them properly. An instructor will make sure you’re in the pose correctly and you’ll start to get an understanding of this the more you do it. Another thing to consider is what kind of yoga is best for you. All yoga is not created equally! There are a number of different types ranging from relaxing through to more physically demanding.
There are instructional videos on Youtube and apps available that you can use yourself at home. You could look up different types and give them a go to see which you prefer. I will stress again though, the benefit of learning in a class first. Once you decide which type of yoga is best for you, search for a class in your area.
A good starting point to find classes is to check at your local leisure centre and gyms. There are also many classes held in venues like community centres too though so ask around.