Mere mention of the word menopause among many women over age 35 invokes fears of hot flashes, memory lapses and wild mood swings.

While it is a very individual experience with widely varying symptoms, menopause can be a complicated time in a woman’s life. For starters, many experience menopause at the same time they’re going through major life transitions. Menopause, for example, frequently comes at a time when women are becoming empty-nesters after years of raising children, dealing with aging parents and facing the reality of retirement.

Making matters worse, sleep problems commonly accompany menopause, largely due to night sweats that come with hot flashes. Anyone who’s ever experienced chronic sleep disturbances knows their impact on memory, judgment and mood.

This convoluted combination of physiological and life changes may leave a woman feeling much as she did during puberty, wondering what is happening to her, why she feels so emotional and what she can do about it.

Fortunately, there’s a lot she can do. For starters, women should take control of their own health. This means investigating options such as hormone replacement therapy or vitamin supplements and discussions with a trusted physician to find the best path. With so much information in the popular press, this can be a critical step to coping with all the changes.

Taking control of your health also means exercising and eating right. Not only will this help combat some conditions such as osteoporosis and unwanted weight gain that menopause leaves you more vulnerable to, but the confidence and endorphin releases that result from taking care of your body will lift your mood and improve coping skills.

Another critical step to managing the emotional rollercoaster of menopause is talking — with friends, your partner, even your children. It’s important to be open about what you’re experiencing and how you’re feeling. Your loved ones can be a sounding board, helping you sort through your complicated emotions. At the same time, open communication can help them better understand and relate to your situation.

Finally, don’t be afraid to consider support groups, counseling or women’s health forums or conferences. These settings frequently can be a springboard for women, helping you transition into new phases of your life with fresh vitality. And once on the other side, you’ll likely see the resulting freedom was worth the trip.

As published in the July 2004 Edition of the La Crosse Tribune.