Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)…what is it, why all the fuss and does it work…
Ok so what is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy?
CBT is a non-medical option which can help with certain menopause symptoms. It’s not going to cure your symptoms, unfortunately there are no magic pills which will do that, but it really helps. It just requires a little patience and time to learn and develop a range of coping strategies which, when mastered, you will find are really useful when trying to cope with certain symptoms.
The symptoms CBT is the most effective in helping with are those vasomotor symptoms; the hot flushes, the night sweats and when coping with insomnia and anxiety.
What are the advantages of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy?
CBT is non invasive, so there are no potential side effects to worry about. It helps you to develop self management skills which are so important when coping with menopausal symptoms. Plus, anyone can try and learn CBT skills, regardless of any clinical factors being thrown into the mix such as, your past medical history, your BMI or your age.
The average age of menopause means that we can find ourselves having to cope with so many different pressures in life…teenage children, elderly parents…back to that term ‘the sandwich generation’. We can certainly feel a tad ‘squidged’ on occasion can’t we and because of that our bodies sometimes react in negative ways, making us feel more anxious or stressed, with the addition of having to cope with hot flushes and night sweats. Taking a bit of time to learn some simple CBT coping strategies can be incredibly beneficial.
How does Cognitive Behaviour Therapy work?
CBT helps to treat people in a more individual, holistic way looking at the person as a whole, their lifestyle choices and how those might be impacting and contributing to their symptoms. So, it takes a bio-psycho-social approach, encouraging you to be pro-active on that self management front.
What does all that actually mean…well, it means it takes into account that everyone’s behaviours, thoughts and feelings all play a role in influencing how we cope with and experience physical symptoms.
This is especially important when trying to cope with menopausal symptoms. Having oestrogen receptors all over our bodies reacting to the declining levels of oestrogen means we can start to experience a multitude of different symptoms both psychological and physical.
So, put in a different way, essentially CBT techniques work on the links between our physical symptoms, our thought processes and then our behaviour. For example, if you are anxious or stressed this reduces your natural ability to cope with some of your physical symptoms. Visa versa, if you are experiencing debilitating night sweats or hot flushes this then contributes to your psychological symptoms increasing that anxiety and stress. Make sense…?
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Menopause
It is a well known fact that stress reduces our capacity to cope with physical symptoms. The way we think, how we feel and so then what we do all has an impact on how we cope with our symptoms.
The CBT strategies help you to develop a calmer view, they help you to learn how to turn negative thought processes into positive ones which then, long term, helps you to cope better in certain situations.
Techniques learnt include paced breathing techniques and being able to practice calming, neutral thoughts. These are especially helpful when dealing with insomnia, being aware of your thoughts, trying to focus on those positive thoughts rather than catastrophizing, incorporating the paced breathing can all help enormously. The same applies to hot flushes and night sweats, once you have learnt how to effectively and calmly do paced breathing, the moment you are aware of a flush starting to creep up on you, being able to switch into paced breathing can really help to dissipate and reduce the intensity of that hot flush.
It might take a little time and practice to get to grips with the techniques but it is definitely worth persevering. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself, whether its standing in a long shopping queue, being late for a meeting or sitting on the hard shoulder with a flat tyre… whatever the scenario, if you’ve taken a bit of time to learn some simple techniques it becomes easier and easier to focus on positive thoughts and breathing which will help you to keep calm, diffuse irrational thoughts and to focus of what is important, whilst diffusing any hot flushes that might be trying to erupt at the same time.
Another way to explain it…when we feel stressed our bodies release adrenaline, think back to our ancestors going into hunter-gatherer mode being chased by a wild boar, the whole fight and flight theory, a tad stressful! Their bodies would definitely be releasing adrenaline and by releasing that adrenaline their bodies would be prepared for action. In addition, when we are stressed, our breathing often becomes faster and shallower so, it makes sense to learn how to calm all that down. Stresses of everyday modern life are obviously very different from being chased by wild boars, but our bodies react in the same ways releasing adrenaline, developing shallower breathing and feeing anxious.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Menopause Conclusion
Ultimately reducing anxiety and stress is a helpful strategy to improve wellbeing which in turn helps to reduce the impact menopausal symptoms can have on your daily life.
Long term it is advisable for anyone to try and learn some positive mindfulness or CBT strategies. If you don’t have any classes you can attend nearby then I would highly recommend a book called “Managing hot flushes and night sweats : a cognitive behavioural approach to menopause” written by Professor Myra Hunter and Dr Melanie Smith two of the leading psychologists in the field of menopause, who have researched this at length with extremely positive results . ( Available www.routledge.com) It provides a valuable resource as a self help guide to CBT.
'As with any information developed for Fountain Retreats the information in this post is accurate at time of posting and is for information purposes only. It is not intended to replace or substitute the judgement of any medical professional you may come in contact with. You should always seek advice from your health care professional regarding a medical condition’
About the author...
Author, Qualified Nurse
Ruth is a qualified nurse, gaining her registration and working at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
She is passionate about providing women and employers with evidence based information and support, helping women to make informed decisions about how to manage their menopause and so improve their quality of life.
She has been asked to contribute on several occasions on various media platforms including, Radio 4s Woman’s hour, BBC Radio Scotland, Radio Borders, the BBC Insiders Guide to the Menopause documentary with Kirsty Wark and BBC breakfast.
Ruth is married with three children, three dogs and a cat, loves cycling, playing netball and tennis, spending time with family and friends and has a great sense of humour.
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