What is the Third Age? It refers to the time after a woman has gone through menopause, when she still has up to a third of her life left. The menopause marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle and it has four stages: pre-menopause, perimenopause, menopause and post-menopause.
One of the most important things to remember about menopause is that it is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, as a woman’s estrogen levels decline.
When it happens can vary widely. And while most women will have some issues and symptoms, others have few or none.
In the UK, for example, the average age for women to reach menopause is 51, but some women can begin noticing changes in their cycle from the mid to late 30s. As they approach their early 40s, more significant changes may start to appear.
Perimenopause is the stage where a majority of symptoms will become more evident; for some women, they can increase in severity as they move toward menopause. It can be an overwhelming and chaotic time.
Hot flashes (or flushes in British English) are considered such a classic sign of menopause that they are almost a cliché. In reality, there are thought to be more than 60 wide-ranging symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause. They include mood swings, changes in sleep patterns and distribution of body fat, skin irritations, tinnitus, dry eyes, dizziness and loss of confidence. They vary in intensity from woman to woman but for some they are severe enough to affect their daily lives. And for some women, hot flashes hardly feature at all.
When I realized I was in the perimenopausal phase, I remember feeling very confused, with no idea what was happening to my body. My mental health was severely affected, which had an impact on my work and on relationships with family and friends. My social life became non-existent as I was no longer interested in one. I felt overwhelmed and completely unprepared for what I was feeling and experiencing. In order to understand what was happening, I had to educate myself and self-diagnose.
My own journey led me to qualify as a Third Age Woman Coach and create a support group called Harmoniousher to help women transition through this stage of their lives.
The group encourages women to share their experiences and ask for any advice and support they need. The questions women ask only emphasize how much a support group like Harmoniousher was needed in the UAE.
- “As a 39-year-old woman, is it possible I have started to go through the menopause?”
- “I am post-menopausal and suffering with a lot of joint issues. Please can you advise on supplements?”
Another worried member of the group had run out of hormone replacement patches and needed to know where she could obtain more.
Women are actively looking for answers. Harmoniousher is not there to tell a woman what direction to take, but to provide education, helping to equip her with sufficient knowledge so that she can make her own informed decisions.
Menopause hormone therapy (HT) – formerly known as hormone replacement therapy, or HRT – is just one available option.
Many women go the natural route, consulting a naturopath or a hormone health coach and incorporating supplements and lifestyle changes.
Others take natural supplements along with HT and in conjunction with lifestyle changes and natural therapies. Nutrition, exercise, meditation and mindfulness can all help with stress and anxiety, which are two very common complaints.
The main message is that a menopausal woman has choices and this can be very empowering at a time when she may be experiencing feelings of powerlessness and unbalance.
The Menopause Room, a group of menopause lifestyle experts in London, equate the symptoms of menopause with the symptoms of withdrawal. I completely agree with that analogy. A young woman’s body is awash with estrogen during her reproductive years (whether she has children or not). As she approaches menopause, her estrogen levels drop and her body must adapt.
Every woman on earth, regardless of ethnicity, culture and religion, goes through menopause, whether naturally or as a result of medical intervention.
By coming together to share experiences, we women can support one another to ensure no one is ever made to feel as if she is on her own as she transitions through to her Third Age.
Donna Howarth is a 3rd Age Woman coach, founder of Harmoniousher and a passionate advocate for women's health as well as a personal trainer and sport massage therapist living in Abu Dhabi.