How can we better integrate our brain hemispheres for a smoother transition into menopause?
Science, mathematics, music, our connection to ourselves, one another and the world is being erosively compartmentalized and automated. So, what does it matter? This is welcome news if we consider the way many of us think and live. In absolutes. Increasing productivity and utility. Moving through life with pleasure or displeasure as the guide. Great news for the left hemisphere of the brain, which is more attuned to absolutes, utilities and fine detail. However when relatively intense hormonal shifts come knocking, the ostensibly intense slam of menopause may put into perspective why consciously living a life engaging both hemispheres can be helpful.
There is an evolutionary necessity for two types of attention. Meaning two types of consciousness at once. A rather complex combination, if imagining a bird picking out a seed against a background on gravel on the bitumen, where attention is focused to something it already knows that it wants. But if the bird is only thinking about that, then it may not survive the afternoon. It must also engage a precise opposite type of attention, absolutely uncommitted and all-encompassing, for everything else occurring in the world around it. Essentially, two kinds of attention have evolved.
One that hones down on an object to the level of certainty, that decides to focus attention, determine whether the object is necessary, safe, and more. This is essential for manipulating and surviving the world. However, it is unhelpful for understanding the world. Understanding the world requires a relational attentiveness; it requires realizing how interconnected you — and we — all are. It requires awareness.
For perspective consider this: if the right hemisphere is damaged, there is a far greater effect on overall intellectual functioning in comparison to the left hemisphere being damaged.
So, the side of the brain that says “yes but” and “not always so” is literally more intelligent, according to the standard assessments in use, namely the Intelligent Quotient test.
In music, melody and harmony are reliant on the right hemisphere. Rhythm, being simplistic and predictable, is reliant on the left. Maybe it is time to switch off the repetitive, mind-numbing rhythms of popular music for something more melodic, for the sake of your brain health.
We are all often living a life of left hemisphere reliance, assessing things in terms of their utility and taking actions that are easiest and most pleasurable, now. The left hemisphere is a great ally and is there to work with the right. We mustn’t allow a life where categorical thinking dominates. Categorical thinking, so rampant now, has often been associated in research with mental illnesses such as depression and manic depression.
So when menopause hits, women devoted to utilitarianism can feel useless and irrelevant, as they cannot “produce”. Thinking they are no longer desirable, because that of course has been reserved for the young and fertile, and being completely ill-prepared for the plethora of physical, mental and emotional nuances that occur after spending a life time disconnected from oneself and the world.
To many of my clients, I prescribe this: “Up the dose of creativity and right hemisphere engagement”. I can see the positive impact of more activity feeding and facilitating the right brain; it results in people feeling more whole and even leads to eureka moments for practical puzzles.
Imagine how this could transform the way people approach the menopause transition. Rather than one day being jolted and startled, waking up to a cascade of physical and emotional symptoms, there was a lifetime of a gradual knowing, where a shedding and regrowth would occur from within. In that approach, creating the most fertile soil physically and mentally for the final season of ovulation, entering the transition in harmony with presence, connection and guidance. After decades of interpreting neuroimaging, psychiatrist and scholar Ian McGilchres said: “The brain is a process. A cell is a process. Not a thing. Changing moving and interconnecting all the time”.
Integrity is the state of being whole or undivided. It takes a lifetime. We must transcend thinking and living only in terms of utility, and the earlier we start, the better. Working on hemispheric integrity sooner means that when it’s time for menopause and the years of perimenopause before it, you have much less chance of being blind-sided, as so many women say they are. It might not be easy – big mental and physical transitions never are — but you will be able to navigate through it better connected to yourself and others, with the benefit of experience in seeing the bigger picture.
Parisa has a neuroscience degree and is a counsellor of Integrated Psychotherapy, works in psychological and physical trauma rehabilitation with a speciality in acquired brain injuries and autism and is currently working on her PhD on the therapeutic implications of indoor skydiving on the brain, specifically cerebral palsy and ADHD.. She's also a personal trainer, yoga and barre instructor and lives on a boat in Abu Dhabi.