Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Talking Makes Menopause Better — Anyone Surprised?

March 1st, 2012 by Heather Dillaway

Adapted from a photo by Ed Yourdon // CC 2.0

The results are in: if you talk to your friends more during menopause, then your menopausal symptoms will bother you less. A study reported in The Telegraph last week suggests that talking either lessens women’s symptoms or helps them cope better (or both). In one study, women undergoing breast cancer treatments who also participated in “talking cure group therapy” as part of a study at Kings’ College in London “coped much better” with menopausal symptoms. Half of the women in this study were asked to participate in workshops with other women for six weeks. Women in the study were encouraged to talk about signs and symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes (or hot “flushes” in the UK) and night sweats; they were taught techniques for eliminating “negative thoughts” and stress as well. Researchers touted this “talking cure group therapy” as giving “people the mental tools to tackle problems more positively” and led to “improvement” in symptoms. The author of the article suggests that non-medical approaches to symptom relief not only work but also could be growing in popularity among women who can’t or don’t want to use prescribed hormone therapies.

This is not unlike what I’ve found in my own studies of menopause and what plenty of other feminist scholars have found about women’s experiences of reproductive health more generally. Women who have support networks and/or who talk to other women about their experiences do indeed feel better about their own experiences and do gain some symptom relief (or, at the very least, coping strategies) just from talking to people. Indeed, even women with severe symptoms can get relief from sharing and talking. SMCR’s very own Jerilynn Prior and Christine Hitchcock have also done studies of how women will rate the severity of their hot flashes differently once they hear other women talk about theirs. Hearing and then knowing that people around you are (a) experiencing the same thing and then (b) might have suggestions for how you could navigate the experience always helps. This isn’t specific to women’s health – anyone experiencing any bodily event, symptom, or process will probably feel better if they talk to others. And of course we could go on from there – anyone experiencing anything confusing or hard or long in duration will probably benefit from talking to others. Anyone who has failed a math test or survived a hard relationship knows that.

The question I have is, isn’t it sad that this is a finding? Shouldn’t we all know that talking to others is better for our health and our sanity? I’m as much of a culprit as anyone else: I don’t talk to anyone anymore. I’m too busy. I barely see my kids or partner, let alone tell people how I feel about menstruation, whether I really feel “done” having kids, whether I think menopause is near, whether I feel reproductively healthy (or healthy in any aspect of my life for that regard), etc.  Maybe some of you are much better than me about talking to others, but it’s pretty bad when major research journals have to remind us in their published findings that talking is good for us.

Feminist scholars have already documented the medicalization of women’s reproductive health and the fact that women now typically consult doctors as the “experts” on reproductive health and, by default, no longer trust themselves or other women for advice. Thus, to some extent, talking is stifled by the medicalization of women’s health experiences. But, ironically, now medical journals are reporting that we should talk more? Seems like we’ve made it full circle and women should consult other women as the real “experts” again.

It seems I need to stop being so busy and start cultivating my friendships again . . .


6 responses to “Talking Makes Menopause Better — Anyone Surprised?”

  1. Cindy says:

    Ahhhhh…science that supports that which we already know. The healing that is experienced by women who are witnessed and validated. Sounds like a Red Tent moment to me.

  2. Heather D says:

    Yeah, funny how things come full circle – right back to women. Agreed that it is about acknowledgement, witnessing, and validation! Now the only question is, how do we make sure we actually talk to each other, and realize we might be better resources for each other than science?

  3. Cindy says:

    This is where I would do a deep grounding meditation with women prior to any discussion so that they are connected to the Earth and their bodies. In this connected state, women are able to feel the truth within their being and know on a deep level what is true for them. Its the only way I know to get out of my head and into my body where I can truly “know”. I found it so interesting at the conference last summer how many of the things that are valuable for women to know about our innate cyclic nature are being studied by the researchers in SMCR. Gives scientific (thinking) validation to what women know on a gut (feeling) level. I think both views are worth looking at and developing discernment around. Thank you for sharing this information.

  4. Heather D says:

    So, I guess sharing of information like this also counts as talking? That’s a good way to think about it, I like that. I also like the idea that part of the problem is that we are “stuck in our heads” and that’s one of the reasons why we don’t connect with others or listen to our bodies….

  5. Laura Wershler says:

    This study reinforces the wisdom of “woman to woman” sharing: of information, knowledge, awareness, experience and insight. It could be that blogs and forums where women of all ages are discussing a range of issues related to health and well-being are driven by an instinctive need to connect with other women to experience this “feel better” effect.

    This quote from your post is most instructive:
    “Feminist scholars have already documented the medicalization of women’s reproductive health and the fact that women now typically consult doctors as the “experts” on reproductive health and, by default, no longer trust themselves or other women for advice.”

    Heather, you’ve provided a key strategy on how to push back against the medicalization of women’s bodies: Let’s talk with each other first about our worries and concerns before consulting the so called “experts.” In some situations we may decide we don’t need to seek out medical solutions at all.

  6. Heather D says:

    You’re right, Laura. Of course in the process we have to convince ourselves that this isn’t necessarily an anti-medicine strategy all of the time — just pro-woman, pro-body first and foremost.

Readers should note that statements published in Menstruation Matters are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.