I owe you an apology.
Before we get to that…
I recently wrote how finding myself smack dab in midlife still astonishes me.
Don’t get me wrong; aside from the expanding waistline, emerging bingo wings, and unpredictable mood swings, there is a lot to be said for this distinguished stage of our lives—a measure of hard-earned wisdom, accumulated career and life experience, and the increased capacity for mentoring.
Yet, within this lovely phase of midlife womanhood, there persists one of the most oft-lamented elements: the battle of the dreaded hot flash.
Hot flashes are a hideous symptom of perimenopause. (Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT, attempt to BS me by referring to them as power surges. That only serves to heighten my already elevated blood pressure and possibly place you in mortal danger.)
Now. Lest you worry that my new midlife focus is going to consist of endless peri-menopausal complaints, no need.
I promise to bring you lots of inspiration, empowerment tools, education, and levity.
However. We must address the (sweat-soaked) elephant in the room. Let’s get it out of the way, shall we?
In case you have managed to remain blissfully unacquainted with the lurid details, hot flashes have been described as “typically triggered by falling estrogen levels during perimenopause . . . [and] often start with a sense of warmth, which can escalate to feelings of intense heat usually felt in the scalp, face and chest area. A flash may also be accompanied by tingling, nausea, increased heart rate, or perspiration.”
Doesn’t that sound like a treat?
Although each woman’s journey through midlife is unique, according to statistics from Johns Hopkins Medicine, we women have a 75 percent chance of regularly encountering these inconvenient little adventures in temperature regulation at some point along the way.
In my book, Don’t Forget to Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Women, I wrote The Hot in Here Mindful Break* as a tool to help those suffering with hot flashes.
Problem was, I had not experienced one myself before I so naively offered it up.
Here is part of what I wrote:
Among my girlfriends and me, hot flashes have become a notably hot (pun intended) topic of conversation. One of these beautiful women is so intimately familiar with them that she has learned to recognize an impending one about twenty seconds before it hits. This brief window enables her to at least (hastily, but appropriately) strip off some clothing, guzzle an ice-cold drink, or subtly commence fanning herself in an attempt to keep her internal temperature at more of a moderately sweltering rather than severely scorching point on the thermometer.
Believe it or not, there is an upside to all of this. Well, sort of; though we may not be in control over whether we are included in that 75 percent and cannot entirely eradicate these unpleasant little meltdowns, through decreasing our overall stress level we can learn to quell the magnitude of those erratic fiery hot flashes. The intensity and frequency of hot flashes can be ameliorated with stress-reduction practices.
The rising of our internal temperature, regardless of its origin and our age, can thankfully be refreshingly chilled as well. And that, my friend, is where the trusty Hot in Here Mindful Break comes to the rescue. Otherwise known as the cooling breath, this technique can be used anytime, anywhere. With practice, the amount of time we spend heated up can be shortened and lessened. Practice regularly so that when the unwanted internal fire begins, you are familiar, primed, and prepared.
The Hot in Here Mindful Break
1 Sit or stand tall in a comfortable position and straighten the spine.
2 Rather than resist the inevitable, relax your body and, as best you can, accept the arrival of the dear little hot flash, as struggling against it only tightens the muscles and worsens the symptoms.
3 With the mouth open slightly, purse your lips as if ready to whistle.
4 Inhaling slowly, feel the cool air move over the tongue and into the lungs.
5 Allow the mouth to close and exhale slowly through the nose.
6 Repeat as many times as needed.
How many middle aged women read this and muttered to themselves, God love her, she has no idea? Or, likely, much worse?
All I can say is: Mea culpa! Dang, I am sorry. (Good intentions and all of that.)
It’s not that this mindful break is an entirely ineffective way to cope, as it can be used to slightly lower the molten lava body temp while providing our frantic minds a distraction from the uncomfortable, embarrassing and inconvenient symptoms. It is just that the cooling breath is woefully incomplete and inadequate. The Hot in Here break is like slapping a band aid on a broken bone. It may help cool the temp, but the underlying cause has not at all been addressed and remedied.
Now that I have experienced plenty of hot flashes myself, what I should have written is:
Hot flashes and night sweats SUCK (I strongly dislike that word and it fits). They rob you of precious sleep, arise at the most inconvenient of times (say, while giving a presentation or other high-stakes, stressful moments), and are delightfully followed by sweat-soaked clothing and resultant chills.
So, by all means, use this mindful break as a bandaid until you get that broken bone properly attended to. Do not stop there.
Call your gynecologist, women’s sexual health specialist, or endocrinologist. If your provider dismisses your symptoms, keep trying until you find someone who listens, respects, and collaborates with you.
Do not accept your miserable hot flash fate as just the way it is. There are options. You do not need to suffer. You deserve relief.
And if you are among the 25 percent non-hot-flashing minority, count yourself lucky, pass on this info to your miserably perspiring girlfriends, and, for the love of god, be sure to fan them and offer a cold beverage posthaste when needed.
Find a local menopause certified practitioner through The North American Menopause Society’s website HERE.
*Adapted and excerpted from Don’t Forget to Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Women (The Experiment Publishing, 2022).