As a child, you may have overheard hushed conversations between aunts or elders about going through sudden changes, experiencing ‘nerves’, or suddenly feeling very hot. There is a good likelihood that this discussion will have been about menopause. In today’s modern world, many of us are getting less squeamish and more well-informed about some of the facts of life. Menopause is no exception to this.
What is menopause?
Menopause is when your periods stop due to lower hormone levels that come with the natural ageing process. This normally happens between the ages of 45 and 55. This can occur earlier too, following an oophorectomy or hysterectomy, or following cancer treatment, or simply due to genetics.
Alongside some physical changes, menopause often comes with unpleasant symptoms, such as anxiety, mood swings, hot flashes, brain fog, sexual dysfunction, and irregular periods. These symptoms can start years before, with the phenomenon known as perimenopause, and can also carry on after menopause as well.
What can I do about it?
Here is some general advice that can benefit most going through menopause:
- Stop using tobacco products if you currently do
- Eat a healthy diet full of protein, fibre, fruit, veg and whole-grain foods
- Make sure that you are getting enough vitamin D and calcium
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Do weight-bearing exercise at least 3 days a week
There are also some medicines available to help relieve symptoms. This can range from over-the-counter medicines to hormone supplements. The symptoms of menopause and perimenopause can also be a very common reason for people to seek therapy. Sometimes unaddressed trauma can resurface, common symptoms can become debilitating, or some of the changes that your body goes through can be hard to adjust to.
Hypnotherapy is one such therapy. Hypnosis can be helpful in managing many of the symptoms that can accompany menopause, and not just with the problems that hypnosis is well-known to improve, such as anxiety (Valentine et al., 2019) and traumatic events (Abramowitz & Lichtenburg, 2010). Hot flashes, poor sleep and sexual dysfunction are also symptoms that can be helped by hypnotherapy.
What does the research say?
Let’s take a closer look at what researchers have discovered. Sexual dysfunction is a common problem for postmenopausal women, with an estimated range of 30% to 71% of women affected. In fact, postmenopausal women are 2.3 times more likely to experience sexual dysfunction than premenopausal women.
A single-blind, randomised clinical trial by Johnson et al., (2016) tested the efficacy of hypnotherapy on the improvement of sexual function in comparison a structured-attention control in 187 healthy post-menopausal women experiencing hot flashes.
Before the experiment, the participants gave baseline scores of different aspects of sexual functioning that may be influenced by their hormonal status, adding up to a total score.
The participants received 5 weekly sessions of hypnotic relaxation therapy, or of control exercises, before answering the questionnaires again. The participants then completed follow-up assessments at weeks 6 and 12.
At the start of the experiment, the hypnosis group had a base total score of 15.8 (out of 30), which rose to 17.9 at the end of the treatment, and then again to 18.7 at the 12-week follow-up. For the control group, their scores improved significantly less than the hypnosis group, with total scores starting at 13.7 and finishing at 15.29 by the 12-week follow-up. These differences, particularly with improvements to feelings of sexual pleasure and overall score, were statistically significant.
Hot flashes can be uncomfortable, especially when you are trying to go about your normal life in peace. In 2013, Elkins et al. conducted a pilot investigation into hypnosis and how it can help with the management of hot flashes among postmenopausal women.
13 postmenopausal women participated in the study, who were suffering from either a minimum of 50 hot flashes a week or at least seven moderate/severe flashes a day. They were asked to keep a diary documenting their flashes and symptoms from the very start of the study until the end of their hypnosis interventions. The participants received five weekly sessions of guided self-hypnosis, lasting 30 minutes each time.
The results from their study showed that there was a significant decline in the frequency of hot flashes by the end of the last session, with an average decline of 72%.
Sleep disturbance is a common problem among postmenopausal women, with an estimated 40 to 64% reporting poor sleep. Poor sleep can impact well-being, overall health, work efficiency and put a strain on relationships, as well as increase the risks for diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
Hypnosis has been used successfully to improve sleep in the past, as detailed by Chamine, Atchley & Oken (2018) in a large systematic review of the literature.
A recent single-blind, randomised factorial trial by Elkins et al., (2021) explored the optimal dose and method of delivery of a hypnosis intervention for postmenopausal women who suffered from sleep disturbance.
A group of 90 women were selected for the trial and split evenly into four groups who each received a different method of treatment: 5 in-person sessions, 3 in-person sessions, 5 phone sessions, or 3 phone sessions. All groups received the same hypnosis audio recordings to use at home, with instructions for daily practise for 5 weeks. The experimenters measured quality and length of sleep.
All four groups reported an improvement in sleep quality, with the largest benefit to the group who received 5 phone sessions. Across all groups, between 81 to 100% of participants achieved a clinically meaningful improvement in the quality of their sleep, even at the 8-week follow-up.
As the research shows, hypnotherapy could be a powerful tool for making menopause more manageable. From restful sleep to getting rid of anxiety, to putting a dampener on hot flashes. Approximately half of the population will have to deal with this in their lifetimes, but there is no need to suffer in silence. Gone are the days of hushed conversations, it’s time to shed light on how difficult menopause can be, and to support each other towards health and happiness.
Abramowitz, E. G., & Lichtenberg, P. (2010). A new hypnotic technique for treating combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder: A prospective open study. International Journal of Clinical andExperimental Hypnosis, 58, 316–328. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207141003760926
Chamine, I., Atchley, R., Oken, B. S. (2018). Hypnosis intervention effects on sleep outcomes: A systematic review. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 14, 271-283. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.6952
Elkins, G., Otte, J., Carpenter, J. S., Roberts, L., Jackson, L. S., Kekecs, Z., Patterson, V., Keith, T. Z. (2021). Hypnosis intervention for sleep disturbance: determination of optimal dose and method of delivery for postmenopausal women. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 69(3), 323-345. Link: https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2021.1919520
Elkins, G., Johnson, A., Fisher, W., Sliwinski, J., Keith, T. (2013). A Pilot investigation of guided self- hypnosis in the treatment of hot flashes among postmenopausal women. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis,61(3), 342-350. Link: https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2013.784112
Johnson, A. K., Johnson, A. J., Barton, D., Elkins, G. (2016). Hypnotic relaxation therapy and sexual function in postmenopausal women: Results of a Randomised Clinical Trial. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 64(2), 213-224. Link: https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2016.1131590
Valentine, K. E., Milling, L. S., Clark, L. J., Moriarty, C. L. (2019). The efficacy of hypnosis as a treatment for anxiety: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 67(3), 336-363. Link: https://doi.org/10.1080/00207144.2019.1613863