Mindfulness seems to be a buzzword these days. Can you please provide a simple definition of mindfulness?
Paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, either internally or externally. We tend to spend a lot of time on autopilot, which is fine when we are engaging effectively in our lives. However, we can also tend to act, think, and feel in ways that aren’t so effective, such as overeating, yelling, ruminating, avoiding, etc. Mindfulness allows us to interrupt those autopilot patterns, so that we can begin to retrain the brain to more effective patterns.
Does our brain function change as we age?
Unfortunately, yes. There is an inevitable decline in brain functioning due to aging that occurs to some extent to all of us starting around age 60 or 70 years. As women go through menopause, they often report a decline in brain functioning (‘brain fog’) as well. Fortunately, though, this change in cognitive functioning during menopause is temporary.
How can mindfulness help women manage menopausal symptoms like irritability, anxiety and depression?
Any time we are experiencing irritability, anxiety, and depression, the right hemisphere of our brain, the amygdala-driven brain, is activated. If our left hemisphere, our reason-driven brain, is not as activated, we can get stuck in a mood or a ruminative pattern. Activating the neurons in our left hemisphere can reduce overwhelming emotions and increase our ability to be effective.
One excellent mindfulness technique I use with my clients is counting backwards from 100 by 2, or from 99 by 3. Each time the mind wanders somewhere else (which it will), we gently return our focus to counting, over and over. Math puzzles, word games, and spelling our full names backwards are just a few other ways to mindfully activate our left hemisphere.
Another very effective technique is journaling. The mechanics alone activate the left hemisphere especially if you are right-handed. More importantly, journaling activates our language center in the left hemisphere as we attempt to identify and describe what is happening in our right hemisphere.
Wisdom requires that we access and integrate as needed our left hemisphere, the reason-driven brain, with our right hemisphere. These mindful brain training techniques allow us more flexibility to make wise decisions.
Can you offer some simple and practical tips on how women can be more mindful during their busy days?
First, it is important to recognize that taking time throughout our day to re-center is not a luxury relegated to vacations and down time (what is that?). Any time we can release tension in our bodies, we regain some energy. The more we mindfully release that tension, the less autopilot that tension will be. Consider this, we have to breathe anyway, so why not take a few deeper, slower breaths every time you check the clock, pick up a pen, stand up, go to the ladies room, make a call, etc.? You pick it and then train your brain to go there on autopilot.
Is there anything else you think women should know about their psychological and emotional health at menopause and beyond?
The amount of miraculous energy our bodies must need in order to create a life has led me to think of menopause as the body reclaiming that miraculous energy for itself – full strength. So, think of those uncomfortable hot flashes more as power surges. It gives me hope.
Sandra K. Molle, LPC DBTC BCN
Certified in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBTC)
Certified in EEG Biofeedback (BCN)
Integrative Counseling Services PLLC