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Self-Compassion: The Best Way to Help With Menopause

Hands holding.

Consider it the selfcare toolkit every woman over 40 should know about.

"Studies show self-compassion helps decrease depression, anxiety, stress, and shame."

The good stuff in life isn’t always easy. Growing up and gaining knowledge. Falling in love and creating a partnership. Building a home, having and raising kids. Pursuing big work goals and passion projects.

And…aging. Even if you set aside things like the health issues that can crop up (arthritis, osteoporosis and all the rest), there can be a heavy load to bear emotionally.

Work opportunities may be harder to wrangle: In a recent survey conducted by Out-Wit, a consumer insights agency, 80% of respondents experienced some form of gendered ageism, the interplay of age and gender discrimination (basically, meaning older women have a double whammy on them). A third of all respondents (33%) felt they could not get a job or interview because of their age. The most common experiences were “feeling opinions were ignored” (47%), “seeing younger colleagues get attention” (42%) and “not being invited to key meetings” (35%).

What’s more, the pop-culture conversation can hit the mute button on those of us over age 40. The media doesn’t talk to our demographic: In a survey of women age 40+ by the agency Fancy, 64% say brands underestimate her spending power; 80% feel brands underestimate her intelligence; and 84% believe brands overestimate her preoccupation with her physical appearance.

And if that weren’t enough (and it is), there are all kinds of social-media spats showing a deep lack of regard for women as they age. As Sarah Jessica Parker said as the show And Just Like That… debuted on HBO Max, “Everyone has something to say; ‘She has too many wrinkles, she has too few wrinkles.’ It seems like people don’t want us to be in harmony with ourselves…I know how I look. I have no choice. What am I supposed to do about it? Stop aging? Disappear?”

How about a big No, thank you! Ageism can get to a person and trigger feelings of low self-worth and sadness. Maybe a friend has come to you, struggling with these emotions, and you’ve shored her up. Showing yourself the very same support can have a profound effect on your mood and outlook. It’s called self-compassion.

Illustrated hands reaching out.

Your Be-Kind Guide.

“Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself that you would towards a friend when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself,” according to Kristin Neff, Ph.D., associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself and Fierce Self-Compassion. “Instead of just ignoring your pain with a ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality, you stop to tell yourself ‘this is really difficult right now,’ how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”

Many of us may wince at this suggestion. Perhaps we’ve been raised to “push through” pain, physical or otherwise, and derive feelings of strength from doing so. Sarita, 52, an administrator in Houston, is one of those. “I can still hear my dad saying, ‘Grow up! Toughen up!’ if I or my sister shared a story of hurt feelings or school struggles at the dinner table. I feel guilty and soft if I let myself show that I’m struggling. I figure it’s my fault.”

What Science Says about Self-compassion.

But a little self-care can actually go a long way. “Over 1,000 research studies show that self-compassion helps decrease depression, anxiety, stress, and shame,” says Madeline Polonia, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in San Diego, CA. “It increases physical health, self-confidence, life satisfaction, and happiness. Self-compassion is also associated with many more feelings of stable self-worth.”

Let’s take a closer look at that shame component. “Shame and self-compassion seem to be inversely correlated, and shame goes up after age 50,” notes Christopher Germer, PhD, a clinical psychologist and lecturer on psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who co-authored The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook with Dr. Neff. “Research shows women feel more shame than men. A number of researchers attribute this finding to how modern society objectifies women based on their appearance. When a woman’s sexual attractiveness is valued over other qualities such as ability or kindness, she is likely to value herself in the same way. When a woman can’t live up to arbitrary, narrow, cultural standards of beauty, shame results. Therefore, the need for self-compassion is surely greater as we age.”

5 Self-compassion Steps

Here, Dr. Neff’s most important moves.

1. Embrace self-kindness instead of self-judgment. When you are struggling, suffering, or feeling pain, do you pile on with thoughts of, “Of course I didn’t get the promotion. I’m too old?” Check yourself. Stop. Pivot. Instead, offer yourself the kind of solace you would give a friend or relative. Perhaps for you that’s railing against an unfair process. Maybe it’s about distraction and taking yourself out for a walk in nature. Maybe you need a hug from your significant other or bff. Go for it.

2. See the common humanity of your situation versus feeling isolated. Look at the big picture rather than believing that this is a personal failing, a situation that has targeted you and you alone. Suffering and sentiments of personal inadequacy are unfortunately a facet of being human. We all have these moments. Women over age 40 may have more of them. Ageism is real, no doubt about it, and if you get dissed or OK, Boomer’d, join the club. Yup, you’re going to feel all the negative feels, but then be kind to yourself and comfort yourself.

3. Practice mindfulness. This is a good way to feel those negative feels we just mentioned. Mindfulness involves observing thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. It’s an important step before your self-compassion kicks in; think of it as processing time. It helps you separate yourself from the experience or comment that is making you feel low, which prevents what is called “over-identifying” with negativity. “I tend to take criticism super-hard,” says Donna, 49, a teacher in St. Paul. “I have learned through mindfulness to push that away and realize that someone else’s opinion of me is just that—opinion. Not truth.”

4. Breathe better. In addition to positive self-talk, Dr. Polonia advises, “Create mindful breathing moments throughout the day by inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. While doing so, anchor yourself with words such as, ‘I’m okay right here and right now,’ or ‘This too shall pass.’"

5. Deploy this practice at work. Neff feels self-compassion is a vital tool on the job too. “The way you grow and learn is by dealing productively with failure. If you go into shame mode after failure…it’s not going to allow you to grow or take risks,” she said in an interview with Forbes. “You can be vulnerable, learn and grow if you have your own back with self-compassion: ‘If I blow it and people ridicule me, I’ll be okay because the bottom line is, I’ll be there for myself.’” Wise—and self-compassionate—words, for sure.

Janet Siroto
Janet Siroto is a writer and content strategist specializing in lifestyle and wellness topics. She’s held senior editorial positions at Good Housekeeping, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and other titles. She is also a trend tracker whose work has been presented on the main stage at SXSW, WSJ: The Future of Everything, Cannes Lions, and other summits.

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