What it feels like to have menopause symptoms

1st March, 2023 • 9 min read

Every woman has her own experience of the run-up to menopause, and the symptoms that can go with it. But sharing those experiences can help you and other people. So discover how women find menopause symptoms affect their work, family and love lives – plus how they deal.

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The menopause movement’ is growing: celebrities including Davina McCall, Michelle Obama, Lisa Snowdon and Gwyneth Paltrow have all opened up about their experiences. “Whether you call it ‘the change’, ‘ovarian retirement’, your ‘second spring’ or plain menopause, it’s good to talk about it,” says Dr Ann Nainan, family doctor and Healthily expert.

The good news is that an increased awareness of menopause and the time leading up to it, when your hormones start to change – known as perimenopause – means there’s a lot more information and support out there for women going through it (and their partners).

“Perimenopause and menopause can come with a whole range of symptoms – including night sweats, mood swings and brain fog – that different women can get at different times,” says Dr Ann. “But knowing what other women have experienced – and how they cope – can help you prepare to manage the menopause and find your own way through it.”

Here, women share their stories – including how they deal with it.

What my menopause feels like

“My internal thermostat had broken”

“One night, I woke up at exactly 4am, boiling hot. It was as if my internal thermostat had just broken,” says Rachel, 59. “From then on, for the next 6 years, the heat would come over me with no warning, like a furnace.”

Rachel also had emotional symptoms. “Slowly, confusingly, I stopped feeling like myself. I couldn’t pin it down or put it into words – just a feeling that I was outside myself, or not in touch with my old self.”

“My periods changed and I got itchy skin”

“In my early 40s, my periods went from predictable to erratic,” says Sally, 57. “The flow was so strong and heavy, I developed iron-deficiency anemia.

Sally also got dry, itchy skin – another common symptom. “My skin became dry almost overnight. It was such a dramatic shift.”

Read more about how periods can change during perimenopause, and menopause and itchy skin.

“It’s like my head is full of cotton wool”

“I have feelings of being overwhelmed with the simplest of things,” says Poppy. “Even making the bed feels like a long process, and I’m exhausted afterwards. Things I’ve done naturally and without thinking for years are sometimes too much to think about.

“It affects my working life, too… Once, I ended up bursting into tears when I got home because I felt unable to do the job I’ve done for 24 years. I feel so spaced out – as if my head is full of cotton wool."

Read more about brain fog and menopause.

“Joint pain made it difficult to get out of bed”

Meera says menopause wasn’t really discussed in her South Asian community, which left her unprepared when she started getting symptoms at the age of 40.

“It started with my hair noticeably thinning. Then night sweats, which disturbed my sleep because I’d need to get up to change my nightwear. I also experienced stiffness and joint pain, which often made it difficult to get out of bed.”

“As a keen runner who’d done half marathons, recovering after runs became harder. But I kept pushing through, thinking: ‘Maybe I’m eating something wrong? Maybe I’ve got a bug?’”

Years of battling with heavy periods, brain fog, anxiety and stiff joints followed – but Meera was told she was too young for menopause. It was only when friends started getting the same symptoms that she realized she’d been perimenopausal.

“Looking back, I wish I’d been equipped with information. I actually think menopause education should start at school!”

Read more about menopause and joint pain.

The mental health impact of menopause

“I had panic attacks – but now I know I have nothing to fear”

“I’d never had panic attacks before, and had no idea what was causing them,” says Annabelle. “I’d wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning with a racing heart and fearful thoughts. And although I felt fearful about something, I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.”

After talking to friends and doing some research, Annabelle realized her panic attacks were a symptom of perimenopause.

“That made a massive difference. Partly because I knew other women were experiencing the same thing and partly because I can now tell myself that THIS is the cause; there’s nothing else to fear.”

Read more about menopause and anxiety.

“Life felt hopeless, but my diagnosis was a relief”

Sandra suddenly experienced depression. “Life felt utterly, grimly hopeless. My mood fell down an elevator shaft. I was overwhelmed with grief.”

“I would wake up with a weight on my chest. I cried for no reason. I would take a yellow pad and make hash marks – at 8am, 9am, 10am – to celebrate simply making it through the day.”

After talking to a girlfriend, Sandra went to see a gynecologist, who diagnosed her as perimenopausal and prescribed hormone gel. “It was a relief for someone to name my condition, to reassure me that it was natural, physical and would pass.”

Read more about menopause mood swings and depression.

“I harnessed my menopausal rage”

“I felt as emotionally out of control as I had in puberty, although I was in my late 40s,” says Jennifer. “I became a carousel of moodiness, sleeplessness, memory loss, acute anxiety, depression and exhaustion, and housed an inner cauldron of rage that bubbled over inappropriately way too often.”

Jennifer found relief with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – using a gel and taking a pill every night – and now believes that “just as puberty ushers in a new stage of life, so does the menopause.”

She went on to found Compassion in Politics, an organization that puts inclusion and co-operation at the heart of politics. “I harnessed that menopausal rage to champion the thing I believe in most: compassion.”

Read more about menopause insomnia and mood swings.

How I tackled my menopause

“Soy helped me through”

“Hot flashes would creep up on me, but I learned how to cope: wearing looser clothes and carrying a second T-shirt with me,” says Hilda. “But the disturbed sleep and night sweats really affected me. I ate healthily, avoided spicy foods and exercised, but I obviously needed extra help.”

Hilda turned to natural menopause remedies to deal with her symptoms, particularly soy capsules. “In about 3 weeks, I noticed a reduction in my symptoms, and soon they were gone.

“I had a pretty easy time – I found something that worked – but others aren’t so lucky. As I was the first of my friends to go through it, I encouraged them to try soy capsules. This worked for some, but not others. Like everything in life, we all react differently.”

It’s important to bear in mind that more research is needed about soy and menopause symptoms. Plus, the quality, safety and effectiveness of supplements can vary, and is often unproven.

Read more about supplements for menopause.

“I’m back on an even keel”

“Three days after I started spraying myself with estrogen, I bounded out of bed. My husband expressed surprise because I had a smile on my face,” says Bryony. “Although it can take up to 3 months for people to notice a difference on HRT, my symptoms had gone from 60 to 0 in a matter of days.”

After some trial and error, Bryony is now on the right dose of HRT for her. “I feel I am back on an even keel. I have a firm foundation. I’m not losing my mind anymore, and the tears I am shedding are now of relief.”

Read more about HRT for menopause symptoms.

“I developed a better relationship with my body”

When Jo told a friend she’d been “crying in the biscuit aisle, feeling anxious and overwhelmed”, her friend suspected perimenopause and asked how much exercise she was doing. She then gave Jo an old rowing machine to try.

“Within a couple of weeks of rowing in my kitchen, I am sleeping. Immediately I feel better and brighter,” says Jo. “I joined a gym. I no longer cry in supermarkets.”

She also started researching the menopause and realized that “moving joyfully and regularly has a hugely beneficial effect on my physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.” Jo has now completed Couch to 5K, and even learned to surf!

She says, “My tiny adventures in the sea and hills have helped me develop a much kinder relationship with my body and a more positive body image. Now, I want to pass on my message of hope and encouragement.”

Do you need to see a doctor?

Every woman’s experience of menopause is different – but that doesn’t mean you should stop looking for a personal treatment plan.

“Menopause may be inevitable, but it’s not inevitable that you’ll have debilitating symptoms,” says Dr Ann. “Talk to your doctor, as there are lots of things you can try, including changing your exercise and diet (you don’t necessarily need to take medication). Asking for help could be the biggest step you can take to help manage your menopause.”

You can find more about menopause symptoms, HRT, herbal remedies, and diet and lifestyle changes in our menopause guide.

Quotes are the views of the authors of these statements and are not necessarily the views of Healthily, its medical team or its writers.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.