For many women, perimenopause hits us like a freight train. There we were, just about keeping on top of the daily juggle of work, family, relationships, and finances, and then, boom! Words are harder to grasp when they’re on the tip of the tongue. We can find ourselves getting hot in the day or night—and not in a good way. We lose our temper or burst into tears. And then, there’s the dawning realisation that what we thought was an unusually long hangover is in fact the start of what may be a long road to the menopause.

Everyone reacts in different ways. Some people immediately go out and research all the info, buy all the supplements, join groups, and get proactive. Others of us, still in shock or denial, try to ignore what’s happening or pass our symptoms off as something else. We don’t need to feel ashamed, or shame others, for our response to this. Changes in our bodies and minds are a massive deal, and there’s no right or wrong way to approach them. But there’s one overriding principle that I’ve found very helpful in my journey since my perimenopause began over five years ago, and that’s letting go.

There are many realities we’re faced with during this time, such as how maybe some things in our lives hadn’t turned out how we’d hoped. Getting older involves grieving and feeling sad, and it’s normal to try to avoid the process. But when we can face reality and can release what we wish had or hadn’t happened, we are more able to relax into and enjoy our present and future.

Letting Go of Control

No one likes to think of themselves as controlling. But if we’re being honest, most of us have some degree of a desire to control our environment, our future, and the people around us. To a degree, having some control is important; we need to feel we can forge our own path and make things happen. Having a sense of agency and purpose is good for our self-esteem. But, as the pandemic has shown us, life sometimes thwarts our plans for our future to turn out a certain way. When we find ourselves trying to force things to happen or to make other people behave in a particular way, we’re fighting a losing battle that will exhaust us and alienate others.

A nice exercise to see exactly what is within your power (and your business) to control is to draw a line down a piece of paper and write the following: “things I can control” at the top of one column and “things I can’t control” on the other. Then list everything that is bothering you right now in the appropriate column. This can be a really effective way of showing you where you need to influence where you can, but ultimately let go of what isn’t yours.

When being in control is linked to your sense of identity, it can feel very scary to even consider dropping the reins for a bit. You might feel that if you let go, everything will become chaotic and you won’t cope. Yes, it will feel uncomfortable for a bit. But once you’re out the other side, the peace and extra headspace you’ve just created for yourself will make the pain worthwhile.

Letting Go of Our “Shoulds”

Many of us have grown up surrounded by “shoulds.” How little girls should look and behave. How loud or quiet we should be. The aspirations we should, or shouldn’t have. Some of these are fed to us by our parents when we’re growing up; others, we absorb over time through friends, family, colleagues, and increasingly, social media. The “shoulds” may change over time, and we may have integrated them so seamlessly into our subconscious that we’re not aware of them anymore. We just have a general, lingering feeling of guilt and unease. Of feeling not good enough, without a clear idea of exactly why we feel this way. By becoming aware of these “shoulds” and externalising what has been under the surface for possibly decades, we can lighten our load and have a clearer idea of what really matters to us.

Letting Go of How Our Bodies Used to Work

As women, our bodies come under scrutiny from the external world (societal views of how it should look and behave) and our own experience of its rhythms and abilities (our menstrual cycle, mood patterns, aches and pains, fitness, etc.). Both of these factors can change during the perimenopause, and both involve losses, letting go, and coming to terms with reality.

Our view of our physical appearance and how we appeal to those we want to find us attractive can undergo dramatic changes at this time. Whether or not we approve of this external judgement of our appearance, many of us have been used to being seen in a particular way. And while it can be a huge relief to find ourselves no longer the object of external assessments of our appearance, going from feeling seen to invisible can feel disconcerting. It is yet another reality to acknowledge and maybe mourn. If we’re already feeling bad about changes in our appearance (many people experience weight gain, thinning hair, loss of general vitality), we need to be exceptionally kind to ourselves. This is a lot to grieve and let go of, and it doesn’t make you superficial or silly to acknowledge it. Loss is loss.

We also need to grieve and let go of our bodies working in a particular way. We may not bounce back as quickly from illness. Our body doesn’t respond in the way it used to. Maybe it hurts more. It looks different. We may develop new conditions or other physical limitations. We are losing our fertility and everything that symbolises. This is huge—and we shouldn’t underestimate its importance.

So … How do I Let Go?

Different approaches work for different people, but I find journaling very helpful. Try responding to the following prompts, writing as much or as little as feels right.

  • What is currently bothering me?
  • What reality am I trying to avoid?
  • What am I still clinging onto? Why is this so important to me?
  • What do I feel “should” be happening?
  • Who am I trying to control? What situation am I trying to control?
  • What do I fear will happen if I let go?
  • What old perception of myself do I need to let go of?

Some people benefit just from doing the writing. Others like to make some symbolic form of ritual of the letting go, such as burning the journaling responses or throwing a stone into the sea to represent what they’re releasing and leaving behind.

Once you have begun the process of letting go and allowing yourself to feel emotions associated with the loss (which is a constant process—we need always work on letting go, although it doesn’t always need to be very painful), you can work on the exciting part—building the new. Try out the following journal prompt:

  • How would I like my life to look now?

Cat Dean is an author and creator of Midlife Meditations, daily meditations and activities to lift your mood and help you feel more comfortable in your own skin, whatever your hormones are doing! You can find her on Twitter @meno_pause and on Instagram @midlifemeditations