By Allison Bond MD
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women who are kind to themselves in tough situations may have an easier time dealing with hot flashes during menopause, a recent study from Australia found.
Women who ranked higher on a measure of self-compassion reported that hot flashes interfered less with their daily lives than women who were harder on themselves.
Many women experience hot flashes during menopause. The sudden fluctuations in the body’s perceived temperature can interfere with sleep and concentration.
Practicing self-compassion could be a free, simple way to combat the disruption these symptoms often cause, the study’s authors say.
“It isn’t just the physiology of a hot flash that can be stressful. It is also the thoughts, feelings and interpretations that surround the experience,” said Lydia Brown. She led the study at the University of Melbourne in Australia, where she is a doctoral candidate in psychology.
During a hot flash or any other unpleasant event, thoughts can easily begin to spiral downward. Yet, “If a woman can treat herself with tenderness and friendliness in the moment of suffering from a hot flash, the negative whirlwind cannot get a foothold,” Brown told Reuters Health in an email.
She and her colleagues studied 206 women between 40 and 60 years old who were currently going through or had completed menopause. They were all experiencing night sweats and hot flashes.
Participants filled out a survey that measured on a scale from zero to 10 the extent to which hot flashes interfered with their daily activities such as work and socializing as well as relaxation and concentration.
For the self-compassion assessment, women rated on a scale from “almost never” to “almost always” their responses to questions like, “When I see aspects of my personality that I don’t like, I get down on myself.” The assessment took into account mindfulness, kindness toward oneself and judgment of oneself.
Finally, the researchers used another questionnaire to evaluate women’s symptoms of depression.
Brown and her team found that the participants experienced an average of about four hot flashes and night sweats per day. Not surprisingly, the frequency of these symptoms was related to how much they interfered with women’s daily lives. Of all facets of life, hot flashes interfered with sleep the most.
However, women who had greater self-compassion had fewer symptoms of depression, and their hot flashes were less disruptive than those of women who reported less self-compassion.
The good news is that anyone can work on boosting self-compassion in an effort to make hot flashes, night sweats or any other unpleasant event more bearable. One of the main tenets of self-compassion is kindness toward oneself when facing a challenge, Brown said.
For example, “In the midst of a hot flash, rather than thinking ‘oh no, here we go again!’ a self-compassionate alternative would be to think ‘it’s ok; I am there for you in this moment of suffering,” said Brown.
Another key facet of self-compassion is mindfulness, which involves being aware of what one is experiencing in the present moment in a way that doesn’t peg a given emotion, sensation or event as good or bad.
“With curiosity and a non-judgmental attitude, a woman could notice the changing sensations that make up a hot flash,” Brown said.
“When the experience is broken down to its constituents through mindfulness, it becomes less overwhelming, and so has less power to interfere with daily life,” she said.
Self-compassion isn’t a cure-all. But the study suggests more research should be done to “assess self-compassion training as an alternative or adjunct training to (psychological) and pharmacological treatments for hot flashes and night sweats,” the authors write in the journal Maturitas. Such a practice has few drawbacks.
“While medical treatments can be costly, self-compassion is a self-help strategy that can be applied to life at no cost,” Brown said.
SOURCE: bit.ly/1nMKarc Maturitas, online May 29, 2014.