Tips To Manage Hot Flashes

Hot flashes seem to happen at the most inopportune times, don’t they? You might get that sudden feeling of warmth that reddens your face and spreads quickly over your upper body just as you’re about to give an important presentation, or it may hit you when your partner is feeling uncharacteristically amorous. It can be especially annoying when one comes on right after you’ve showered and dressed for an elegant event.  

Although menopause is a fact of life for all aging women, you don’t have to let its symptoms rule your life.

Dr. Wendy Hurst in Englewood, New Jersey, wants you to know that there are steps you can take to manage your hot flashes and stay in control of your day. And the best part is that many of the most effective strategies also help protect your long-term health.

Hot flashes, defined

Did you know that hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause? Although they’re a byproduct of shifting reproductive hormone levels, researchers also believe that hot flashes are linked to changes in the hypothalamus, or the part of your brain that regulates body temperature.

If your hypothalamus mistakenly senses that you’re too warm, it initiates a chain of events to help cool you down. Increasing blood flow to the surface of your skin (that red, flushed look) is meant to help dissipate body heat, and the sudden onset of perspiration is meant to cool you quickly.

Your heart may also beat faster, and you may experience a chill after the hot flash has passed.

Because hot flashes can last for months or even years, it’s important to know that managing them effectively goes way beyond learning how to dress in layers. Here are some of our best tips:

Identify your triggers

One of the most frustrating things about hot flashes is that they seem to happen at random times. That perception isn’t exactly reality, however: Hot flashes are often precipitated by some type of trigger.

If you pay close attention to what’s happening just before a hot flash strikes, you may be able to identify your hot flash triggers. And if you can identify those triggers, you’re one step closer to gaining the upper hand over your symptoms.

Try keeping a record of what you were eating or doing and how you were feeling when they occur. Do you tend to have more hot flashes when you’re under a lot of pressure or don’t have any down time? For many women, stress is a major trigger.

Hot flashes can also be precipitated by hot environments, smoking, caffeine, alcohol, tight clothing, sugar-rich foods, or spicy foods. Once you find your personal triggers, you can avoid them.

Make time for exercise

You should consider regular physical activity your main defense against the symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes.

Simply increasing your level of activity can help reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes and have a positive impact on many other symptoms, including mood swings, irritability, fatigue, and insomnia.

What does this mean for you?

If you don’t exercise already, simply making a conscious effort to stand more often, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and go for a short walk once or twice a day can produce noticeable changes.

If you’re already active, try a different type of exercise to shake things up, or take your workouts to the next level.    

Getting an hour of moderately intense exercise most days of the week can also help you maintain a healthy body weight, and women with a healthy body weight tend to have fewer and less severe hot flashes.

Clean up your diet

There’s no denying it: The quality of your diet can have a direct impact on the severity of your menopause symptoms.  

A diet rich in unhealthy fats and refined sugars has been linked to more intense day-to-day symptoms, while a whole foods-based diet that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish can help you decrease or minimize hot flashes.

Adding more soy products, chickpeas, lentils, and ground flaxseed to your diet can also be beneficial. These foods contain isoflavones, or estrogen-like compounds, that may help reduce hot flashes.

You’ll want to be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, as staying hydrated can diminish hot flashes and replenish any fluids lost through sweat. Keeping ice water close at hand is also a great way to cool yourself the moment you feel a hot flash coming on.

Finally, you’ll want to clear any trigger foods out of your diet altogether. For many women, that means avoiding spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine.  

Minimize your stress

If many women consider stress to be a primary trigger for hot flashes, it probably goes without saying that most women would benefit from reducing their stress levels.

You can start to de-stress by taking a mindful approach and recognizing your limits. Do you fill every moment of your time with items from your to-do list? If so, try making regular downtime a priority.

Do you say yes to every work project and social invitation, even when you don’t really have the time? Learn how to say no gracefully, and don’t feel guilty about protecting your mental (and, in turn, physical) health.

Regular exercise and uninterrupted sleep can also go a long way in reducing overall stress levels, as can finding fulfilling activities that you love — activities that you reserve just for “me time.”

When you’re stressed out and you feel a hot flash coming on, focus on your breath: inhale evenly, slowly, and fully, and exhale with the same control. Slow, deliberate breathing helps you relax and takes the edge off an impending hot flash, too.

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