Race can have a negative impact on menopause symptoms through the effects of the stress caused by racism.
Research has shown that stress can trigger some menopause symptoms or make them more frequent or intense. It inflames the body and can cause hot flashes, poor sleep, weight gain and high blood pressure. Stress can arise from many situations such at home, at work and in our personal relationships.
My guest this week, Rev. Dr. Terrlyn L. Curry Avery (TLC) is a pastologist, that is an ordained minister and licensed psychologist. She understands through her own experience and the experiences of the people she works with, how living with racism can lead to chronic stress and medical conditions.
Racial and ethnic minorities experience significantly higher degrees of chronic psychosocial stress which over time contributes to allostatic load, that is the strain on the body produced by repeated ups and downs. This leads to increased risk of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, asthma and depression. (Kliegman 2020)
“I’ve always had a sense of justice. I grew up in Mississippi which is considered to be one of the most racist regions in America. Fortunately the area I lived in wasn’t as bad as others, but I can recall seeing ‘whites only’ signs that should have been taken down but were left up. I remember when my parents said ‘yes Sir’ or ‘no Sir’ to white people who were younger than me.
When I left college with my PhD, I knew I wanted to work in African American communities. I wanted to give back, and I wanted it to help my people. It led from there to doing trainings with educators and other people around dismantling racism. I knew racism would be infused in everything I did, but I thought that I was moving away from the teaching. I never thought I would be doing a radio show on the subject.
But because of the nature of the world that we live in and all of the deadly racist acts that that I see every day, I knew I had to get back in there. You’ve got to do the work, so I can’t leave. Some days I get tired of having to think about it. There are days that I turn it off as much as I can, but if you’re black in America you can’t really turn it off.
As women, we often have to be concerned about how we’re dressed if we go into a meeting. Maybe we want to make sure we’re not dressed too provocatively but, in addition, to me as a black woman, I have to really, really think about every single piece of what I’m wearing. I can remember when I was teaching in graduate school. I wanted to wear an Afro-centric outfit to class because that represents who I am. My sister said, ‘Well, I don’t think you can do that’. I had to think about how my students, who were mostly white, would respond to me. What was the perception that they would have simply by me, showing up in that outfit, particularly on the first day of class?
You may have heard the saying, ‘black don’t crack if you’, meaning that black skin stays smoother for longer. While we may age very differently, as people of colour, we die on average, eight years sooner than our white counterparts, because of the stuff that’s going on inside of us.
Women of color experience more stress and consequently experience menopause very differently. There is research that suggests that black people and women of color go through an extra 25 to 50% of stress than other folks. Why? Because simply showing up in the world as a black woman is stressful.
Some black women may go through symptoms and may not think of them as being menopause. Levels of cortisol increase with stress and that increases headaches. We might find ourselves irritable or unable to sleep, or we might find ourselves overloaded with things and take that to be a normal daily life experience. We may not associate it with menopause when in fact that is what it is. So it is really important for us to understand how stress can actually kill us.
In terms of one aspect of menopause, women of colour proportionately have more hysterectomies than white women and are recommended to have hysterectomies long before they are needed. It is a form of sterilisation.
If we begin to change the way we manage our stress then we can change our experience.”
5 Steps to taking action to reduce stress
Step 1 Become aware of the amount of stress you are experiencing day to day and how it is impacting on your life. Once you are aware of your stressors you can take action to reduce them.
Step 2 Begin to let go of some of the things that you have been stressing about that you recognise are not so important. For example, does it really matter what you wear in every situation? Does every item of clothing have to be considered?
Step 3 If you are consulting a doctor, make them aware of the stresses in your life and how they are affecting your health. Make a note of what you are experiencing and take it as evidence to your doctor.
Step 4 Know yourself and your body so that if a doctor offers advice that you disagree with, you can correct them. Pay attention internally because the Divine that lives within you is going to also let you know what’s going on your body. Pay attention to that.
Step 5 Be prepared to advocate for the treatment you need. You can only do this if you have educated yourself about what is going on in your body at menopause and how it is affecting you personally.
If you need more information about menopause and your options for treating the symptoms, see my book ‘Hot Women, Cool Solutions’.