Mindfulness exercises can help women cope with hot flashes


Menopause News April 19th 2011

Becoming serene and aware can help bring natural relief for hot flashes

Mindfulness is a mind body connection technique that helps people recognise their emotions, physical sensations and thoughts, and can be useful for bringing perspective to negative experiences.

Learning to be mindful is rapidly gaining recognition as a useful therapy to help cope with a number of chronic health problems, including pain, anxiety and panic disorder(1).

Many women who suffer from hot flashes report that it is the social embarrassment and anxiety of the hot flush which they find most distressing, rather than the hot sensation itself. The sensation of anxiety which a hot flush induces, only serves to make the flush experience even worse, because anxiety itself frequently produces a hot and flustered feeling. When practicing a state of mindfulness, or focused awareness, a person is able to put some distance between themselves and their emotions, to become more tranquil, serene and composed.

Researchers, Carmody and colleagues, wondered whether teaching women mindfulness exercises might help them cope better with the psychological distress of bad hot flushes. The idea was that if a woman can control the anxiety part of the flush better, then the flush itself might bother her less.

The researchers set up a randomised trial to which they recruited 110 women, half allocated to receive mindfulness training while the other half, the control group, was assigned to a waiting list, for training later(2).

Women in the group who received the mindfulness exercise training, attended an 8 week course, which briefly comprised: an imagination-led body scanning technique, sitting and breathing awareness exercises and mindful body stretching.

The women in both groups kept hot flash diaries in which they recorded the number, frequency and severity of hot flushes as well as the degree of bother they caused. Also measured were quality of life, sleep quality and anxiety levels.

At the end of the study, women who had been taught mindfulness exercises reported significant improvements in menopause-related quality of life, sleep quality and anxiety. These women also reported a greater reduction in bother from hot flashes, and intensity of flashes, compared with women on the waiting list, though these differences did not quite reach statistical significance.

The results suggest that the effect of the mindfulness training was to help women cope better with their flashes, rather than actually reducing their intensity. But this effect was meaningful and important, as shown by the significant improvements in sleep quality and anxiety levels. Also important was that once women had received the training, the beneficial effects were maintained for 3 months afterwards, without the need for any repeat "booster" sessions.

One of the limitations of this study was that women in the control group were not given any intervention at all, so arguably the improvement seen in the women who received mindfulness training may be attributed to the extra attention they received.

But the findings are interesting and suggest that this technique may be useful for women who are looking for natural remedies for menopause hot flushes.


Bibliography

  1. Carmody JF, Crawford S, Churchill L. A pilot study of mindfulness-based reduction for hot flashes. Menopause.2006;13:760-9.
  2. Carmody JF, Crawford S, Salmoirago-Blotcher et al. Mindfulness training for coping with hot flashes:results of a randomized trial. Menopause 2011;Feb 26 [E-pub ahead of print]


Published April 19th 2011.

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