When my friend Carey was 52, she attended the opening of a new restaurant. In the middle of the festivities, she experienced a hot flash. Her face went beat red. Beads of sweat shone on her cheeks. Her hair turned damp and limp. Camera flash! A photographer from The Baltimore Sun, capturing the restaurant opening, snapped Carey’s photo. Can you guess the end of the story? Yep. Carey’s picture, in living color, was printed in The Sun. “I don’t think I’ve ever looked so bad,” she wrote me last week.
The National Women’s Health Network reports, “Hot flashes, the most common symptom of menopause, are probably the one that aggravates women the most.” One reason may be that it’s easier to keep other symptoms to ourselves. Erratic menstrual periods or breast pain can remain private. If you’re moody or nervous, others might detect this, but these symptoms don’t necessarily shout “Menopause!” But a hot flash often manifests itself in full view.
How to deal graciously with this in your face (pun intended) menopause symptom? Here are some tips:
- Honesty: If your hot flash is apparent, speak up! You’ll feel most comfortable doing so with family or close friends. If you’re in a more formal situation such as a meeting, psychologist Robin Abrahams advises, “Say, ‘Excuse me, I’m having a hot flash.’” Those around you can use the few minutes to check their phones or chat. “Make this a moment that enhances your authority,” says Abrahams, “rather than undermines it.”
- Wit: In a more informal setting, smile and crack any jokes that hit your fancy. This time of year, the snowman motif is a good one. “It’s a good thing I’m not made of snow,” you can say. “My hot flash would melt me faster than Frosty.”
- A Visual Aid: One friend drew a picture of a lightning bolt and printed the words “Hot Flash” in red marker on an index card. She’d whip it out of her pocket or purse. Everyone loved it, and her silly sign eased the pressure to explain verbally.
- Take It in Stride: Just like you’re not embarrassed to slip off to the ladies room or reach for a tissue, a hot flash is a natural occurrence. Adults who see your red face or your soaked shirt understand that menopause eventually happens to all women. Don’t hesitate to give kids and teens a simple word of explanation. You’ll help the next hot flasher who comes along in their lives.
- Celebrate the Passage: Robin Abrahams writes, “Those of us old enough for hot flashes are old enough to be role models. Behave in the confident, assured way you’d like to see your own daughter, niece, student, or protégé act when it’s her turn.” Just like those endearing younger women who go into labor on TV sitcoms, we’re adorable too. Hot Flash Power!
If your hot flashes are making you miserable, see your doctor. Hormone therapy, medication, and/or lifestyle changes can help minimize hot flashes. And take heart. Dr. Margery Gass of the North American Menopause Society writes, “Hot flashes generally become milder and less frequent as time goes on, and for most women, they totally disappear.”
Carey now goes to any restaurant she likes without fear of flashing. She looks back and laughs at her hot flash photo, and from recent photographs I’ve seen of my high school friend, she’s more beautiful than ever!
Robin Abrahams. How to Make Hot Flashes Less Embarrassing. Boston Globe Magazine. Retrieved December 2, 2015. https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2013/03/23/how-make-hot-flashes-less-embarrassing/dQN8rzvT1E2iGAFaLvaBxK/story.html
Hot Flashes. Women’s Health Network. Retrieved December 3, 2015. https://www.nwhn.org/hot-flashes/
Margery Gass. Menopause: Should I Treat My Hot Flashes or Wait Them Out? North American Menopause Society. Retrieved December 2, 1015. http://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopause-take-time-to-think-about-it/consumers/2014/12/16/should-i-treat-my-hot-flashes-or-wait-them-out-
Reviewed December 9, 2015
By Philip Sarrel, M.D. and Lorna Sarrel, M.S.