Andrea McLean wants women to know they’re not alone when it comes to battling the stress and anxiety that can come hand in hand with the menopause – and she should know because she’s been there.
The candid British TV star, 49, was inspired to open up about her issues after being plunged into surgical early menopause following a hysterectomy in 2016.
As she battled the overwhelming mental and physical changes she realised she should be sharing her struggles in a bid to help others going through the same thing.
“I went from thinking it was something really personal,” she says. “To realising there were all these women out there desperate to know that they weren’t alone.”
So much so that she wrote a brutally honest book about her experiences called ‘Confessions of a Menopausal Woman’.
“If someone like me doesn’t talk about it, keeps it to myself, then nothing is ever going to change and half the population is going to stay quiet about something that is a massive part of life,” insists Andrea.
It’s not the night sweats and hot flushes which Andrea struggled most with though, it’s the mental health problems which accompanied her menopause.
“For me, the worst symptom is overwhelming anxiety. It feels like there’s a lion in the room and I have an overwhelming feeling of apprehension, awfulness, and a conviction everything’s going to go wrong,” she said.
RELATED: ‘How I coped with early menopause’
The frank TV star added: “It’s like the rational part of your brain’s gone on holiday, and it can make me feel very fragile.”
What made it worse was the fact she was unprepared for those side affects.
“It was the mental side of it – the anxiety – that was really difficult,” says the mother-of-two. “I’ve always had anxiety, but it became more constant. It was bigger.”
She wrote in her book that she often felt paralysed by these feelings, that she was “stupid, ugly and unloveable” and even admits once sitting in her car crying in a supermarket carpark.
And yet Andrea found the courage to talk openly about all of her issues and wants to help others attempting to cope with these side effects.
“My biggest advice is don’t fight it, just accept that it’s happening because anxiety is a huge part of going through the menopause,” Andrea explains. “As women, it’s in-built in us to try and look like we’re coping, like we’re doing OK. We’re programmed to think we need to be on top of everything and amazing at everything, and be the best wife and the best mum all the time.
“But, actually, taking a moment where you say, ‘I can’t right now’ isn’t weak, it’s really strong. It took me a long time to get my head around that.”
In addition Andrea finds solace in meditation which she has been doing for years with the help of the Headspace app.
“It works for me. It calms me down, stops me feeling like my head is filled with thoughts, buzzing round like bees, all bumping into the sides and stressing me out.”
She also concentrates more on her diet ensuring it’s packed with healthy fruits, vegetables, plenty of iron and calcium.
“I’m not going to get preachy and tell you off for eating cake or enjoying a vino,” Andrea writes in her book. “But, when your body is going through changes, looking at the food you put into it makes sense. Diet has a big impact on your health.”
Andrea suggests cutting down on sugar, refined carbs, caffeine and alcohol because as she says: “Some foods are good for menopausal symptoms, mental and physical, and some aren’t.”
However she insists: “It’s all about balance” and if she wants a glass of wine, or a packet of biscuits on occasion, she’s going to do it.
Part of that lifestyle balance is exercising which has also become more important than ever.
“Working out is good for you,” points out Andrea who loves yoga and weight training too. “It’s truer than ever when you’re menopausal, with recent studies suggesting exercise could be a natural alternative to HRT because of the impact it has on our mental health.
“You may have flirted with exercise in the past, but the menopause years are a time when you really need it.”
But more than anything, she finds the support she gets from her loved ones – including her husband of 18-months Nick Feeney and her two children from her previous marriages – is what really helps her when she’s feeling anxious or stressed.
“The strongest medication is love, though,” she adds. “True support keeps you going when those other things don’t touch the sides.”
Andrea isn’t the only celebrity opening up about their physical and mental struggles. Find out what Davina McCall says was a surprising benefit of the menopause and if you’re looking for ways to deal with stress Dr. Rangan Chatterjee has some top tips.
If you’re struggling and have symptoms that you can’t cope with always seek advice from your medical practitioner in person.