As anyone who has had their day stopped short by a hot flash (or five) knows, these are one of the most frustrating symptoms of menopause. Most hot flashes last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes, and while many women experience them a handful of times a day, others can have them almost hourly.
No matter how frequently you experience hot flashes, most women would agree that once one starts, they would like it to stop, fast. The unfortunate truth is, that once a hot flash has begun, there is very little that can be done to stop it.
That doesn’t mean you can’t manage your menopause hot flashes to reduce how often they happen and how severe they are.
In this article, we’ll have a look at seven ways to help you reduce or even stop your hot flashes before they even begin.
But first, it’s important to understand what hot flashes are⸺and why they can’t be stopped once they’ve begun.
Why can’t you stop hot flashes fast?
Like the analogy of closing the stable gate after the horse has bolted, once a hot flash has started, it’s too late to stop it.
During menopause your body produces less and less estrogen; this is why your periods change and eventually stop. It’s thought this drop in estrogen also affects the way your hypothalamus (your brain’s temperature control center) perceives temperature. It becomes more sensitive to changes in temperature and what it may once have considered a ‘normal’ temperature, becomes ‘too hot’. Essentially, your hypothalamus becomes trigger-happy with its cooling response. It senses that you are overheating, when you’re not, and tries to cool you down through sweating, a racing heart, and flushed skin. Once this chain reaction has begun, it isn’t possible to stop it.
Over time, your body will adjust to the changing levels of hormones and your hypothalamus will too. This means that although you are experiencing hot flashes now, they will eventually fade away.
There is comfort in knowing that this too shall pass, but considering women experience hot flashes for an average of 7.4 years, life would be far more comfortable with ways to reduce, or even stop hot flashes altogether.
Avoid your hot flash triggers
Some hot flashes seem to happen spontaneously, but you may have noticed that others are triggered by certain foods, drinks, places, events or even feelings. By keeping track of what is happening immediately before a hot flash, you may start to notice some recurring triggers.
Common hot flash triggers can include:
- Spicy food
- Tight clothes
Hot flashes can also be triggered by places you go, and things you do such as taking public transport, cooking a meal, or even putting on makeup.
Some triggers (such as having an extra glass of wine) may be easier to avoid than others. By understanding your triggers you can start to make lifestyle adjustments that can help reduce the frequency of your hot flashes and stop some of them from happening at all.
Don’t cool yourself
The urge to do anything possible to cool yourself down while having a hot flash may seem impossible to resist, but try! One of the biggest hot flash myths is that you can cool your way out of a hot flash with fans, water sprays, and cold drinks.
While you may experience heat sensations, your body is not actually in danger of overheating. While it may feel counter-intuitive, the ‘hot’ feelings you are experiencing are created by your hypothalamus as a way to cool you down.
Rather than cooling yourself, it can be more useful to keep the ambient temperature consistent and avoid hot and cold fluctuations. For example, if you go to sleep with the air conditioning down low, you may find you get cold and need extra blankets. This may then trigger a hot flash (blankets off), sweats, and a chill (blankets on).
Wear natural fibers
We know that restrictive clothes can trigger hot flashes, but so can synthetic materials. These clothes are ‘sweatier’, trapping your body heat and triggering hot flashes. Even a small increase in your body temperature may be enough to trigger a hot flash.
Natural fibers such as cotton and wool help your body breathe, and are much gentler on the skin if you do experience a hot flash.
Try hypnotherapy for hot flashes
Hypnotherapy has been shown to reduce hot flashes by up to 80%, which is more effective than any other non-medicated hot flash management tool.
A hypnotherapy session can be done in-person with a qualified therapist, or on-demand, in the comfort of your own space, through a hypnotherapy app.
During a session, you’ll be taken through relaxation exercises, and while your body relaxes, your mind will retain a focused state of attention. When you’re in this state you’ll listen to cooling visualizations and suggestions about how your body will be able to manage hot flashes, and how they will bother you less, and less.
Not only do the sessions give your body time to relax, and feel cool, but also help to adjust how your brain reacts to normal temperatures.
Relax your way out
Many women report that some positive side-effects of hypnotherapy are a feeling of calmness and a reduction in anxiety⸺a key trigger for hot flashes.
When you experience a hot flash, your sympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight setting) is engaged. By contrast, hypnotherapy engages your parasympathetic nervous system (your rest and digest setting). This helps you to slow your heart rate and feel calm.
Some people, after practice, are able to take the relaxation techniques they learn through hypnotherapy and apply them when they are in a situation they feel may trigger a hot flash. This is called self-hypnosis and is one technique that can be used to quickly slow and stop the biological events that typically lead to a hot flash,
There are, of course, other activities you can do to help promote a feeling of calmness such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and cognitive behavior therapy.
You may also want to consider making changes to your lifestyle. Perhaps now is the time to say ‘no’ to extra responsibilities, and make sure you prioritize ‘you’ time.
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Good sleep is everything. But unfortunately, many women experience hot flashes (known as night sweats) through the night.
Without good quality sleep, fatigue, anxiety, and stress all build. Not only do these affect your quality of life, but they can also trigger more hot flashes.
It can become a vicious cycle⸺your night sweats disrupt your sleep, your fatigue may then exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety, which in turn may trigger more hot flashes that continue to disturb your sleep.
There are a few things you can do to help improve your sleep and avoid night sweats. These include:
- Wear thin, loose-fitting clothing in bed
- Keep an ambient temperature in your room
- Avoid food and alcohol triggers at night, such as caffeine, alcohol, and spicy food
- Lower your stress levels through meditation, yoga, or hypnotherapy sleep sessions.
Consider hormone replacement therapy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) isn’t suitable for everyone, and many women prefer not to manage their hot flashes through prescription drugs. However, it may be worth talking to your doctor about whether this treatment is right for you, especially if you are experiencing other menopause symptoms such as vaginal dryness or lowered libido.
Keep in mind that all the hot flash management techniques we’ve discussed today can be used simultaneously. There is nothing stopping you from making lifestyle changes, trying hypnotherapy, and discussing HRT with your doctor. And even if HRT is not the right option for you, your doctor will still be able to look at your health history holistically and can advise on ways forward.
The Wrap Up
Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause. While they can be hard to stop once they have begun, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce their frequency and severity. This includes making lifestyle changes like avoiding food and drink triggers, wearing loose, natural fibre clothes and avoiding cooling yourself unnaturally in anticipation of hot flashes. You can also manage your hot flashes through hypnotherapy and hormone replacement therapy. Your doctor can also advise you on management techniques that are appropriate for you.