Play Hard: We (Women) Have Earned It

Three women in living room toasting champagne and smiling
Three women in living room toasting champagne and smiling

We can bring whatever level of determination and energy we want to making our menopausal years some of our best, but self-care during perimenopause and menopause also means taking carefree time to play and enjoy ourselves. It is a very feminine trait to be the consummate organizer and efficiency expert, with an unending list of tasks that must be done. As paradoxical as it may be, mid-life is the time when we need to be as disciplined about scheduling fun or play as we are about other areas of self-care.

A couple of years ago, I participated in a two-day women's health seminar where the draft agenda was packed with clinical topics that were all very relevant to the audience, which was to be several hundred well-educated and informed women in a major metropolitan city. "When will the women play during this event?" I asked the organizers. At first they looked at me as if I had asked something utterly outlandish. But I explained my position that play has an integral role in our physical and spiritual health. I talked about enhancing the seminar by designating time for humor, relaxation, cups of tea with newfound acquaintances, and music, among other things. We ended up completely revamping the seminar -- and it was a tremendous success. The questionnaires women completed after the two days showed that although they were hungry to learn about how their hormones were changing and ways they could gain more control over their own health, they also loved the gift of time to have fun.

Play is whatever you want to make it in menopause; there doesn't have to be a product or an outcome in the end if you don't feel like it. Learning to play might be something like relearning the art of relaxation -- it can take some time, and you might feel self-conscious at first, wondering guiltily if anyone is watching you as you do nothing at all, if you please.

Again, the lessons of childhood can teach us something later in life: favorite forms of play from decades ago may have an adult counterpart. One woman I know who loved dolls as a child started spending an occasional leisurely afternoon looking in antique stores, sometimes finding shoes or a ribbon for a doll she was restoring that had belonged to her great -grandmother. "It's like a treasure hunt," she said. A former tree climber heads for an arboretum, a half hour from her home, with a sack lunch and nothing else but the intention to watch the trees and mark the seasons' change. A music lover and one-time chorus member parks herself in the listening booth in a music store, switching from opera to hip-hop to country, depending on how she feels. And another woman who loved to "play house" with her sisters sometimes tours real estate open houses in elegant neighborhoods in her community, admiring the architecture, furniture, and decorations and speculating about who lives there.

You can remember your childhood play and bring it back to life as an adult, or even relive it in its purest form, as one woman does when she gets practically elbow deep in modeling clay, finger paints, bubbles, crayons and glitter with her 6 and 8-year-old grandchildren. "My daughter says they scream with excitement when she tells them I'm coming over," she told me. "I don't know who has more fun, though, the girls or me."

I chatted recently with a woman on a plane who was loaded down with official-looking documents and a laptop computer -- we both were returning from business trips. As we inquired politely about each other's lives, she mentioned that this had been a fabulous trip. She had looked up two old friends in the city where she had had her business meeting, and on her last evening in town, they laughed and danced and even sang karaoke until two A.M. "I need to do more of that," she told me, looking every bit the buttoned-down professional and most unlike a karaoke singer. "It was so much fun!" I would guess that she was in her menopausal years, and I could hear the joy in her voice as she talked about playing with two old friends. Her experience was spontaneous, and unexpected pleasure certainly has its own charm. Yet I also strongly urge you to think consciously about playing, even write it on your calendar if you have to, and make sure you have a few relaxing, unstructured, playful hours at least every month. The more we play, the more we learn how good it feels, and the more strongly we will crave time with that carefree aspect of ourselves that helps make us complete. So, my question for each of you that reads this is: "What are you going to do for play in your lives?" Think about it and then do it!

Founder of Full Circle Women's Health in Colorado, Stephanie Bender has significantly contributed to a much larger understanding of women's health through her books, lectures and television appearances. Her most recent book is, "End Your Menopause Misery, " which she co-authored with Treacy Colbert. You can post a comment or read more about Stephanie on her website, by clicking here. You can also follow her on Facebook by clicking here.