Hot Flashes? No-Sweat Attitude Spells Minimal Disruptions

Diedtra Henderson

June 18, 2014

Hot flashes are less disruptive to women who have healthy ways of contending with life's difficulties, according to a cross-sectional survey of 206 women. Such women react to hot flashes and night sweats in ways that moderate interruptions to their daily lives and avoid dampening their spirits.

Lydia Brown, a doctoral candidate in psychology from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia, and coauthors report the findings of their study in an article published online May 29 in Maturitas.

Seventy-five percent of middle-age women suffer from hot flashes and night sweats (HFNS) as they enter menopause, which disrupt sleep, interfere with work, and darken mood, according to Brown and colleagues.

The researchers sought to characterize how personal characteristics, such as shrugging off adversity, might serve to blunt the frequency of HFNS and lessen interruptions to daily life. They refer to such resilience as "self-compassion," which they define as a healthy way of relating to one's self when confronted with difficult circumstances. The researchers characterize self-compassion as being kind to oneself, rather than judgmental; feeling a common humanity, rather than isolation; and being mindful, rather than obsessing over personal weaknesses or imperfections. Because such traits can lessen embarrassment, failure, and rejection, the researchers sought to determine whether they also would attenuate the effect of HFNS.

The researchers invited 1450 women aged 40 to 60 years, who had been recruited for a previous study about mental health and well-being, to participate in the current study; 517 completed the questionnaire booklet from March to August 2013.

The survey asked the women such questions as how many hot flashes and night sweats they experienced and the degree to which HFNS interfered with work, socializing, sleep, mood, sex, and concentration, among other routine activities. Meanwhile, a 26-item scale measured 6 facets of self-compassion.

The researchers included the 206 women who reported current hot flashes and/or night sweats in the study. Their mean age was 53.64 years, and 71.8% were postmenopausal.

"As hypothesized, self-compassion significantly moderated the relationship between HFNS frequency and HFNS interference, such that for a given frequency of HFNS, those women with high self-compassion experienced less symptom interference in daily life," Brown and colleagues write. "This finding helps to explain why some women find symptoms more interfering than others. Given that HFNS can be disruptive and embarrassing; self-compassion may provide a psychological resource to help women deal with the challenge through self-kindness, a sense of common humanity and mindfulness," the authors continue.

In contrast, women who beat up on themselves (eg, agreeing with the statement "I am stupid for feeling this way") and believe only they experience hot flashes can exacerbate how such symptoms disrupt their lives.

"This study extends our understanding of these individual differences through identifying that a woman's relationship toward herself, specifically how compassionate she is toward herself, is also worthy of note," the authors conclude. "Since self-compassion is a skill that responds well to training, this finding has clinically relevant implications for the management of HFNS."

Financial support for the study was provided by the University of Melbourne. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Maturitas. Published online May 29, 2014. Full text

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