The responses I have received to the Sexual Health series compel me to write about the positive impact of our coming together as a community of women sharing stories.  Find all of the articles at DrCatherineHansen.com – Patient Education.

As women, we look to each other for support. Throughout history, and in most cultures, survival has depended on women helping and reinforcing each other. As men went off to hunt, provide and protect, women remained at home to prepare food, tend to the children and create a safe haven for all to thrive. Good or bad, women do most of their bonding over life’s challenges, and we learn ways to manage by watching and interacting with each other.  

Menopause with all its inherent changes is no different.  We want to know that others are experiencing similar difficulties and that there is a way forward. When we learn that other women have conquered the same problems, we feel reassured and comforted in the knowing that we are not alone.  Most women find relief from their menopausal symptoms with treatment, and they often tell me that they wish they had known what was happening to their bodies sooner. My patients want to share their stories for the benefit of other women.  

At our last Woman to Woman retreat, conversations were intimate, revealing, supportive and caring. It was a genuine sharing of information that allowed each woman to feel less alone, more included.  We all came away with the knowledge that the changes our minds and bodies go through with age and menopause are normal and that help is available for any problems that cannot be easily negotiated.  Just verbalizing issues and sharing information is often enough when women reach out to each other in a positive and encouraging environment.  The retreat was an opportunity to teach and be taught, to share and be heard and to know that we are not alone.

For me, the ability to bring women together to discuss life’s challenges is a real privilege.  Providing care to women one-on-one is a beautiful thing but to see women helping each other is even more amazing.  The wealth of information we can glean from each other’s experiences far outweighs the facts and figures contained in medical textbooks.  It puts symptoms into perspective and validates treatment options. It blends the mind, the body and the soul for true healing.  

And not just for menopausal women—all women can benefit from an empathetic community of sharing and caring. Every resource that discusses improving quality of life, holistic healing, anti-aging and longevity includes an essential component of social networking.  It has been proven over and over that having close social ties and a community of support leads to better physical and mental health, improved immunity and more complete healing from disease.  The exact reasons for these findings evade us, but it is likely related to the outpouring of healthy hormones and neurotransmitters from our brains when we feel a sense of belonging.  Feeling isolated and alone may trigger stress hormones, well known to negatively affect the body over time, leading to inflammation, increased blood pressure and multiple chronic diseases.  The bottom line is that loneliness has negative health outcomes while surrounding ourselves with healthy relationships has very positive effects

Photo insert: 19 years ago I met these wonderful women as I started my ob/gyn residency in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. We saw many ups and downs in our 5 years of training and continue to revel at each others successes and support each other through the trials of life. These are my gals and I know I can count on them always.

I most enjoy the company of friends who are real, transparent and authentic. The honesty of other women about life’s ups and downs makes me feel included and “normal.” Genuine friendships help us to see the humor in situations that would otherwise be overwhelming, such as less-than-perfect parenting or strained marital relationships.  When we realize others are going through similar phases and stages of life, we can relax into the journey and see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It allows us to flourish in our vulnerabilities and imperfections.

I have enjoyed the collaboration with many of you over this series, and I look forward to continued dialogue at the next Woman to Woman retreat (watch my website for upcoming events), where you will be reminded that together we can live healthier, more balanced and fulfilled lives.

“When you let your heart feel, become resilient to shame, end your judgments of others, learn the art of forgiveness, practice being authentic, and lay bare your soul, you allow your mind to work its wonders, optimizing the body for its natural state of self-repair.” – Lissa Rankin M.D.