Menopause is the point in your life when you have your last menstrual period, and it marks the end of your years of fertility. When you've gone 12 months without having a period, you count backwards 12 months and that's the date of your menopause.
The transition period from more-or-less regular cycles of ovulation and menstruation to menopause is called perimenopause. It can begin as early as your late 30s and continue for a number of years. You may have very minor symptoms during this transition, or you may have symptoms that disrupt your sleep and daily routines for years.
There are plenty of ways to ease symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, including eating right, getting regular exercise, giving up tobacco if you use it (smokers are more likely to experience hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms), and in some cases taking hormone therapy. Because osteoporosis and high blood pressure are more common in women after menopause, healthy habits are especially important in minimizing your risk of these conditions.
Depression and anxiety are also common at this time. If you're dealing with difficult emotional swings, your personal physician at Kaiser Permanente medical offices can help. You might also benefit from seeing a mental health specialist.