Hormonal changes happen to all women as we age and these reproductive hormones can play havoc with our emotions. The effects of menopause and perimenopause on mental health usually begin during our forties with many women finishing this transition in their early fifties. As estrogen levels fall there a number of physical and psychological symptoms that many women experience.
Often when women are beginning perimenopause they are bewildered and mystified by what appears to be a sudden and unexpected onset of symptoms. Night sweats, hot flashes, raging mood swings, uncontrollable crying, depression and anxiety seem to come out of nowhere.
A woman’s emotional health during these changes can be heavily influenced by previous experiences with low mood, depression, anxiety or traumatic events that may have happened in the past.
For most women, changes in their hormone levels begin as early as their mid to late thirties, though they may not be noticeably symptomatic until their early to mid-forties
Symptoms can include:
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Increased risk of depression/anxiety
- Mood swings
- Irritability and over sensitivity
- Tearfulness – crying more often and sometimes not being sure why you are upset
- Trouble sleeping
- A sense of panic with heart palpitations which can happen during hot flushes
- Sudden anger that feels intense
- Low frustration tolerance
- Foggy thinking and memory lapses
- A sense of hopelessness
- Feelings a bit ‘crazy’
- Worsening of premenstrual syndrome
- Withdrawing from people places and things that once gave us pleasure
- Self-soothing through drugs (including prescription medications) , alcohol or other escapes
- Lower sex drive
- Irregular periods
So what can women do to manage this stage of life? Try to remember that menopause is a completely natural phase in every woman’s life – it’s our transition. Eventually, the levels of estrogen and progesterone will decrease and our cycle will end. The average age for a woman’s last period is fifty one though it can occur earlier or later.
Some things that can help you during this time:
Women who have interrupted sleep due to some of these symptoms can feel exhausted and not think clearly and feel more negative because they have had little quality sleep.
Try to manage this by:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same times each day.
- Keep your room cool and dark.
- Use your bed only for sleeping and sex.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, large meals, or physical activity before bed
Sugar, caffeine and alcohol are three things in the diet that can exaggerate any hormonal symptoms,. If your blood sugar rises due to eating something that is sugar dense or your body’s “fight or flight” stress response is over-activated from a large dose of caffeine, you may be creating the perfect storm for an emotional rollercoaster.
Many women have a glass of wine at the end of the day to help them ‘relax’ but overdoing it can have lingering effects and leave you feeling edgy the next day.
Reducing you sugar, caffeine and alcohol consumption can reduce symptoms almost immediately.
Our brains like adequate amounts of omega-3s to enable more stable mood. It is best to get this from adding two servings of fatty fish each week or if you are not a huge fish fan take a good clean EHA/DHA omega 3 supplement.
Food high in fibre and protein help to keep blood sugar stable for longer which can provide a buffer against mood swings.
Try herbal remedies that act like your own hormones. Some herbs that can help reduce menopause symptoms include black cohosh, passionflower, chasteberry, wild yam and ashwagandha. See a naturopath for professional advice on your personal circumstances.
Engage in physical activity for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. This can reduce the fat that can upset estrogen and progesterone ratios.
Many women worry about the weight they gain steadily during perimenopause and menopause, especially around their stomachs and abdomen. One of the reasons that this is so common is because fluctuating estrogen levels tend to cause your body to hold on to fat.
Also don’t forget to check out some of the complimentary therapies available.
In Australia, these include but are not limited to:
- Meditation and relaxation therapies
- Traditional Chinese medicine
- Vitamin supplements
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