What you hear the word “menopause,” what do you think of? I bet two of the first things that spring to mind are hot flashes and mood swings. These are two of the best known, and most common, symptoms of peri/menopause. Today we’re going to briefly look at how menopause is related to mood regulation, stress and anxiety, outlook on life, and other aspects of mental health.
Menopause and Mental Health
The cliché of a pre-menstrual woman crying into a pint of ice cream while watching a sad movie is a cliché for a reason; the connection between hormones and mental health is strong. Varying levels of estrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle, and throughout our lives, have noticeable effects on mood and behavior.
As mentioned earlier, fluctuating levels of progesterone and estrogen to thank for mood swings. Progesterone deficiency can be responsible for anxiety and PMS, and a deficiency of progesterone, estrogen, or testosterone can cause irritability and depression. Low levels of testosterone are linked to diminished feelings of well-being.
In short, menopause can make you moody, stressed out, irritable, and depressed.
Stress and Stressors
Stress is a big component of mental health and, unsurprisingly, is interconnected with sex hormones. Not only does estrogen directly modulate the stress response in the body, but progesterone activity is blocked and limited when cortisol – the primary stress hormone – is released. At the same time, lifestyle stressors can just exacerbate the problem. Inadequate sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, bad habits like smoking or excessive drinking, etc. can heighten the stress response in the body.
As you may know, stress isn’t just an undesirable feeling. It’s physically damaging to the body and chronic stress can greatly affect long-term health. Left unchecked and untreated, it can lead to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, cardiovascular disease, digestion problems, low sex drive, and much more. That’s why it’s important to manage it.
Self-Care and Other Solutions
Though you can’t prevent all the undesirable symptoms of peri/menopause-like stress, you can mitigate them.
I’m a big proponent of self-care as a way to combat stress and nurture your mental (as well as spiritual and emotional) health. Self-care is good for your body, your mood, and your energy levels. At its core, self-care is really about putting yourself and your needs first for once, whether that means saying “no” more often, going for a daily jog, or just relaxing in a bubble bath. I wrote on this at length in a previous blog, Self Care Tips & Tricks from a Health & Wellness Coach and in my Women’s Guide to Self-Care.
In addition to self-care, other solutions for mental health issues brought on by peri/menopause include hormone replacement therapy, if you’re a good candidate for that, or medications for clinical depression or anxiety. If self-care isn’t enough, talk to your doctor about your other options.
It’s Not All in Your Head
As you go through peri/menopause, you may sometimes feel like your moods and behaviors are out of your control. Just know that what you’re experiencing is real and is not a reflection of who you truly are, only your hormones at that moment. And with that recognition, you can then take steps to proactively manage it for a better quality of life.