Menopause and anxiety
Many women approaching their 40’s ad 50’s will be thinking about the menopause or the peri-menopause; particularly if they are beginning to see signs such as irregular periods. Some of the symptoms can be debilitating and can impact everyday life.
Common symptoms of the menopause include;
- mood swings
- irregular periods
- hot flushes
- lack of libido
- racing heart
The menopause can be a period of transition for women. Some women feel relieved that they no longer have to suffer periods or have the worry of pregnancy. Other women may feel that there is a loss of youth, leading to a grieving period for that loss. Added to this, there may be children that are growing up or have left home, so for some women, there may be the 'empty nest' feeling and the loss of the role of motherhood. Being kind to yourself and developing a self-care routine during these transitions can be a start in helping yourself. After all, what’s the point in beating yourself up for feeling exhausted and irritable; you’ll only make yourself feel worse, and none of this is your fault!
During the menopause, there is a drop in estrogen and progesterone. This can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. If you suspect the perimenopause or menopause, then a visit to the doctor and a blood test can confirm this. Although, as hormones can fluctuate, the test results are not always obvious. If you are feeling depressed or anxious and unable to cope, the doctor may suggest hormone replacement treatment (HRT) or anti-depressants. There are ways in which you can manage some of the symptoms on your own to help ease you through.
- A diet high in fruit, vegetables, and proteins will help many of the symptoms of the menopause. Alongside this, women can learn relaxation techniques to help with anxiety and stress.
- Cutting down on caffeine can lower your anxiety levels. Switch to herbal teas or decaf tea and coffee.
- Alcohol can contribute to anxiety. Consider cutting down if you feel that this is making your anxiety worse. Try having alcohol free weeks to see if this helps.
- Eating a healthy diet rich in vitamin E. Foods such as nuts, broccoli, and mango all contain vitamin E. This may help with stress, as during the menopause there is an imbalance of cortisol; the stress hormone.
- Vitamin E has antioxidant properties. During the menopause, antioxidants are in short supply and cells become damaged. This too can contribute towards stress.
- Vitamin B12. During the menopause, women may become deficient in vitamin B12. This is linked to insomnia. Eating salmon and red meat, and drinking milk can help with this, as can taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
- Vitamin B6 deficiencies have been linked to symptoms of confusion, depression, and irritability. As these are symptoms of the menopause, women must get enough of this vitamin in their diets. These can be found in bananas, avocados, nuts, fortified cereals, and whole grains.
- If you are having trouble sleeping, then you might consider natural remedies to help you. Relaxation techniques can help to get you off to sleep too.
- Remember to drink plenty of water. Drinking water can help to lower cortisol levels, thereby helping with anxiety and stress.
- Exercising in nature and fresh air. This could be a walk in a park or by a river or going for a run - whatever it takes for you to relieve anxiety and feel better.
- Get plenty of rest! We often forget about self-care and rest, yet it is so important for us to be able to continue with our busy lives. Going to bed slightly earlier or making sure you have 20 minutes to yourself at the end of the busy day can help.
Anxiety looks different for everybody. Sometimes, you might notice a shortness of breath, a heaviness in the chest, and tension throughout your body. Learning to breathe deeply and relaxing your muscles can help with this. A relaxing body scan where you rest comfortably for around 15 minutes, relaxing individual muscles and paying deep attention to each part of your body, can work. This allows you to focus on various parts of your body which not only helps you to focus on the tense muscles and relax them but refocuses your mind away from ruminating thoughts; a factor in anxiety.
Inhaling slowly and deeply to the count of five, and exhaling slowly to the count of five, can begin to have a calming effect on the body. As well as this, you are focusing on your breathing, which will have the effect of focusing your mind and letting go of worrying thoughts.
If you can work with imagery and visualisation, then this might work for you. Sit or lay in a comfortable position and, as you breathe in, visualise the air entering your nostrils, going into your lungs and expanding your chest and abdomen. Then, visualise your breath going out the same way. Continue this, and with each out-breath imagine yourself letting go of tension more and more. You can imagine it - the tension melting away into the mattress or chair.
Working with some of these techniques and tweaking your diet and lifestyle will help you gain control of the effects of the menopause. Self-care is important, and taking the time to take care of yourself will help. A relaxing bubble bath at the end of the day, exercise, and a healthy diet all give you the message that you and your health are important.
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About Samantha Flanagan
I am a member of BACP with a level 7, PGdip in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy. I am qualified to work with many issues which include but are not limited to: emotional abuse, trauma, anxiety, depression, substance mis-use, developmental trauma, domestic violence.… Read more
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