Many of us have heard the horror stories about women going through menopause, aka “the change of life.” Anger and mood swings are the two most notable symptoms of menopause that people talk about when regaling stories about their own mothers or wives.But the truth is that biologically our bodies move through this change from being reproductively active to inactive, which can leave many women feeling better than they have in years. How do you move past the mental changes that you may experience during menopause?
Learning to embrace the journey can be a struggle; however, getting older is a blessing denied to many. With a few tweaks, you can find ways to lessen the impact of the emotional ups and downs.
How Menopause Impacts Mental Health
The emotional and psychological impact that women experience during perimenopause (the time leading up to menopause) and menopause can make one feel like she is going crazy. Add to these hormonal changes everyday stressors such as aging parents, children, husbands, home, and career, and a woman wants to pull her hair out.
Hormones are instrumental in creating these emotional changes, although women with a history of mental health disorders may experience a higher likelihood of an increase in these changes. If you have suffered from postpartum depression, premenstrual mood changes, or clinical depression in the past, you should consult with your physician about possible menopausal mental health issues.
This is not to say that all women will experience these changes. Some women go through the menopause stage with little noticeable psychological stress. However, many other women begin feeling symptoms as estrogen levels drop when they enter their forties.
Perimenopause can last anywhere from four to ten years, although some women only go through that stage for a few months. A woman is considered in the menopause stage when she has not had a period for twelve consecutive months.
Leading up to the menopause stage as estrogen levels continue to decrease, you may experience the symptoms of menopause while still menstruating. The physical changes can include menstrual cycle changes such as moving from a 30-day cycle to a 27-day cycle or a 35-day cycle. You may skip months only to have a heavier or longer period once it resumes.
You may also develop insomnia, night sweats, or hot flashes as your body tries to adapt to these hormonal changes.
The lowering levels of progesterone and estrogen can contribute to an increase in depression in women during perimenopause and menopause. If a woman has a history of these symptoms, the hormonal changes can push her deeper into a depressive state. Compound these changes with the “normal” midlife stressors of family, career, and health, and the depression can significantly impact her life.
Depression experienced in perimenopause leading up to menopause can be categorized as a depressed mood, depression, or clinical depression. A depressed mood often appears during disappointment or the loss of a loved one. It is a normal emotion that usually lifts days or weeks after a hurtful event.
Depression becomes more of a mental state if you feel “blue” several days a week for an ongoing period. You may not be able to pinpoint why you feel depressed, or it may be due to an avalanche of events or situations. Women who have suffered from depression in the past may develop the mental condition during menopause.
Clinical depression is a more severe depressed state. The woman with clinical depression will need to visit a professional mental health therapist for counseling and medications to help alleviate the symptoms.
If your depression is mild, you may want to consider becoming active in social groups or events such as church gatherings, Bible studies, library functions, or charitable causes. Get involved in a new hobby or interest and set new goals. When you have something to look forward to and a goal to reach, your mind becomes focused on the future.
The ever-changing hormone levels of perimenopause and menopause can also leave a woman anxious or suddenly experiencing anxiety or panic attacks. Pre-menopausal women with no history of psychiatric issues may find themselves anxious the closer they reach menopause.Researchers are still trying to determine if the decreasing levels of estrogen contribute to anxiety or if women are simply anxious over this new change in their life compounded with other stressors. At any rate, reducing your stress can help with anxiety symptoms.
If you are worried about your schedule, see if you can delegate some tasks to other people. Break down large projects into small tasks. Take time out for yourself. Try meditation or yoga to learn deep breathing techniques and how to become more aware of your body.
If your anxiety is causing significant problems in your daily life, seek treatment from a professional. Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are useful for identifying negative thoughts and behaviors and reframing these into positive reactions. CBT is widely used for anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and a host of other mental health conditions. A therapist will work with you to create an individualized care plan.
Mood Swings and Irritability
The mood swings and irritability commonly mentioned concerning menopause are real changes in a woman’s thoughts, behaviors, and demeanor. The hormonal, estrogen, and progesterone dips create a chaotic climate with high-highs and low-lows. At times, you may feel out of control as little things make you angry or tearful – or both at the same time.
Although you may feel crazy, you are not. You are merely reacting to the physical and psychological changes. Some women may feel these emotional upheavals on a more severe scale than others.Your physician may suggest a healthy diet, supplements, and an active lifestyle to bolster your mood. To lift your spirits, consider a new hobby or taking time out to do something you love like a reading book, watching a favorite movie, or catching dinner out with a friend one evening a week.
You can also check in with a therapist to learn new ways of handling conflict within the home or at work, and how to keep yourself in check when everything feels insurmountable. Delving into scripture can be another way you can remove yourself from a stressful situation and ride out a bad mood.
Lack of Focus
The brain fog: that point in your day in which you know exactly where you put your car keys, but they are no longer there. Everything from forgetting necessary appointments to why you stepped into a room can all be attributed to menopausal brain fog and trouble concentrating.
To stay mentally sharp during menopause and after, play mind games. Work on crossword puzzles, play card games, or play a memory game with your children or grandchildren. Attempt a new hobby that will require you to memorize details such as sheet music or collector’s items. Active hobbies like dancing to complicated steps are another great way to strengthen your mind while keeping your body healthy.
To reel in your sudden lack of focus, monitor the time you spend on social media. When you receive information in 60-second chunks, your attention span begins to shorten. Go back to reading novels and nonfiction books that require focus. Forcing yourself to concentrate for more extended periods can help to lengthen the attention span again.
God uses women of a certain age to teach the younger women (see Titus 2). These women are not cast off after they can no longer bear children but are blessed and honored for their wisdom and lifestyle. Seek to become a woman that other women can look to for advice.
Since menopausal symptoms can last several years, if you need help balancing your hormones, learning to communicate with loved ones, or just need to work out the complicated and often confusing emotions and thoughts during this time, give us a call. One of our therapists would love to speak with you in a confidential setting. We offer one-on-one sessions as well as group therapy for women who prefer to share within a safe community.
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