Menopause and Mental Health
The years leading up to menopause, or perimenopause, affect not only a woman’s body but her mental health as well. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55 and, according to Harvard Medical School, the incidence of depression doubles during menopause. This is due to fluctuations in the levels of female hormones produced by the ovaries, mainly estrogen. Any number of factors – unpredictable hormone fluctuation, stress, body image, sexuality, or aging – can cause emotional distress resulting in mood swings or depression. Mood shifts during menopause are often mild. However, women who struggled with depression or anxiety in the past seem to be particularly vulnerable to severe mood shifts. In addition, women who had severe PMS in their younger years may also have problematic mood swings during perimenopause.
Menopause and Anxiety
Some women report panic attacks during and after menopause. A panic attack is a sudden sense of extreme anxiety, accompanied by sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, or heart palpitations. While research clearly links menopause and depression, the connection to anxiety is less clear. One theory is that anxiety may be triggered by a lack of sleep, which is common during menopause. Hormone shifts cause nighttime hot flashes or other sleep disruptions that make it more difficult for women to get the rest they need. If a woman is not sleeping well due to night sweats, her mood would no doubt be affected. During a hot flash, women report feeling hot and sweaty. Their heart races and a panicky feeling or a sense of doom overcomes them. These symptoms are similar to a panic attack. However, one way to distinguish between hot flashes and panic attacks is hot flashes do not make you feel short of breath, while panic attacks do.
How To Deal
- Knowing Is Half The Battle – Be aware that mood changes will likely accompany menopause. Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately.
- Monitor your mood – Make note of patterns such as sleep and stress levels. Seek professional help if symptoms become severe and interfere with daily life.
- Make lifestyle changes – Increase exercise, get adequate sleep, and control stress to reduce potential symptoms.
- Reach out to others. Don’t struggle alone. Participate in activities that make you feel better such as exercise, going to a movie, a ballgame, or participating in religious, social, or other enjoyable activities.
- Know that it’s temporary. Mood changes that accompany menopause typically don’t last. Some doctors recommend a low-dose oral contraceptive to provide continuously stable hormone levels and may control mood swings.
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