Why do we get more anxious during the menopause?

April is Stress Awareness Month so what better time to talk about stress/anxiety and the menopause.
Why do so many women talk about becoming more anxious when they hit the menopause?
Why are women prescribed anti-depressants to “help” with the menopause?
There is a scientific reason behind this – ladies it’s HORMONES, of course!
Stress, as we know, negatively affects the way we think, our view of the world around us and even how our brains work. We are less likely to think straight and make simple decisions when we are stressed. How we decide to manage our stress will have an impact on our journey through the menopause.
During the menopause, stress can become a battle ground for our hormones and, as oestrogen fluctuates that fight can get bigger.
I know everything to do with the menopause revolves around our hormones. Sometimes it feels like our entire lives are ruled by what our hormones are doing; whether that is running riot in our teenage years or running down in our 40s and 50s. Throughout our entire lives it can feel like our bodies and minds are totally run by our hormones and to be honest, that pretty much is the case.
So why does anxiety come hand in hand with the menopause? Here comes the science…. When we become stressed or anxious it is a reaction to the presence of the hormone cortisol in our blood stream. Cortisol is released when our brains perceive danger; our senses become heightened ready to protect us from that danger. In short, this is the fight or flight response. In our distance past, cortisol played a huge part in our survival but in modern life the fight or flight response doesn’t really fit well with whatever our brains feel is the danger. So the cortisol cannot do what it’s designed to do and sits in our blood stream making us feel stressed and anxious. We are on high alert for the danger but in reality that could just be the next meeting in our work day – that isn’t really going to affect our ability to survive in the same way as running away from a wild animal may have done!
To get our bodies and minds back on an even keel, enter oestrogen or sadly the lack of oestrogen. When cortisol is high, it blocks oestrogen from reaching our cells which results in our serotonin levels dropping. Changes in the levels of serotonin in our brain can affect our moods causing anxiety, depression, panic, insomnia, headaches and migraines. Does any of this sound familiar? In effect when oestrogen levels decrease, cortisol has a bit of free rein to have a party in our body unchecked as our brains don’t release serotonin because the oestrogen that usually presses the go button isn’t there.
This may all sound confusing and a bit in depth, but when you think about it, it starts to make sense. Because we have less oestrogen reaching our cells, our brain doesn’t release serotonin which would normally help to regulate our emotions and moods, so the cortisol goes unchecked and we become more stressed.
Once we understand the science, then it helps us to see why we might be more prone to feeling anxious during the menopause. If you have never suffered from anxiety before, but suddenly find yourself feeling more worried than usual and especially over things that normally wouldn’t bother you, then take a breath and look to your menstrual cycle – when was your last period? Have your periods become a little less regular? The answers to these questions might give you a clue or a simple blood test will also tell you what your oestrogen levels are like.
When I suffered with anxiety in my mid-forties I was prescribed anti-depressants which did work and helped me out of the situation. But if I’d understood the link between perimenopause and anxiety, then I might have had a different conversation with my GP.
Even though I’m technically post-menopausal, I do still have bouts of anxiety when I question everything and lose my confidence. I now know this is the impact of the loss of oestrogen and that tends to calm me. Then I practice mindfulness which is absolutely brilliant for helping me get back on an even par. I talk all about this in my latest self-learning programme, The Calm Retreat, which I am releasing during Stress Awareness Month. If you feel you’d like more help to manage your stress and anxiety then hope over to The Calm Retreat page to learn more.
Knowledge is Power, and through the menopause that has never been truer!