A friend once asked, “Am I anxious because I know I’m going through menopause, or is my anxiety caused by menopause?” It’s the classic chicken-or-egg question, and the answer in this case may be “yes,” both may be a factor. What should you know about the presence of anxiety around the time of menopause?
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an emotion characterized by overwhelming apprehension, tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like sweating, high blood pressure, and an increased heart rate. When you are anxious, you are uneasy or nervous usually over an impending or anticipated event or situation and self-doubt about your ability to cope with it.
Feelings of anxiety and depression can make other symptoms more noticeable or seem overwhelming. Problems with memory and concentration, for example, are more noticeable when you are anxious, but that does not mean these problems are huge; they just may seem that way.
Menopausal anxiety can be accompanied by a variety of symptoms of its own. They may include dizziness, shortness of breath, panic attacks, fatigue, chills, chronic sweating, nausea, muscle tension, and heart palpitations.
Why am I experiencing anxiety?
Fluctuations in the levels of estrogen and progesterone associated with perimenopause and menopause can cause feelings of anxiety and depression. That’s because changes in hormone levels affect the activity of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, in the brain. As estrogen levels drop, you may experience hot flashes and problems with sleep, which in turn may lead to anxiety as well.
Did you know progesterone is a natural sedative that helps balance and calm the effects of estrogen? Therefore, dropping progesterone levels can make women feel more anxious and stressed.
Although these feelings are normal for this stage of life, severe anxiety, panic attacks, or serious depression are not.
If you have had postpartum depression in the past, you are more likely to experience panic disorder during menopause. However, any woman can develop this condition during menopause. In fact, in a study of nearly 3,500 women aged 50 to 79 years, researchers found that panic attacks were most likely to occur among women in menopause.
How can I treat anxiety naturally?
You can rein in your anxiety by adopting these lifestyle habits.
- Watch your diet. Skip the alcohol and caffeine and focus on foods rich in complex carbs, such as fresh vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Complex carbs have a calming effect…like healthy comfort food.
- Move. Exercise is a natural relaxer. Be sure to choose physical activities you enjoy, and do them with a friend or to music to boost your enjoyment.
- Try cognitive behavior therapy. This type of therapy can help you explore your feelings and behavior and learn how to change them to reduce your anxiety and other menopausal symptoms.
- Get support. Stay in touch with family, friends, and support groups that can help you get through the rough spots. Consider talking with a professional counselor or therapist.
- Practice relaxation. What helps you relax? Yoga, meditation, walking in nature, singing, dancing? Be sure to engage in relaxation activities every day.
- Get enough sleep. Seven to eight hours a night, every night. You need deep sleep to allow your hormones to restore themselves and promote relaxation.
- Stay positive. Maintaining a positive attitude helps reduce anxiety and stress. Surround yourself with positive people as well.
If you are having panic attacks or your anxiety level is having a negative effect on your daily life and natural remedies have not helped, then you should talk to your healthcare provider. You also should seek help immediately if you are having suicidal feelings or thoughts or if you don’t have anyone in whom you can confide and share your concerns and feelings.
Anxiety is sometimes a part of perimenopause and menopause, but you can take steps to keep it at bay. Perhaps the most important words of advice are not to let it get you down. Seek help from groups, friends, family, or professionals. You can beat this!