Of the many symptoms associated with menopause, one that few women know about or experience is panic attacks, which may or may not be accompanied by panic disorder. Let’s explore this symptom a little closer.
What are panic attacks and panic disorder?
A panic attack is characterized by a sudden and relatively short-lived feeling of fear and anxiety in response to an ordinary, nonthreatening event or situation. The emotional response is typically accompanied by excessive sweating, racing heart, and trouble breathing. Some people say they feel like they are having a heart attack. Other symptoms can include chills, chest pain, choking, nausea, tingling or numbness in fingers or toes, and shaking. Symptoms are usually worse within 10 minutes after an attack starts and disappear soon after.
Panic disorder can develop when someone worries too much about experiencing more panic attacks or changes their behavior to avoid them. The Cleveland Clinic notes that every year, up to 11 percent of Americans have a panic attack, and that about 2 to 3 percent of them then go on to develop panic disorder.
Generally, the exact cause of panic attacks is uncertain. Panic disorders tend to run in families, and individuals with depression or other mental health issues are more prone to develop them. Drug abuse and alcoholism also can increase the risk. They are also more common among postmenopausal women who have a history of emphysema, cardiovascular disease, migraine, and depression.
How are panic attacks associated with menopause?
When estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate, they can cause depression and anxiety. For some women, these feelings escalate into panic attacks. Having one or just a few panic attacks doesn’t mean
you have panic disorder. However, a more consistent pattern can.
Any woman can develop panic attacks during menopause, but those who have a history of anxiety or postpartum depression may be more likely to have them. Because panic attacks have some of the same symptoms that affect many women in perimenopause and menopause, it may be difficult to diagnose.
How can you manage panic attacks naturally?
To help ward off panic attacks, you may want to make a few lifestyle changes. For example:
- If you need someone to talk to, seek help from a counselor or psychologist who is familiar with panic attacks. It’s helpful to identify the source of your panic, which may include health problems, stressful life events, and physical issues.
- Control your breathing by counting to 5 as you inhale and exhaling to a count of 5 as well. Humming also can help.
- Maintain a healthy diet that avoids processed foods and focuses on whole, natural fruits and vegetables, lean protein, seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
- Exercise regularly, at least 4 to 5 days a week for a total of 150 minutes.
- Adopt a fun hobby or volunteer for a cause you believe in. These activities can give you a sense of purpose
- Consider taking natural supplements as suggested by your physician to help develop a sense of calm. This may include chamomile, valerian, ashwagandha, lavender, kava kava, and passionflower.
when you should contact your doctor
If you are experiencing panic attacks or anxiety at levels that are disrupting your work, schooling, or family life, then you should seek help. It’s also time to talk to your doctor if you have suicidal thoughts or feelings, you don’t have anyone you can confide in, or if you have persistent negative thoughts and feelings for more than two weeks.
Panic attacks and panic disorder can occur in a small percentage of women in menopause and postmenopause. Several lifestyle changes and natural remedies can help manage these symptoms.