Let’s face it: the years surrounding menopause are emotional ones. Although most women get through menopause and postmenopause without developing significant mood or emotional challenges, moodiness and other emotional reactions are certainly a part of the process. Have you ever felt like “biting someone’s head off” or found yourself crying over a silly commercial or nothing in particular? The more sensitive you are to the hormone changes occurring in your body, the more likely you will experience moodiness and mood swings with menopause.
What is moodiness?
Moodiness and similar emotional swings during the menopausal years are part of the dramatic shifts that occur in the body and brain. For some women, the moodiness and other emotional roller coaster reactions of these years are even more trying than the physical changes. These are times when we may feel unable to cope or feel isolated, without joy, unable to enjoy life, and depressed.
According to the North American Menopause Society, for example, nearly one-quarter of women experience mood swings during perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. One study reports that up to 70 percent of women say irritability is their main emotional problem during the early part of menopause. Another notes that 20 percent of women are affected by depression as they go through menopause. Weepiness and crying also can occur more frequently.
What causes moodiness and mood swings?
During menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels drop, which triggers a variety of changes in the brain that affect mood. For example, lowering of estrogen has an impact on how the body manager norepinephrine and serotonin, two brain chemicals that are associated with depression. A decline in estrogen also has been linked to irritability, anxiety, and problems with concentration.
Women who have a history of severe premenstrual syndrome or earlier episodes of depression or similar mental health challenges are more likely to experience moodiness and mood swings during menopause. Emotional problems may also be more difficult for women during menopause if they are experiencing significant stress in their lives, such as difficult relationships or financial challenges.
How can I treat moodiness and mood swings naturally?
You can help rein in your moodiness and mood swings by making a few lifestyle changes.
- Move it! Regular exercise relieves stress, boosts mood, and promotes better physical health. A rise in endorphins, the feel-good chemicals, can improve your mood. Make it a point to spend two hours or more per week doing moderately intense aerobic activities, such as dancing, fast walking, spinning, or jogging. Toss in two sessions of muscle strengthening exercises per week and you have a recipe for elevating your mood.
- Get support. Sometimes there’s nothing more therapeutic or comforting than sitting down with one or more friends and talking it out. Maybe join a support group or start an informal one of your own. Hashing out your feelings can be very healing.
- Modify your diet. Does your current diet promote mood swings? It could! Foods that can help quell mood swings include fresh fruits and vegetables, those rich in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., tuna, salmon, walnuts, flaxseed), bananas, oats, berries, dark chocolate, seeds, and nuts. Also, avoid spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine.
- Get sufficient sleep. It’s no secret that not getting enough sleep can make anyone cranky and moody. Add the fact that hormones are all over the map, and you’ve got a perfect storm. Make it a point to get 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
- Practice stress management. Tai chi, visualization, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and other stress-reducing activities can help you feel more grounded and emotionally strong. Countless numbers of videos are available on the internet that can help you with all of these practices and more, without even leaving your home.
- Get more D. Vitamin D has been proven to improve mood in individuals who are deficient in this critical nutrient. Since vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency is very common, there’s a good chance taking a vitamin D supplement could help. Have your doctor check your levels before you begin taking the supplement to determine which dose is best for you.
Try St. John’s wort. Numerous studies have shown that St. John’s wort can help with menopausal mood challenges for some women.
when to see a health provider
If moodiness and mood swings are interfering with your enjoyment of life and lifestyle changes have not provided enough relief, you may want to see a counselor, therapist, or other mental health experts to help you through these challenging feelings. You especially should seek advice if your moods are causing you to slip into behaviors such as drinking, binge eating, or other unhealthy habits.
Lifestyle changes can help you manage moodiness and mood swings associated with menopause. Don’t be shy about asking for help, either; friends, family, and professionals are all there to help you get through those crying spells and dark moments.