We’re all familiar with that feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness, otherwise known as anxiety. It’s a common experience, however, increased feelings of stress during our perimenopausal years have a different causation, according to Dr. Kavita Desai, Pharm. D, a women’s health advocate, and expert in women’s care and preventative medicine. “During perimenopause, estrogen levels begin to fluctuate and decrease,” she says. “Estrogen not only has a connection to our serotonin levels (which is our “feel good” neurotransmitter) but also to other neurotransmitters such as GABA, norepinephrine, and dopamine which, when disrupted, can all affect mood and cause increased feelings of stress and anxiety. Estrogen also helps regulate stress levels. Low estrogen levels result in heightened production of cortisol, our stress hormone, which further impacts mood during these years.”
In other words, menopausal anxiety is very real and can be very present in women’s lives. Although we as a society are becoming much more open to discussing women’s health issues, Dr. Stephanie Faubion, Director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women’s Health and Medical Director for The Menopause Society, says the same isn’t true for menopause. “Menopause is a little different because it is also associated with aging, so there may also be a component of ageism that makes some conversations a little more sensitive for some,” she tells SheKnows. “These topics are important to talk about so that women have the knowledge they need to better understand what is happening during this phase of life, what the options are for managing symptoms, and how to stay healthy in the years after menopause. This includes optimizing heart, brain, and bone health.” For answers to your menopausal anxiety questions, read below for everything you need to know.
What are the symptoms associated with menopausal anxiety?
Symptoms of menopausal anxiety can vary quite a bit from one woman to another, ranging from increased feelings of constant worry, irritability, and moodiness, to difficulty concentrating, and disturbances in sleep. “For some women, there can also be physical symptoms which can be quite bothersome,” adds Dr. Desai. These include heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, or the feeling of a “pit” in your stomach.
What are some ways to treat menopausal anxiety?
Treatment approaches vary among individuals, but some common lifestyle strategies include regular exercise, meditation, deep breathing techniques, improving sleep quality, and adopting a healthy diet that limits alcohol, caffeine, heavily processed foods, and added sugars. “Other natural treatments can be calming, herbal teas such as chamomile and tulsi, or adaptogenic supplements known to aid the body with stress such as ashwagandha, reishi mushrooms, and Rhodiola,” says Dr. Desai. Supplements, aside from the adaptogenic variety, can be powerful tools in helping aid menopausal anxiety. There are plant-based and hormone-free supplements available, such as Estrovera® from Metagenics which has been proven to relieve women of menopausal anxiety along with other menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and negative mood.
What impact does menopausal anxiety have?
We are taught in society that because menopause is a natural part of life, symptoms should be ignored and women should “tough it out.” However, while this phase in life is inevitable, the symptoms should not have to be tolerated. “The decline of our hormones, and the associated symptoms experienced as a result, can significantly reduce a woman’s quality of life, and are, in fact, risk factors for other more serious chronic diseases,” says Dr. Desai. “The decrease in estrogen leads to an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and possibly, an increased risk of dementia. This is the reason we need to change the rhetoric surrounding women’s health, especially menopause, and women need to be proactively making changes in their lives to help prevent their long-term risk of morbidity and mortality.”
What can we do to better understand menopause as a whole?
The most important thing for women to do is to educate themselves and be knowledgeable of their own bodies. “Do not be afraid to ask questions or advocate for yourself when you know something is not quite right,” Dr. Desai adds. “By being proactive with knowledge, and assembling the right team of supportive healthcare practitioners, young women can be well prepared for all the changes that may come as they approach their perimenopausal years.” Other resources include menopause.org and Dr. Faubion’s new book, The New Rules of Menopause.
Dr. Stephanie Faubion is a clinician who has practiced in the Women’s Health Clinic at Mayo Clinic for over 10 years and has evaluated and treated women with menopausal, hormonal, and sexual health concerns, Stephanie S. Faubion, M.D., M.B.A., has a broad interest in women’s health. Dr. Faubion’s research encompasses sex- and gender-based differences in disease, menopause, hormone therapy, healthy aging, and sexual health and dysfunction in women.
Dr. Kavita Desai, Pharm. D., started her career as a hospital-based pharmacist, eventually opening her own integrated medical center and clinical pharmacy focused on women’s care and preventative medicine. These experiences led her to launch the women’s health and wellness platform, Revivele, and write, Lady Parts: Putting Women’s Health Back Into Women’s Hands.
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