The menopause causes women to experience important hormonal changes which can impact on your physical well-being. What is less known about is the impact that these hormonal changes from can have on your mental well being. So we explore the question: How does menopause affect mental health?
Read on to learn more about:
- What the menopause is
- The stages of menopause
- How it can impact on mental health
- What you can do to cope with the mental health impacts of menopause
- How therapy can help with the mental health impacts of menopause
What is menopause?
Menopause is when a woman’s hormone levels drop and the menstrual cycle stops. It usually occurs between the age of 45 and 55, but can happen earlier either naturally or due to certain kinds of surgery or chemotherapy. Common physical symptoms of menopause include night sweats, hot flushes and vaginal dryness. Menopause also brings about changes to mental health such as anxiety, sudden changes in mood and feelings of loss of self, which can have a direct impact on your personal and professional life.
What are the stages of menopause?
There are three stages of menopause:
- Perimenopause: Also known as the menopausal transition, it occurs before the menopause. This is when a woman experiences irregular periods—owing to a decline in key hormones progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone, which affects the functioning of ovaries. It ends a year after the last menstrual cycle.
- Menopause: This occurs when there has been no period for 12 months. This transition most often begins between the age of 45 and 55.
- Postmenopause: This term is used to refer to the phase from the onset of the menopause and for the rest of a woman’s life.
The transition from one stage to the other can last for up to 1-3 years.
How menopause can affect mental health
Since the body experiences vital hormonal changes, menopause directly impacts on mental and emotional wellbeing. Research shows that as many as 60% women experience peri/menopausal symptoms and 20% experience them severely. Menopause can impact mental and emotional health in a number of ways, some of which include:
Menopausal anxiety can range from feeling worried and uneasiness to restlessness, having problems sleeping, difficulty concentrating and a racing heartbeat. Woman have described feeling like their mind and body are disconnected and they have lost control of unhelpful thoughts. Feeling constantly anxious might lead to panic attacks, headaches and nightmares. It can cause more memory lapses, tiredness, and headaches.
Intrusive and Suicidal Thoughts
Intrusive thoughts might become common place during menopause as hormone levels are falling. This can lead to feelings of worry, fear and sadness which can cause distress. Some women also feel suicidal but often without feeling the need to act on it. Usually these thoughts occur as a way of overcoming the feeling of distress, however if they become persistent and obsessive, it is important that professional help is sought immediately.
Research shows that menopause most commonly brings with it, an increase in depressive symptoms in more than half of all peri/menopausal women. Though the nature of low mood and depth of sadness during menopause might vary, most women are likely to experience a greater degree of unwanted thoughts, irritability, anger, being worried about what others think of them and feelings of guilt.
Changes to Sense of Self and Loss of Confidence
Physical and mental well-being is directly related, and menopause brings about a significant change in both. Physical changes such as hair loss, weight gain, dry skin or more wrinkles and acne can impact how women view themselves and also how they think the world views them. The sense of growing old can also often strike unpleasant thoughts and lead to loss of confidence. This in turn can affect self-esteem.
Experiencing brain fog, such as being at a loss of words in a professional setting or being forgetful of things you would be able to do without setting an alarm or a reminder is also a symptom of menopause. This occurs mainly due to reduction in hormones important for memory and cognition (progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone). It can be overwhelming to experience brain fog and can lead to anxious thoughts.
Things you can do to cope with the impact of menopause on your mental health:
If you are suffering from mental health symptoms of menopause, it is best to seek treatment as soon as possible, you can do that with us by booking a telephone consultation. In the meantime, there are some things that can help while you are waiting for the first appointment:
- Maintaining a routine is a helpful way to structure the day and balance it with work, some physical activity, nourishing diet and free time to help get on without feeling too overwhelmed or lost.
- Staying connected with others and yourself is vital to help keep your emotions and feelings in check. Talking about how you feel can help make better sense of where you are mentally and emotionally.
- Going easy on yourself at a time when your body is already going through so many changes is the best thing you can do for yourself. Practicing self-compassion and calming breathing exercises can help you feel more centred.
- Letting go of your unhealthy habits such as drinking alcohol and smoking as well as unhelpful habits that might lead to an increase in anxiety such as multitasking and overworking can help ease into the change your body is enduring.
- Watching your thoughts and being mindful of how you talk to yourself is imperative as this can either act as a building block to support you through this change or a weapon to hurt you. Being kinder to yourself can help silence the inner self-critic.
How can talking therapies help with menopause and its affect on mental health?
Talking therapies can help in a number of ways, some of which are:
- Help you make sense of the changes you are going through in a safe and confidential environment
- Balance your thoughts and feelings in relation to the hormonal, physical and emotional changes
- Motivate you to rediscover your sense of identity by enable you to think constructively and positively
- Help deepen your understanding of yourself and resolve the disconnect you feel within
- Helps you set aside a time to deal with your emotions rather than suppressing them and cope healthily
What kind of talking therapies are best for menopause and mental health impacts?
Talking therapies that help with menopause and its mental health impacts are:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Mindfulness-based CBT
Further Resources and Guides