The term menopause refers to the cessation of menstruation and most often occurs around 45-55 years of age. The time before menopause is referred to as 'perimenopause' and the time after as ''postmenopause'.
The perimenopause transition is a natural and essential life event. Still, it doesn’t make it easy to deal with, and in some instances, the physiological and psychological changes can be debilitating.
The recognisable symptoms associated with menopause include hot flushes, sleep disturbances and vulvovaginal dryness (vaginal atrophy), but anxiety and mood swings are also common. In fact, the hormonal changes, life stresses and sleep disturbances associated with perimenopause can heighten the risk of anxiety and depression for some women who already have a history of anxiety and depression. Others may also notice a resurgence in symptoms.
Few studies have systematically investigated the relationship between menopause and anxiety, although persistent anxiety has been shown to increase during the menopausal transition independently of depressive symptoms.
One study found that 51% of menopausal women aged 40-55 reported tension, nervousness or irritability in a two week period, with 25% reporting frequent irritability or nervousness. The same study also reported that perimenopausal women have a greater risk for each symptom of anxiety when compared to premenopausal women.
Findings in other studies also support the idea that the menopausal transition is a “window of vulnerability” for many women.
What can contribute to feelings of anxiety
According to the NAMs North American Menopause Society, hormone fluctuations, lifestyle stresses, sleep troubled by night sweats, and concerns about body image, infertility, and ageing can contribute to emotional distress that may lead to menopause mood swings, anxiety or, in more severe cases, depression. Mood changes such as anxiety have been observed in up to 23% of perimenopausal women.
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Social perceptions of menopause
The social-cultural views and perspectives of menopause can also contribute to an individual’s reaction. Unfortunately, modern culture heavily focuses on youth, which can affirm the taboo and negativity associated with menopause.
Interestingly, in some cultures where menopause is embraced as a sign of wisdom and elevated status, some women appear to have fewer menopausal symptoms. In one study which involved rural Mayan Indians, researchers attributed the lack of symptoms during the menopausal transition to the women’s attitude to menopause rather than a difference in endocrinology.
They found the Mayan women in the study were also oestrogen deprived and experienced the same age-related bone de-mineralization as their American counterparts but did not experience menopausal symptoms. Perhaps the adoption of a different social-cultural view can help to promote a better menopausal transition.
The alteration in endogenous oestrogen leads to multiple hormonal changes in the body. This includes changes to the central nervous system, serotonergic and noradrenergic systems (neurotransmission systems in your brain).
Sub-optimal sleep quality associated with menopause can also result in higher stress vulnerabilities. In the long run, this can contribute to decreased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels and reduce tolerance to psychological stress. Psychosocial factors and lifestyle events can also contribute to the overwhelming feelings associated with menopausal anxiety during this period.
How can diet and lifestyle relieve menopausal symptoms?
A diet rich in whole foods, focusing on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts and healthy fats should always be advocated. Studies have shown that foods such as soy and flax can have a positive effect on menopause symptoms.
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Preliminary evidence suggests that younger postmenopausal women may derive some cognitive benefits from soy isoflavones within the initial years of menopause and a small study also showed that the consumption of 2 tablespoons of flaxseed twice a day reduced the number of hot flashes in 6 weeks as well as the intensity of the hot flashes by 57%. Learn more about flaxseeds in our article Top six foods every vegan should eat and why.
Exercise is known to not only improve overall health but also mood and wellbeing. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise five times a week with a daily walk can profoundly affect emotional wellbeing.
During this time, it’s essential to be aware of your emotions and to seek professional support when needed. Talking to others who are experiencing the same feelings as you can also help.
Implement and recognise things in your life that recharge you and use tools to nurture yourself, like deep breathing exercises, being out in nature and even prayer. Some studies have found prayer has been found to have a positive effect on stress levels, cortisol output and wellbeing.
Food supplements and botanicals for menopause
Invest in a vegan multivitamin or menopause supplement that include B Vitamins including B6, B12, B2, B3 and B5. Also consider supplements that include L-Theanine for those anxious days to help manage stress.
Many women have also found botanical medicines to be of use, such as Wild Yam, Dandelion Root, Mung Bean, Sage Leaf, Dong Quai and Black Cohosh, and there are some studies suggesting these can be effective for some common menopause symptoms such as night sweats, brain fog and mood swings. Hops have also displayed some positive results for menopausal related anxiety.
Always ensure that your medical practitioner is aware of any supplements you are taking to ensure no contraindications with your current medications or health conditions.
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Finally, it’s important to remember that menopause can be a time of empowerment and wonderful developments in your life. Consider and take note of any negative views that you may have and try to embrace your new state of being.
Jeneve Clarke LLB LPC GCILEx DipNT MBANT CNHC
Registered Nutritional Therapist. https://www.naturesphysiciannutrition.com/
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