Is the Menopause and an Increase in Anxiety Linked?
Hormonal changes, the stresses incurred from life, issues getting to sleep, lack of confidence with body image, infertility, and ageing are all variables linked to menopause that can contribute to the rise of mood swings, stress, symptoms of anxiety, and an overall decreased sense of well-being in women across the globe.
Perimenopause is known as the phase before the final menstrual period. In this phase, the body undergoes multiple physical changes which can cause the factors mentioned above - which, in turn, have the potential to give rise to symptoms of anxiety.
When periods have ended for 12 months, menopause occurs. Symptoms of perimenopause can continue into menopause proper but typically occur less frequently. Some studies report that upwards of 23% of women experience symptoms of anxiety during the perimenopause phase, and it is also reported that these symptoms of anxiety are not necessarily linked to depression.
While it is a normal human emotion to experience feelings of anxiety, and even depression, especially during the perimenopause phase, severe and frequent feelings of anxiety and panic attacks are not typical symptoms of menopause.
Anxiety During Menopause: Is Anxiety a Menopause Symptom?
During menopause, it is normal for women to feel sad or troubled because of the changes to the body that are, or will, occurring. These changes, like infertility, can cause these feelings to rise, but in some women, they may feel relieved to longer have the fear of pregnancy.
In addition to this, menopausal women may also undergo many life-altering changes during their menopausal years. These can range from things like their children leaving home, their parents or partner may fall unwell related to ageing, or numerous other things that may occur. These changes can indeed contribute to heightened feelings of anxiety.
The hormonal changes that occur during each phase of menopause can also give further rise to feelings of anxiety. Changes in progesterone and estrogen levels can have an especially great impact on mental wellbeing.
These symptoms of anxiety may go away at the end of the perimenopause phase as a woman enters the postmenopausal period when hormones have more of a balance within the body, but if these symptoms persist; we recommend speaking to your GP to see if there is a cause - such as underlying health problems.
Treatment for Menopause and Anxiety
Women transitioning through menopause often receive hormone replacement therapy (HRT), alongside some other treatments for menopause symptoms. Some menopausal women are not good candidates for HRT, so they should always discuss their routes for treatment with their doctor in order to find the best course of action.
A woman going through the perimenopause phase whilst experiencing high levels of anxiety may also be prescribed anti-anxiety medication, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for severe cases, in order to quell these symptoms. Their GP may also recommend therapy or counselling, but this will be discussed at their appointment. If using SSRIs, about half of the people who use this medication also experience side effects that pertain to their sex lives - these include reduced libido and more.
If experiencing these side-effects, other types of antidepressants are available which include the newer bupropion and duloxetine, and other, older, types which do not cause sexual dysfunction can also be prescribed.
A decrease in the dosage may reduce the side effects of these medications for some people who experience sexual dysfunction from these antidepressants, however, it is important for anyone who is considering lowering their dosage to consult their GP first, as stopping medication at any scale can have severe consequences.
Quickfire Questions About Menopause, Stress, and Anxiety
This section contains answers to some common questions about the mental and emotional aspects of menopause, and how best to overcome these challenges.
Is Anxiety Normal During the Onset of Menopause?
The constantly varying levels of estrogen and progesterone, key hormones within a woman’s body, can cause feelings and symptoms of anxiety and depression. But frequent symptoms and troublingly high levels of anxiety or panic attacks are actually not a normal part of this period of transition. It is known that some women even develop panic or mood disorders during menopause.
Can Menopause Cause Anxiety Attacks, or do I Have Panic Disorder?
If you have panic attacks and are wondering “does menopause cause anxiety and panic attacks?” you won’t necessarily have a panic disorder developing. Those who suffer from diagnosed panic disorder suffer from frequent panic attacks and, in between, they worry about when the next one will strike and try to alter their behaviour in order to prevent it - however, this can actually trigger a panic attack.
Women who were prone to symptoms of anxiety in the past, or have suffered from postpartum depression, are sometimes more likely to develop and suffer from a panic disorder during menopause; although anyone can develop this disorder.
A single, or isolated few, panic attacks won’t mean that you have suddenly developed a panic disorder. However, if they do persist, we do suggest speaking to your GP in order to determine the root cause.
Can Menopause Cause Depression and Anxiety?
Changes in the body’s hormonal levels can influence how neurotransmitters work within the brain. The fall in levels of estrogen can even cause further symptoms of menopause and anxiety at night, like hot flashes which are known to disrupt sleep; and sleep disturbances can lead to anxiety and mood swings.
If you find that you’re experiencing symptoms of depression almost every single day for two weeks or more, you may have depression. If this sounds like you, we highly recommend speaking to your GP. They may be able to determine the root cause, such as medical issues, and help you get on the road to recovery.
When Should I Seek Help for Emotional Issues During Menopause?
When you find that depression or anxiety is causing levels of difficulty in your relationships, at work, or in everyday life, and there isn’t a clear cause or solution to these problems, it is probably time to seek help from your GP. Some more specific reasons to seek help can include, but are not limited to:
- Thoughts or feelings of suicide
- Negative feelings that last longer than two weeks
- You don’t have anyone who you can confide in
How can I Cope with my Emotional Concerns During Menopause?
While there is a growing range of evidence that hormone therapy can help to alleviate some emotional symptoms and maintain hormone levels, it alone is not the most effective treatment for more severe mental health conditions. Your doctor may prescribe a specific medication for anxiety or depression, and you may find that counselling, therapy, or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help to treat psychological symptoms.
You may begin to feel better as menopause nears its end, or reaches its end, and your hormonal levels even out, but we recommend speaking to your GP as soon as you recognise the symptoms in order to receive help.
What can I do to Cope with Emotional Concerns During Menopause?
A healthy lifestyle can help to ease your transition through menopause. Some of these steps may help:
- Regular exercise and healthy eating - food rich in magnesium, such as spinach, and getting your daily recommended amount of the mineral can help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.
- Engage in a creative outlet or hobby
- Turn to friends, family members, or a counsellor for support. Nurture your friendships.
- Take medication recommended by your GP
I’m Experiencing Memory and Concentration Issues During Menopause, is This Normal?
Unfortunately, experiencing difficulty with concentration and minor memory problems can be a normal part of your menopause experience. While this is not fully understood as of yet, we recommend speaking to your GP in order to find comfort and discover what can be done to help these issues.