By Meera Mehat, psychotherapist, Harley Street Consulting
This blog aims to help you to understand the menopause and empower you to connect with your body during this time.
The menopause will happen to anyone with female sex characteristics; for many this can be an uncertain time with changes to your body and mood, almost like a miniature puberty, which can sometimes be difficult to understand. It is common to have feelings of anxiety or uncertainty.
The menopausal process has three stages.
Perimenopause is the first stage and can occur any time from mid-thirties to early fifties. It lasts around seven years, and it is during this time that women may notice changes in their menstruation cycles, moods, and physiology.
The menopause itself is the second stage and is defined as having an entire year (or two years, if you're under 50 years of age) without having a period.
Post-menopause is the final stage, and is defined as the rest of your life after the menopause. It is in this phase that things normally settle down and irregularities reduce.
Why The Drama?
The menopause can impact your ability to think and affect your physical and mental health. Current research has identified almost fifty commonly experienced symptoms in menopausal people.
Physical symptoms can range from hot flushes to weight gain, whilst mental health can be impacted by feelings of anxiety, depression, anger or loss of confidence.
Some people also report brain-fog, increased forgetfulness, or experiencing reduced vocabulary and muddling their words. Not all people will experience all symptoms; some may have relatively few, whilst others may have more.
The science behind mood changes in menopause
During perimenopause, the number of eggs in the ovaries reduces, along with levels of sex hormones. The key sex hormones are oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, but these play vital functions for the rest of our body too. These hormonal fluctuations are responsible for menopausal symptoms like bloating, hot flushes, weight gain, headaches, mood swings, tearfulness, anger, anxiety, depression, brain fog, and lack of confidence.
Oestrogen is responsible for reproductive and breast health but also plays a part in our cognitive functions, bone health and production of serotonin – a good mood booster.
Progesterone has a role in maintaining the health of our cardiovascular and central nervous system. When it fluctuates, it impacts on mood and pain threshold.
Testosterone is necessary in females, and in pre-menopausal females, levels of testosterone are three times higher than oestrogen. It helps with the growth, maintenance, and repair of reproductive tissues but it is also vital for muscle mass, bone strength, energy levels, concentration levels, and quality of sleep. During perimenopause, testosterone levels drop significantly and can cause some to feel flat and tired.
The menopause can be a stressful time, not only because of the ways in which our bodies change, but also because of life events that often occur at the same time, like divorce, needing to care for elderly parents, bereavement, or becoming empty-nesters.
Stress drives the production of a hormone called cortisol, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. Cortisol further reduces the production of sex hormones, slows metabolic rate, and impacts the way we use fats, carbohydrates and proteins, which can lead to cravings.
The best way to reduce the impact of all these natural physiological changes is to lead a healthy lifestyle. Be active, get enough sleep, eat well, and look after your mental health. Avoid excess caffeine and alcohol. This will help to prevent further health issues, which can make the menopause feel worse if present.
How Do I Spot the Signs of Menopause?
The key sign is a change in your cycle. Are your periods irregular? Is there a prolonged time between periods? Is bleeding intermittent, lighter, or heavier than before? However, psychological changes often begin in perimenopause when there is little change to menstruation patterns.
Other clues to look out for are hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and or discomfort during sex, a loss of sex drive, low moods or anxiety and a difficulty sleeping. Memory and concentration can also be affected. Less common symptoms could be body odour, breast tenderness, burning mouth syndrome, chills, dry mouth and dental problems, dry skin, fatigue, hair loss or thinning hair.
What Help Is Out There?
There is a lot of help available. The first port-of-call should be a consult with a healthcare professional or a menopause specialist. The British Menopause Society website can be used to find a local, private, accredited specialist.
Other great websites are the NHS Guidance on Menopause, Menopause Matters, Over the Bloody Moon and the Menopause Charity.
If you are experiencing severe anxiety, depression or mood swings then it is important that you get some external help. If you are in danger of hurting yourself or others go to A&E. Non-crisis concerns can be addressed via your GP, or independent wellbeing practitioners who are skilled in mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy or other talking therapies. Hypnotherapy is great for relaxation and sleep. It can help to soothe and alleviate anxiety, increase confidence, improve sleep and help with changes in behaviour patterns that may be contributing to poor physical and emotional health.
There are also some great apps that many have found useful- some are Headspace, Calm and the Mindfulness app. Learning to do deep breathing exercises can help, which works by supplying oxygen to the brain and activating your parasympathetic nervous system. This promotes a state of calm, lowers heart rate and can slow the mind.
Create calm spaces in your home. Fill them with colours, smells, textures, and sounds you find comfortable. Notice how your mood changes when you go into your haven.
Practice sleep hygiene: create good bedtime routines. Make going to bed an enjoyable experience and go to bed when you are tired. We spend too much time fighting our desire for sleep. Good quality sleep can help restore the mind and create equilibrium.
If you have enjoyed reading this, please join us on our next OTBM Masterclass ‘Mood and Menopause’, Feb 22nd at 8pm, where I will be giving live demonstrations on how you can create calm states easily and quickly at home.
Get in touch!
Instagram: meera mehat (@harleystreetconsulting)
Facebook: harleystreetconsulting@harleystreet consulting