Quick disclaimer: I am not a qualified health professional or expert in pharmaceuticals. Please seek independent clinical advice for any course of action you choose to take.
What is it about menopause that seems to lead to severe anxiety for so many women, yet so little information about it exists?
There is limited positive support or response from the clinical profession.
You’re left to either figure it out for yourself, spending on all manner of ‘remedies’ in an effort to stem this crushing feeling (that risks spiralling out of control). Or you wait it out. You assume that eventually menopause will end and so will the anxiety. The trouble is, that isn’t necessarily true. Unfortunately, the longer we leave it, the worse it gets.
There are three key factors at play in menopause anxiety.
1. The drop in oestrogen brought about by menopause and perimenopause results in a drop in serotonin. This is your happy calm coping chemical. It means you’re less…well….happy, calm and coping.
2. Most of us experience menopause at midlife. This often coincides with other major life moments that rate high on the stress scale and tend to come along in bundles, like London buses…all at once (e.g children leaving home, parents becoming frail, possible redundancies or retirement, divorce, marriage, to name a few). Even if you don’t notice feeling stressed, your body is reacting to it and, without careful management, a little normal stress leads to increasingly chronic anxiety.
3. Unwittingly, you may have created habits of normal living prior to menopause that meant you were already living with high levels of stress and the drop in serotonin was merely the catalyst that pushed you from what you perceived as manageable stress into debilitating anxiety.
What to do?
- HRT – this seems to make sense. After all, if oestrogen plays a part in serotonin production and we can replace the oestrogen then problem solved, right? Well, yes in some cases…and the reason that it is so popular is that it DOES work for large numbers of women. However, it doesn’t work for all and for some, it doesn’t work for always. It maybe takes the edge off for a while and then its positive impact starts to diminish. This is because there are other (invisible) factors at play, which erode your resilience over time. This is when you might start looking around for other solutions.
- Major mid life moments – well, they pass don’t they? That’s just life, after all. True to both of those. However, the way our mind and body respond to them can set up a habitual pattern of thinking and feeling. This doesn’t go away when the event is over. Compounded by falls in serotonin production, instead, it sets up a process which can result in spiralling negative thoughts. These feed anxiety and turn an occasional moment into a regular occurrence.
- Pre-existing habits – this is the one that catches most people out, is not factored in by professionals and the alternative remedies won’t touch it either. The reason? Nobody is looking for it and nobody realises it’s a problem. The only reason I stumbled across this as a key factor was my own personal experience and that of clients who were coming to see me with anxiety-related issues. This is the key piece in the puzzle. It is the Jenga piece that supports the tower of menopausal anxiety – and, therefore, the one that has most impact in toppling the tower and bringing you back to you.
I’ll share more in future blogs/videos/podcasts/later chapters, but for now, it’s simply important that you have a sense of what you’re dealing with when it comes to menopause anxiety – and why, for some of you, the usual solutions just aren’t enough.