Menopause – the period in a woman’s life when menstruation stops, signalling the end of her reproductive years – sets off a series of physical and mental symptoms as hormone levels start to steadily decline.
Many of these start in perimenopause – the transitional period leading up to menopause, when hormone levels fluctuate with surges and shortages
But can menopause cause anxiety?
The answer is yes – in fact, it’s one of the most common menopause symptoms. In this article, we’ll look at the causes and symptoms of menopause anxiety, and what you can do to fight it.
What is menopause anxiety, and what causes it?
It’s normal to feel anxious when faced with stressful situations – in fact, it’s your body’s natural response. But if your fear becomes difficult to control and begins to interfere with daily life, e.g., you find yourself waking up in a cold sweat about your looming Monday sales meeting when normally you’re cool as a cucumber, you may be suffering from anxiety.
Anxiety in menopause is extremely common.
A report produced by the Fawcett Society is based on survey data commissioned by Channel 4 of over 4,000 women found women are most likely to say they find sleeping (84%), brain fog (73%), and anxiety or depression (69%) are difficult symptoms to deal with.
The main cause of menopause anxiety is the levels of hormones being accessed by the brain – particularly oestrogen and progesterone. When you reach menopause, oestrogen levels decline steeply, which means the oestrogen receptors in your brain aren’t being fed which affects the way your brain functions.
The brain's limbic system manages your libido, your concentration levels, your mood and anxiety. Other hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, are linked to mental and physical stress. Oestrogen in particular usually limits the impact these stress hormones have on the body, but as levels decline, it’s management of them becomes less effective. That means when oestrogen levels drop, the levels of these other hormones can increase. This hormonal imbalance is why mood changes are so common during menopause.
The physical symptoms of menopause can also contribute towards anxiety, and often make it worse. These include hot flashes, body aches and trouble sleeping.
Menopause anxiety symptoms
Menopause anxiety can present itself in many different ways, and it’s important to remember that this can include physical symptoms as well as psychological ones.
As well as worry, stress and low mood, symptoms can include:
- Heart palpitations
- A fast heart rate
- Chest pain
- Feeling sick
- A dry mouth
- Panic attacks – possibly accompanied by shortness of breath and a tingling sensation
Some people only experience one or two of these symptoms, whilst others notice lots of them. It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether the things you’re experiencing are caused by anxiety or something else, which is why it’s important to know what to look out for. Plus, some things – like menopause and heart palpitations – go hand-in-hand, whether you’re suffering from anxiety or not.
Other symptoms of menopause can be made worse by anxiety, as well, like hot flashes. Plus, there could be a link between anxiety and menopause tingling – a funny sensation in the hands, feet and limbs as a result of hormonal changes affecting the central nervous system.
How to help menopause anxiety
You may be wondering what to take for menopause anxiety. But, you might be surprised to hear that diet and lifestyle changes can make a huge difference, so medication isn’t usually necessary to aid in managing menopause and anxiety.
Eating a healthy diet can help reduce menopause anxiety – and other symptoms, too. Weight gain is common as you enter menopause, so reaching a healthier weight can help you feel better and more confident. For the best results, you should aim to eat a diet high in whole foods, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products.
Healthy fats – like omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish – are also beneficial. We are also learning more and more about the link between our gut and our brain, and eating a diet that’s high in fibre has been shown to have positive effects on reducing anxiety. Try to limit your intake of processed foods, and foods high in fat and sugar, also.
It’s recommended that you cut down your alcohol and caffeine intake, as these can make anxiety worse. Many people find that caffeine interrupts their sleep, too, and a lack of sleep can worsen anxiety even further.
Diet aside, there are a whole host of other things you can do to help minimise the symptoms of menopause anxiety. Many women find that regular exercise helps massively. NHS research has shown exercise produces a relaxation response that serves as a positive distraction from stress and anxiety.
If you’re not used to regular exercise, it might seem a little daunting at first. Start by incorporating small amounts of exercise into your daily routine – like going for a morning walk, or setting aside 15 minutes for an at-home workout. Even if you feel like you’re not doing much, remember – anything is better than nothing.
Yoga, meditation and practising breathing techniques can be helpful, too. If these aren’t your thing, try to take some time out each day to do something you enjoy, instead. This could be gardening, reading a book, or just sitting with a cup of tea. The idea is to relax, unwind, and take some time for yourself.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be an effective treatment for anxiety. It aims to break negative thought cycles, by getting you to talk about the things that make you feel stressed or worried. The idea is to teach you to break the cycle of anxiety so that you’re able to cope better in the long term.
You may also be wondering if there are specific menopause anxiety supplements available. Natural supplements such as Ashwagandha and vitamin D may help ease anxiety in menopause. However, it’s important to speak to your doctor before taking any supplements, as these could interfere with medication, and could come with unwanted side effects. Eve Biology Menopause Meal replacement shakes target symptoms of anxiety, brain fog, bloating and constipation using Ashwagandha, Ginkgo Biloba and Prebiotic Fibre which has been proven to improve gut microbiome. Learn more at Eve Biology
The bottom line
Anxiety in menopause is very common, thanks to declining oestrogen levels causing a hormonal imbalance in the brain. It comes with a long list of symptoms, including physical ones like nausea and heart palpitations. The good news is, there are ways to treat menopause anxiety that don’t involve taking medication – diet and lifestyle changes are often enough to make a real difference.
If you want to learn more about another common symptom of menopause, check out our article on menopause brain fog.