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02 Dec 2015 By

Understanding and Managing Anxiety During Menopause

During menopause or peri-menopause, many women may find themselves experiencing more anxiety than normal. Anxiety can manifest itself as uneasiness, unhappy thoughts, fears, and sometimes even panic attacks.

While a definitive answer on how increased anxiety and menopause are connected remains uncertain, the situation is real and common for many women who are going through this period. This article will look at what anxiety it is, how it presents itself, and how it can be managed.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a psychological state that occurs when a person finds themselves constantly worried and tense over normal, everyday events, or when a person feels on-edge by events that do not deserve the amount of stress felt. Although people may be conscious of anxiety, it can be difficult to shake the feeling.

Anxiety can also disturb sleep, leading to other problems such as memory lapses and headaches. This condition affects millions of people around the world, and according to an Australian Mental Health Survey carried out in 2011-12, about 3.8% of Australians suffer from anxiety disorders.

Although this condition can present at any given time in one’s life, changing hormones in a woman’s life (such as menopause, peri-menopause, or pregnancy) can contribute due to the fluctuation of oestrogen. When oestrogen levels are high, you feel good, but when it drops, a number of symptoms such as low mood, irritability, and anxiety can set in.

Types of anxiety

There are several types of anxiety disorders, differentiated by symptoms, causes, and characteristics.

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – Characterised by a persistent state of exaggerated worry and fear (lasting at least six months) over no reason in particular, or for a reason that does not demand such tension,
  • Panic disorder (PD) – Characterised by recurring acute episodes of sudden terror and overwhelming dread, producing a variety of emotional and physical symptoms,
  • Social phobia – Involves excessive worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations,
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Unrelated to hormonal changes in menopause, PTSD is an anxiety disorder triggered by a traumatic life event,
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Also infrequently associated with menopause, OCD involves irrational preoccupations, such as extreme fears of a particular stimuli.

Symptoms

Anxiety not only produces psychological symptoms, but also physical. Some of the psychological symptoms or signs you may experience with anxiety include:

  • Extreme nervousness,
  • Difficulty concentrating,
  • Trouble relaxing,
  • Irritability,
  • Tenseness,
  • Trouble falling asleep,
  • Interrupted sleep,
  • Low self confidence,
  • Feeling on edge, and
  • Struggling to get through a normal day.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Heart palpitations,
  • Fatigue,
  • Digestive issues,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Sweating, and
  • Frequent urination.

Causes

One of the most common causes of anxiety disorders during menopause is low oestrogen levels. Oestrogen plays an important part in regulating a woman’s brain and emotions, having a direct effect on the neurochemicals serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and melatonin. These chemicals play an essential role in emotion and mood regulation, and so when we experience an imbalance during peri-menopause and menopause, we become more prone to unsettling emotions.

While the primary cause of anxiety during menopause is hormone-related, other medical and psychological conditions can cause anxiety. Women who are concerned about persistent anxiety, or that suffered anxiety before entering into menopause, should always talk to a qualified doctor or health practitioner, as those feeling can become exacerbated during this time.

Managing anxiety

There are several options when it comes to managing your anxiety. Generally, we can divide them in three different approaches: lifestyle changes, natural remedies and lastly, medication.

As always, trying the least invasive methods first is always advisable, and only turn to medication if the symptoms continue or worsen, always contacting your doctor first.

Lifestyle changes mean increasing your exercise levels, diet, relaxation and stretching techniques, and generally taking care of yourself. They don’t have to be major, but be aware that some things will have to change. For example, enrol in a yoga or Pilates class, learn breathing techniques, walk to work if it is a relatively short commute, limit your caffeine intake, eat less fatty or high-calorie foods and don’t miss meals, and allocate time to do something you truly enjoy for no less than 20 minutes a day.

You can combine these lifestyle changes with herbal supplements or natural remedies, such as drinking chamomile or peppermint tea, or smelling lavender. Always speak with our Naturopaths at the Australian Menopause Centre before taking any herbal supplements.