Menopause can be a challenging period filled with many physical, mental, and emotional changes. For some people, the emotional symptoms and other mental aspects that can come with this transition can be particularly difficult to manage.
The mood swings some women experience during menopause can be the result of the hormonal changes that happen during this transition period in life. Research shows that people who are going through menopause may even be at a higher risk of developing depression.
So, although it may feel difficult, there are a variety of ways you can support mood swings and other symptoms during this time. In this article, we’ll explore the science behind mood changes during menopause and share some effective tips for your emotional well being.
What are the Common Symptoms of Menopause?
Menopause is the transition period that occurs in a person’s body during the 12 months that follow their final menstrual cycle. This time of life is also associated with a number of physical symptoms. Some of the common symptoms of menopause that you may encounter can include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Abdominal weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Dysuria, or difficulty urinating
- Changes in sex drive
Why Does Your Mood Change During Menopause?
Mood changes during menopause can be a little complex to understand due to the many hormonal shifts that occur during this time. For simplicity’s sake, we can group these shifts into two main categories: physiological changes and psychosocial factors. The physiological changes include:
- Decreasing estrogen levels
- Decreasing progesterone levels
- Increasing levels of follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH
- Increasing levels of luteinizing hormone, or LH
- Increased risk of insulin resistance
During menopause, the changes in estrogen and progesterone disrupt the signaling of a neurotransmitter and neuromodulator called serotonin. Serotonin is involved in mood regulation.
When proper signaling of serotonin is disrupted, you may become more prone to mood fluctuations. Norepinephrine is another type of neuromodulator that can affect menopause-related mood changes.
These changes are also linked to increased symptoms of depression. If you have a history of depression and experience worsened symptoms, you may want to consult your doctor for treatment options.
Other Factors that Can Lead to Mood Swings
Along with physiological changes, psychosocial factors can also play a role. Psychosocial factors that affect menopause can vary from person to person, as they can depend on each person’s environment and lifestyle.
For example, as adults age, their social circle may become smaller, which can limit some from getting the social support they need. While this may not apply to everyone, some studies indicate that menopause-related mood swings and other symptoms can increase as feelings of loneliness and anger increase.
Physical exercise can be a great way to improve mood and reduce rumination. However, those that live in more isolated areas or have less access to nearby areas for exercise get less daily activity, which can negatively affect mood.
Neighborhood barriers can sometimes hinder older adults from getting more daily physical exercise such as walking. Staying at home itself may also increase the risk of low mood or feelings of depression in some people.
Seven Tips to Support Mood During the Menopausal Transition
There are a variety of ways you can support your well being during the menopausal transition. Here are seven lifestyle changes you may consider trying for a better transition during menopause.
1) Support Your Hormones Through Your Diet
If you’ve read our article on the menopause diet, you may already know that nutrition can be an effective way to support your body through hormonal changes. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of whole foods can help provide your body with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can support hormonal health.
Cnsuming enough fiber in your diet may be beneficial for menopause-related (and age-related) insulin resistance. Some other beneficial foods to consume more of include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Adequate protein from high-quality sources
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables
2) Make Daily Exercise a Habit
As we’ve mentioned, getting regular exercise can be beneficial for both the emotional well-being and physical health of older adults. One study found strong evidence to suggest that exercise can improve mood in women going through menopause.
This benefit may extend beyond menopause to the postmenopausal stage, as researchers have found that exercise can significantly reduce feelings of depression and anxiety in postmenopausal women.
Exercise can also help add social interaction to your day and provide health benefits such as improved weight management, glycemic control, and cardiovascular health. So, in addition to your daily walks, you may want to add in some weekly weight training or cardio to your routine.
3) Keep a Journal
Throughout this period, some menopausal women may find themselves feeling more frustrated or irritated than normal. You may find it helpful to keep an “emotions journal” as these feelings pop up.
For some, this can help show a pattern behind the emotional changes. Journaling has also been shown to have a positive effect on mental health.
Reflecting on these shifts in a journal may give you helpful answers and bring more clarity. If anything, for some people this can simply provide a safe, non-judgmental space for your thoughts to flow freely.
4) Make More Time For Yourself
Making time for yourself is important, especially during challenging times or a transitional period of your life such as menopause. Creating some space and carving out more time to process your emotions can help you sort your thoughts.
Many of us lead busy lives and may find this difficult to do. However, taking even 30 minutes for self-care can make a difference in your mood. Here are some ways you can make more time for yourself:
- Going out for a daily walk can be beneficial for a number of reasons, but research shows that even a walk around the block may help your mood.
- Block off time in your mornings for yourself or do things you enjoy.
- Set out a day in your weekly schedule for engaging in self-care activities that bring you joy.
5) Consider Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, is a treatment option you may want to bring up and discuss with your doctor or healthcare practitioner.
While there has been controversy regarding this from the original Women’s Health Initiative in 2002, a re-analysis of the research actually found that HRT can be beneficial for reducing menopausal symptoms.
Because the evidence is mixed, it may be the case that HRT is beneficial for some people while not having a significant benefit on mood for others. Some people may also experience side effects of HRT, so make sure to consult your doctor or gynecologist for guidance.
6) Reach Out for Support
Building a support system and reaching out for support is important for well-being at any point of your life, but especially during menopause. You may want to surround yourself with other people who are also going through menopause, perimenopause, or are postmenopausal and can relate to your symptoms.
Having support might also help you feel more comfortable talking about your mood shifts with other people who are also going through the same thing. Some ways to do so include:
- Engaging on a forum such as Menopause Matters or Red Hot Mamas Menopause Support Group.
- Joining a Facebook group like the Menopause Forum.
- Looking for local meet-ups in your area with women around your age.
Another way to share your emotions is to try therapy. One study, for example, found that acceptance and commitment therapy (or ACT) can make a positive difference in women’s mood during the menopausal transition. A good therapist may be one way to have a safe space for you to discuss the changes in your mood.
7) Build on the Quality of Your Social Connections
Even though older adults may find that they have fewer social connections and are prone to loneliness, it’s not always the case that a smaller circle leads to feelings of depression. Research shows that when social connections are few, it’s the quality of those connections that can be beneficial for your psychological and emotional well-being.
In a study on women undergoing menopause, women who had a social network or community around them tended to be more positive about their body’s changes. Spending high-quality time with those that bring you joy or that you feel positively about may help to keep you feeling positive and boost your mood as well.
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