Rising anxiety in the lead up to menopause
How much do you know about the menopause and the lead up to it? If you’re anything like me, not enough. I thought the menopause took place when you were in your mid-50’s, and that it was all about hot flushes and night sweats.
I wasn’t prepared for symptoms to start in my early 40’s. I was definitely not prepared for the brain fog that was so bad I worried I had dementia, the anxiety that really affected my confidence, or the way I could just ‘blow’ like an erupting volcano!
Since becoming a hypnotherapist, I’ve learnt how the brain works and what we can do to manage and reduce some of these symptoms, helping myself and many clients in the process. I want to share some of this learning with you here so that you’re better prepared than I was. Or if you’re already experiencing it, so that you know you’re not alone and there are things that can be done!
What causes rising anxiety?
Let’s talk hormones. Long story short, it’s all due to falling levels of oestrogen. And this starts up to 10 years before the actual menopause, in the period known as perimenopause. So, don’t think your symptoms can’t be due to the menopause if you’re in your 40’s.
As your oestrogen levels fall, it affects the delicate balance with other hormones. You can also produce less serotonin (let’s call this our happy chemical) and this can lead to increased anxiety and depression. You may also produce more stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. The good news is you can do a lot to get a good balance back, more on this later.
The timing of the menopause means it could coincide with having children still at home (or just moving out, think empty nest syndrome) as well as caring for elderly parents and facing work pressures. The Health and Safety Executive says that mid-life women face more stress than any other group. Your job certainly isn’t made any easier by brain fog and hot flushes in meetings. You barely have a minute to yourself and are always putting others first. No wonder you feel things getting on top of you.
Major change alert
While all this is going on, you’re facing a major change in your life. You’re having to face up to the fact that you’re getting older; all the changes in your body make it harder to ignore. Your confidence has taken a nosedive and you don’t know what the next stage of your life holds – leaving you feeling a little lost. And if there’s one thing your brain doesn’t like, it’s change and uncertainty. Anxiety, anger and depression are your brain's way of trying to protect you from threat, so it’s no wonder your mental health is suffering.
Now for the good news. Firstly, you’re not alone and there are things you can do to take back control. And secondly, any period of change is a chance to redefine yourself and come out stronger. Just think of the journey from caterpillar to butterfly! You can make your mid-life your best life!
So what can we do to take back control?
Rebalance our hormones
Back to hormones. Remember serotonin, the ‘happy’ chemical? You can create your own! Here’s how:
- Positive thinking – every day, make a note of what has gone well and what you’re grateful for. This helps your brain stop feeling under threat.
- Positive interactions – we’re meant to be around other people, we started off as part of a tribe don’t forget. So, spend time with people you can have a laugh with, meet up with friends, have fun.
- Positive actions – whenever you take a small step forward you feel a sense of achievement, which encourages you to take another step. Think about what will help you and take a small step in that direction.
Whenever you do any of those three things, your brain creates serotonin, which will reduce anxiety and make it easier for you to cope.
Learn stress management techniques
This time of life can be a stressful time, so it’s really important to learn how to manage that stress. Stress contributes to many of the menopausal symptoms we hate the most, such as weight gain and hot flushes. Many clients tell me that they feel guilty for spending any time on themselves; they put their families first always. Well newsflash, you can’t look after your family if you’re not looking after yourself. If you want to be there for others to lean on then you need to make yourself strong, or you’ll both topple over! So, now’s the time to carve some time into your diary that’s just for you. You know what helps you to relax. It might be a bubble bath, exercise, a walk in nature, reading your favourite magazine, phoning a friend. Whatever it is, put it in your diary and make it a priority. Trust me, your family will thank you when they see the positive effect it has on you!
Embrace the change
Yes, this is a new stage of your life, but instead of dreading it why not embrace it? Why not use it as an opportunity to evaluate where you are and what you want the next stage of your life to be like? If something isn’t working for you then now is the time to change it. So many women change jobs or start new businesses at this stage because now is the time to focus on your dreams and making them happen. Look at all you’ve achieved so far in your life and how you can build on it. Let your experience and life knowledge give you confidence and get excited about the next stage of your life. Vow to make your mid-life your best life!
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