By Mia Eng

Chills. Night sweats. Hot flashes. Sleep problems. Menopause involves various physical symptoms that can affect women’s health. But did you know that it also causes several changes in your mental well-being? Many women are familiar with the basics of the onset of menopause; yet, they often overlook its complexities, psychological side effects, and positive attributes.

While entering this new stage in life, it may be confusing to navigate through it alone; and even for young women, it can be difficult to manage mental health in general. So how do we manage transitions into new phases, and what are the upsides of menopause?

First off, what is menopause?

Menopause refers to the time when your menstrual cycles end. Typically, it occurs between the ages of 45 and 58, with an average age of 52 for women in the United States.

As women approach this middle-age, they will go through the three phases of menopause: perimenopause, menopause, and post menopause, and experience changes in their physical and mental health.

Perimenopause, meaning “around menopause”, begins in one’s mid-to-late 40’s, about 4 years before the end of their menstrual cycles. During this time, one may experience a variety of physical symptoms like weight gain, chills, sleep problems, and more. However, changes to one’s well-being does not end here. 

Women in perimenopause may begin to encounter feelings of anxiety or depression, even if they haven’t had any struggles with their mental health before. About 38% of women in late perimenopause reported symptoms of depression, which include fatigue, mood swings, and irritability. 

Other signs and symptoms that many women feel include crying more than usual, feeling overwhelmed, not feeling like yourself, having low energy and/or motivation, an increased worry or anxiety about everyday things, or a difficulty concentrating. While changes in mood are a common experience, if these symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks and impair functioning, professional help would be a great option for seeking relief.

The next phase, menopause, arises 2 to 8 years following the start of perimenopause, when one’s ovaries stop the release of eggs. Unless one has an abnormally early menopause, tests are not generally needed to diagnose it. 

Mood change continues to be a common symptom that many women encounter, brought about by irregular levels of estrogen and progesterone. These reproductive hormones can become imbalanced, which interferes with the regulation of other hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine—all of which assist with mood-boosting.

Additionally, anxieties about aging, one’s children, and losses of loved ones can complicate emotional shifts, especially when combined with frustration from other symptoms (e.g. sexual issues, sleep difficulties) or substance use. Without proper coping mechanisms, stressors may build up and result in the development of some disorders, such as anxiety or depression.

In fact, every woman goes this natural progression of life called menopause, though the experiences vary. These symptoms still can affect your sleep, your weight, your relationships, and especially your mental wellbeing.

So how do we cope with these emotional side effects?

An important aspect of maintaining your mental health is to recognize when you feel a change in your well-being. Depression, a common mood disorder, may not be the only potential obstacle in the postmenopausal world, but it’s important for women of all ages (and those of other genders) to understand. Some signs and symptoms associated with depression include:

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Changes in appetite and/or sleeping patterns
  • Troubles with memory, concentration, or decision-making
  • Lack of energy
  • Frustration, irritability, or agitation
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Unusual physical pain

Wellness and lifestyle changes can be extremely useful when faced with postmenopausal depression, and even for daily life struggles or mood swings. Though the process of menopause can be difficult, you are not alone, and there are many ways to help combat the mental struggles during this time in life. 

What Are Some Ways I Can Take Charge of My Well-being?

Physical health is closely tied to mental health. Making sure to sleep enough (about 7-8 hours), eating healthy, having consistent check ups with your doctor, and exercising regularly all positively contribute towards one’s physical wellness. 

Exercise especially boosts mental health, as it relieves stress, improves moods, and increases energy. To create a workout plan that substantially enhances mental and physical health, one should aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day for 5 days a week.

During menopause, ample sleep seems like a hard goal to reach. However, it can be useful to follow a regular sleep schedule, which involves going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and setting a dark, cool, and quiet sleeping environment.

Another major contributor to physical wellness is the avoidance of harmful habits. A risk factor to both physical and mental health is smoking, which increases risk for depression and other health complications. If you believe you need help to quit smoking—or need help during any part of menopause—reach out to your doctor to learn helpful tools and techniques.

Aside from physical health, emotional wellness also plays a big factor in our overall health. Practicing relaxation techniques—such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, and massages—can help with reducing stress. Additionally, picking up new hobbies like gardening, music, writing, and hiking improves our emotional well-being by allowing us to get more creative, active, and motivated. What’s important when starting new hobbies is to stick to what you enjoy; they’re supposed to be fun! Explore your interests and make the best of your free time.

Above all, an important aspect of mental health is to know that you do not have to go through life alone. If you feel that these wellness tips aren’t helping enough, it may be in your best interest to seek support groups, talk to a therapist, or consult a doctor for medications. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help, there are many people around you who are ready to assist you!

The Positives of Menopause

Menopause causes many physical changes, risks to other health problems, and a potential decrease in one’s mental health. So what’s the bright side to all of these?

Well, you are stepping into a new stage in life. It can be scary, but many women begin to look at their lives from a whole new perspective. Because of the associated health changes with menopause, many begin to take extra steps to care for themselves, tend to their interpersonal relationships, and evaluate their occupational satisfaction. It is also a time where a lot of women feel a greater sense of (healthy) risk-taking, self-assurance, and closeness to other women experiencing menopause.

And arguably the best part? No more periods! Your menstrual cycles have come to an end, and there is no more need to worry about cramping, PMS, buying feminine products, or dealing with leakages. Cynthia Stuenkel, MD, women’s health expert, endocrinologist, and clinical professor of medicine at University of California, San Diego says: “I’ve had patients tell me, ‘I can wear white again!’”

References

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