You’re laughing hysterically one minute and woefully weeping the next. No, you’re not crazy; it’s just likely that you’re going through a case of the menopause, and feeling like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster may be the new normal as you go through this significant life change.
As a woman waves goodbye to her childbearing years, it can generate a whole host of different feelings. Some may be glad that they will no longer have to fuss with tampons or pads or have to worry about any embarrassing leaks each month. Others will be relieved that they can now enjoy sex without having to worry about falling pregnant. And while all these elements can be extremely liberating as a woman gets older, there’s also the issue of mood swings that, unfortunately, is an unwanted part and parcel of the menopause.
But not to worry, whether it’s a mild case of the blues or you feel like you simply cannot get through your day without constantly feeling down in the dumps, we’re here to help you cope with your crabby days, sleepless nights, and emotional episodes.
Why does menopause lead to mood swings?
Our hormones are assigned the Herculean task of regulating literally each and every process in our body, from our growth and development to our thoughts and feelings and all the things in between. These mighty little messengers send chemical signals to all the different cells, organs, and tissues, instructing them of what to do and how to behave. So, keeping them in balance is crucial to ensuring that our body functions harmoniously.
However, as a woman enters menopause, the female hormones, estrogen, and progesterone – largely produced in the ovaries and responsible for a woman’s physical features and reproduction – begin to gradually decline. During this process, physical alterations occur, such as irregular periods, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, insomnia, and diminished sex drive. But for some women, the invisible changes can often be the most unbearable.
Estrogen and progesterone are directly linked to the normal functioning of mood-boosting hormones including serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, as well as mental clarity. So when levels of these sex hormones begin to deplete, it may have a negative effect on a woman’s mood, making her feel like she’s in a constant state of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (just when we thought it was all over); her memory and concentration can also be affected, which can further exacerbate negative emotions.
All of these physical and emotional changes are simply Mother Nature’s way of telling us that we’re inevitably getting older, which of course, can bring about its own set of stresses and anxieties about the future, and in turn, cause reasonable upset and mood swings.
It’s worth noting that not all women will experience menopausal mood swings, and it’s pretty much a guessing game of who will and won’t get them, but if you had severe PMS symptoms in your younger years, it’s a likely indication that your mood will face more intense fluctuations. Additionally, a history of depression, heightened stress levels, and poor physical health all increase your chances of undergoing emotional turbulence during menopause.
What are the symptoms of menopausal mood swings?
Emotional changes are a normal part of the menopause, so it is best to simply allow yourself to go through whatever mood you’re feeling, rather than trying to fight or suppress it. Here are the most obvious symptoms you can expect:
- Extreme and sudden mood changes
- Feeling sad and weepy
- Anger and aggressiveness
- Lack of motivation
There’s a good chance that if you’re experiencing any of the above emotional changes, along with the physical symptoms, you could be going through the menopause. However, these signs could also be linked to a number of other medical or psychiatric conditions. If you’re unsure, speak to your doctor who will be able to diagnose your issues and hopefully put your mind at ease.
How can I cope with the emotional changes of menopause?
When the going gets tough, it’s all too easy to turn to harmful methods of self-medication, such as alcohol and drugs, to alleviate your anxieties. And while these substances can offer a tempting form of temporary escapism, the effects are fleeting and fruitless in the long-term, and could potentially leave you in a worse off position.
Instead, why not turn to more effective, long-lasting coping mechanisms to combat your menopausal mood swings? Adopting positive and proactive lifestyle changes could be the answer to stabilizing your erratic emotions. Here are some things you can do:
- Try Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): At a low dose and for a short period of time, HRT can be a worthwhile option for many women whose mood changes are detracting from their quality of life. It’s worth noting, though, HRT does come with some health risks, so speak with your doctor to weigh the risks with the benefits.
- Tale low-dose birth control: Replenishing the body with small, synthetic doses of estrogen and progesterone can counteract the levels naturally being lost in the body and stabilize your mood.
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): While they come with their own set of side-effects (which medications don’t?), SSRIs can be effective in treating mood swings, hot flashes, and insomnia, especially as a follow-up treatment to estrogen therapy.
- Acupuncture: This method can be helpful in balancing hormone levels, increasing the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, and regulating the flow of energy through the body.
- Seek counselling: Menopause can often feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, so counselling can provide a safe space to air your anguish and anxieties to a medical professional who can help you explore your transition and develop coping strategies.
- Eat healthily: There’s a clear link between our food and our mood, which is why it is so important to eat a varied diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats; and while you’re at it, cut out sugar and processed foods to stand a fighting chance at beating the burdens of menopause.
- Cut out caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant drug, which can put you on edge and make you moody, not to mention keep you up at night – that’s the last thing your yo-yo-ing hormones need.
- Exercise regularly: You can literally walk, run, swim, or even cycle your stress away. Keeping active and staying fit triggers the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins that fill you with a feeling of fulfilment, self-efficacy, and greater energy.
- Sleep well: Sometimes, the physical symptoms of menopause, such as night sweats and insomnia, can wreak further havoc on your emotional state. Let’s face it, even the most hormonally-stable of people can feel cranky after a poor night’s sleep. So, practice good sleep hygiene by making sure your bedroom is dark and at an ideal temperature, putting your phone away before bedtime, and going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
- Manage your stress: Keeping calm and carrying on is the key to curbing your mood swings. Think about practising mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing and meditation, or exhibiting gratitude, getting a massage, and doing some yoga to get rid of that deep-seated tension.
- Stay connected with family and friends: ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’, and there’s a lot more truth behind the saying than you may think. Research shows that women who form close bonds with friends and family members have higher levels of progesterone, which can help relieve stress and give a much-needed boost to your mood. It may also be worth speaking with other women going through the same changes to make you feel better and learn natural ways to treat your symptoms.
- Try herbal supplements: The good thing about alternative treatments is that they’re nowhere near as intrusive or risky as their conventional counterparts, although you may still want to give your doctor the heads-up before trying them. Taking a soy isoflavone supplement or black cohosh may help to beat the blues, thanks to their ability to mimic estrogenic hormones in your body.
The silver lining amidst the dark, dreary cloud that is the menopause is that the debilitating symptoms won’t last forever. Thankfully, the hormonal system eventually evens out itself; a process that can take anywhere between 2 and 10 years. But, in the meantime, following the above steps can help carry you through this cumbersome period and bring you out the other side of the twisty tunnel feeling right as rain once again.
- Dresden, D 2017, What causes mood swings during menopause?, Medical News Today, viewed 15 July 2020, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317566
- Hormone Health Network 2018, Menopause mood swings, Hormone.org, viewed 15 July 2020, https://www.hormone.org/diseases-and-conditions/menopause/menopause-mood-swings
- Johnson, T.C 2019, The emotional roller coaster of menopause, Web MD, viewed 15 July 2020, https://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/emotional-roller-coaster
- Whelan, C 2017, What you should know about menopause and mood swings, Healthline, viewed 15 July 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/menopause-mood-swings#causes