Drastic mood swings – an emotional roller coaster of irritation, depression, and anger – define the years leading up to menopause, otherwise known as perimenopause. Studies show that one in four women will experience symptoms of depression and emotional irritability during this time. Many women experience some form of emotional instability before her period is set to begin (PMS), but with time these symptoms tend to last longer and become more severe. Unfortunately, why this occurs is still unclear.
“We all know that there is a correlation between your hormones and your moods, but we really don’t understand it,” says Susan Love, MD, in her book Dr. Susan Love’s Menopause and Hormone Book.“The hormonal changes don’t actually cause the depression, but they change your body’s equilibrium, so that a situation that would normally upset you a little upsets you a lot, and a situation that would normally upset you a lot devastates you.”
Fortunately, there are ways to take control of your emotions and make this transition bearable for you and your family. Here are just a few suggestions:
Control Hot Flashes
Hot flashes can make even the happiest women moody. Keeping your house cool and wearing layers and/or loose clothing may provide some relief. Tight clothing can make hot flashes more intense. So trade in your leggings for looser, more comfortable clothing, at least until your symptoms ease.
Adding soy to your diet could also help. “The average woman in Japan (where hot flashes are relatively rare) eats four to six servings of soy per day,” says Christine Northrup, MD, in her book The Wisdom of Menopause. Some may also benefit from meditation. “Studies show meditation can cool hot flashes in 90 percent of women, without any hormonal therapy at all,” says Northrup. “This is because meditation lowers stress hormone levels.”
A good night’s sleep is another victim of perimenopause. “Insufficient sleep leaves us obviously drowsy, fatigued, and irritable,” says Northrup, which makes this transition just that much harder. She blames insomnia on “unresolved emotions such as anger, sadness, or anxiety, which often accompany the enormous changes of midlife.” She suggests establishing and sticking to a firm bedtime, even on weekends, to give you sufficient sleep. Follow that up with a soothing nighttime ritual that includes dressing comfortably and writing down everything that is bothering you so you won’t run through it “like a gerbil on a wheel” while trying to get to sleep.
There is no scientific proof that exercise reduces hot flashes or insomnia, but it can improve your self image, which goes a long way to improving your mood. Other benefits of regular exercise include, according to the Mayo Clinic, keeping your weight in check, reducing cancer risks, improving bone health, reducing risks for other diseases such as diabetes, and it’s a proven mood enhancer.
If you’ve been out of the exercise habit for a while, Christine Northrup recommends you just start moving. “Movement is contagious. Today’s dancing around your living room will eventually wake up enough of your muscles that you’ll want to do more.” Keep trying new activities until you find some you enjoy. Hate running? Go for a walk or bike ride. Just remember to include some strength training because lifting weights can slow down and even improve bone loss.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
If lifestyle changes do not work, your doctor may suggest hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Some see this therapy as a last resort because it has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke. However, for those suffering from menopausal symptoms the relief it provides may be worth it. “If you have moderate to severe symptoms that are sufficient to interfere with your life, then by all means take HRT – but not for more than four to five years” says Jacques Rossouw, MD, and director of the Women’s Health Initiative in an article in Everyday Health. “And in most cases it’s not even necessary to take it that long.”
“It’s something women know intuitively but often ignore: You have to take care of yourself,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, in Everyday Health. The author of What Every Woman Needs to Know About Menopausesays, “De-stress daily through deep breathing, yoga, exercise, or even by talking with a good friend or your spouse. Spend time alone. Don’t smoke, eat healthfully, and stay active. These things are crucial for keeping your mood steady.”
That last one is the most important. Your body and mind are going through intense changes. Northrup likens it to puberty. “Externally and internally, this period is a mirror image of adolescence, a time when our bodies and brains were also going through major hormonal shifts that gave us the energy to attempt to individuate from our families and become the person we were meant to be.” However, the pressures of life as a teenager differ greatly from those we currently experience. The pressures of balancing careers and family life take their toll. Be kind to yourself, and your body and mind will thank you, making this difficult transition that much easier to handle.