This piece was originally published on Elektra Health.
Menopause and perimenopause often bring up intense feelings of anxiety, worry, and stress. While anxiety is a normal symptom of menopause, it’s still tough to deal with — especially when you’re already going through so many other changes. Whether you’re familiar with anxiety or this is the first time you’ve experienced it to this degree, it’s overwhelming when these feelings negatively impact your daily life.
Although it’s normal to experience heightened anxiety during menopause, if you have prolonged, intense feelings of worry and/or stress that make it hard to go about life normally, speak with your healthcare provider right away. There are a range of treatment options available, including lifestyle changes, new practices (like therapy), and medication. Your provider can work with you to find the best treatment plan. You can feel like yourself again.
If you’re thinking about what you can do on your own, there are some ways to cope with anxiety. Lifestyle and mood disorders are related, and it’s possible to make positive changes that help curb your symptoms. Here are some lifestyle changes you may want to consider if you are battling anxiety during menopause.
Consider your diet
Try to limit processed foods and added sugars and instead focus on maintaining a well-balanced diet with a wide range of whole foods, especially veggies and healthy fats (e.g., olive oil, avocados, nuts like almonds and walnuts, and fatty fish). Eating a healthy diet leads to improved brain health and mood.
Spend time in nature
Routine, frequent exposure to the great outdoors has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression while improving an overall sense of wellbeing. Never underestimate the power of Mother Nature (aka vitamin N) to boost your mood!
We know it’s easier said than done when everything and everyone seems to be competing for your attention. Here are some ways to manage stress.
Many people enjoy taking the time to sit with their thoughts each day. If you are a beginner, try meditation with an app or a guided class.
Cultivate a gratitude and/or journaling practice
Studies have linked both practices to decreased anxiety, and they can also help improve general feelings of wellbeing and facilitate mindfulness.
Get high-quality sleep
Sleep disruptions affect our stress hormone levels which, in turn, impair thinking and emotional regulation. That’s why it’s so important to prioritize those Zzzzs.
Prioritize downtime with family and friends
While we may be conditioned with a “go-go-go” mentality, it’s important to step back and prioritize rest and downtime with loved ones (pencil it into your calendar!). After all, human beings are social creatures, and we gain a great deal of comfort from connection.
Don’t forget about “me” time
Call it what you want — self-care, alone time, R&R — but you deserve it. There’s nothing selfish about taking time for yourself, especially when it supports your mental health and overall wellness.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT involves working with a coach or therapist to recognize and change beliefs — including negative thoughts and worries. That’s the “cognitive” part. And then there’s the “behavioral” part, which helps you develop better habits and mindset. It’s ideal for those looking to address underlying causes of anxiety while working toward long-term management.
Scientists have found that regular movement decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes your mood, improves sleep, and boosts self-esteem. According to the World Health Organization, 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity movement (a brisk walk counts!) can help reduce the risk of developing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Supplements and over-the-counter solutions
According to some studies, certain supplements and over-the-counter solutions may help reduce symptoms of anxiety. Talk to your healthcare provider about which solution may be best for you.
SSRIs and SNRIs remain the first line of pharmacologic defense for anxiety and depression in peri- and menopausal women. SSRIs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and SNRIs are serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors — total tongue twisters! These neurotransmitters are antidepressants that work by regulating serotonin (the “happy hormone” that controls mood) and norepinephrine (which plays a key role in the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to stress).
A note about antidepressants: there is still a stigma around taking these medications but for many of us who experience symptoms, they can be incredibly effective and helpful, and we have decades of research to back this up. Talk to your provider if you have questions or are wondering if an antidepressant might be a good fit for you.
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