What's the Deal With Mood Swings and Menopause?
Menopause is a natural part of aging but can be an uncomfortable time for many women, often leading to a roller coaster of emotions – one minute you feel on top of the world, and the next you’re crying or irrationally angry.
In addition to the physical and emotional changes that occur during menopause, many women are faced with significant life events that may further complicate their emotional health, such as children moving out to attend college or university, the burden of caring for sick parents, or the loss of a parent. Luckily, the emotional symptoms of this transitional period can often be successfully managed with lifestyle changes, medications and/or counseling. In this article we look at the relationships between mood swings and menopause, and how you can cope with the symptoms.
Symptoms of Mood Swings
Mood swings during perimenopause and menopause can differ among women, leading to an array of symptoms, including:
- Irritability: Many women report feeling easily annoyed and less patient.
- Anxiety: Many women report nervousness, worry, tension and panic during menopause. While some women find their existing anxiety worsens during menopause, others develop anxiety for the first time as they work through menopause.
- Depression: This is common during menopause, affecting about 20% of women going through this transition.
- Sleep difficulties: Sleep issues are also very common during menopause, affecting between 40% to 50% of women. Having trouble falling or staying asleep can make mood swings worse and can also interfere with a woman’s ability to function optimally throughout a day.
- Sadness: Some women going through menopause find they are more sensitive to events that may not have triggered them prior to menopause.
Some other mood-related symptoms menopausal people may feel are anger, decreased concentration and low self-esteem.
How Menopause Can Cause Mood Swings
During the menopause transition, there is a drastic shift in hormone levels. In particular, there is a significant drop in estrogen, which can cause a variety of changes in the body. Often these changes have a direct impact on mood swings. Let’s take a look at some associations that have been found due to a drop in estrogen:
- Decreased estrogen has been associated with fatigue, stress, irritability and concentration difficulties.
- Decreased estrogen is believed to affect the body’s ability to manage norepinephrine and serotonin; both of these substances have been linked to depression.
Another way menopause may contribute to mood swings is that hormone shifts can intensify feelings of depression, anxiety and anger. Additionally, menopausal symptoms can be so disruptive to a woman’s life that they contribute to mood swings. For instance, night sweats can be disruptive to sleep, waking a woman up multiple times throughout the night. Several nights of inadequate sleep can lead to a variety of symptoms including mental fogginess, irritability and other mood swing symptoms.
Coping With Mood Swings During Menopause
The good news is certain lifestyle changes can help manage menopausal mood swings:
- Consuming a healthy, balanced diet
- Regularly exercising
- Learning how to manage stress in a healthy way (meditation, yoga, Thai chi, deep breathing, etc.)
- Getting creative (art, dance, etc.)
- Getting involved in the community
- Maintaining positive relationships with friends and family
- Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods
- Getting an adequate amount of quality sleep
- Keeping the bedroom dark and cool to encourage optimal sleep
In cases where lifestyle changes do not effectively manage symptoms, women may be prescribed various medications.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
While hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is often recommended for women going through menopause, it does have health risks and is prescribed cautiously by healthcare practitioners.
Bioidentical Hormone Treatment
Bioidentical hormones are also sometimes used for women going through menopause to help manage menopausal symptoms, including mood swings. However, similar to HRT, there are risks to this type of medication.
For some women, antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may help to control menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and sleep issues.
In addition to lifestyle changes and medication, some women may benefit from counseling to help manage the changes that accompany menopause.
Get the Help You Need
It’s important to remember that menopausal mood swings are not depression. Depression is a complex medical condition that involves a constant low mood that persists for a lengthy period of time (more than two weeks). However, it should be noted that the risk of depression increases during menopause.
Symptoms of depression that should not be ignored include feelings of hopelessness, not enjoying life, inability to concentrate on everyday tasks, and/or self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Any woman who feels she’s suffering with more than mood swings should consult their physician to determine what the problem is and develop an effective treatment plan.
Menopause comes with many undesirable side effects including hot flashes, sleep disturbances and emotional changes, including mood swings. Often, these symptoms can be successfully managed with lifestyle changes, and/or a combination of medications and therapy.
If you think you’re suffering with menopausal mood swings, speak with your physician to determine the best course of care to get your symptoms under control and make the transition as comfortable as possible.