There’s more to it than just hot flushes & night sweats
‘The change’, ‘the time of life’, whatever you like to call the menopause, all women will experience it at some point. And with hormone levels being all over the place, it can be an emotional rollercoaster. Let’s help you gain control.
We’ve chatted all things menopause with women’s wellbeing and health specialist Dr Shahzadi Harper, who runs a menopause clinic on Harley Street. Striving to help ladies look and feel their best, who better to sit down with and discuss the link between the menopause and mental health? We’ve asked the questions, so you don’t have to.
What is the menopause?
Before we dive into the details, let’s take things back to basics. The menopause is a stage in a woman’s life where she’s no longer able to get pregnant naturally. This is because the ovaries stop making the oestrogen and progesterone hormones. The menopause has three stages – peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause. “You’ll know you’ve reached the menopause when you’ve had your last period and you’ve had no bleeding or spotting for a year,” says Dr Harper. “The average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51, but everyone is different.”
What is the peri-menopause?
Many women experience changes to their body years before their final period. The time leading up to the menopause is called the peri-menopause. “During the peri-menopause is usually the time when women start to experience menopausal symptoms,” adds Dr Harper. “For most women it starts with irregular periods and can begin up to 10 years before their periods end. On average, women can start to experience symptoms from as early as their mid-40s.” As well as irregular periods, other common menopausal symptoms include:
• Hot flushes – short, sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck and chest, making your skin red and sweaty
• Night sweats – hot flushes that happen during the night
• Vaginal dryness – pain, itching or discomfort during sex
• Dry eyes – eye drops are a great way to soothe dry and itchy eyes at home
• Difficulty sleeping
• Low sex drive
The menopause & mental health
As if the physical symptoms aren’t enough to deal with, mental health can also be a real struggle during the peri-menopause. “Changes in oestrogen levels can affect the levels of happy chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain, causing them to dip. Often women feel low, sad, weepy and lose a sense of themselves,” explains Dr Harper. Many women experience changes to their mood during the menopause including:
• Feeling low
• Mood swings
“Often women are unaware their symptoms are due to hormonal changes. They don’t connect the two together. Instead, they put them down to having young children, elderly parents to look after, a busy work and home life, and often don’t prioritise themselves,” says Dr Harper.
If you think you’re living with mental health issues, all of the following can be symptoms:
• Unexplained anxiety
• Feeling overwhelmed
• No longer enjoying things you usually do
• Losing your zest for life
• Feeling flat in mood
“Menopause mood disorder is different from depression as it varies day to day,” continues Dr Harper. “This is usually because of the fluctuating levels of oestrogen. There can be some good days in amongst the bad. Women with a history of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and postnatal depression (PND) are at a higher risk of struggling with mental health issues during the menopause.”
How can I look after my mental health during the menopause?
The hormonal rollercoaster that is the menopause can leave you feeling rather muddled up. We promise it isn’t all doom and gloom though. There are things you can try to help you get back to feeling like you again. Here are Dr Harper’s top tips on how to look after your mental health when going through the menopause:
Chat to your GP about treatment options
Lots of women choose to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help relieve menopausal symptoms. HRT helps to replace the hormones that drop during the menopause. Other treatment options are also available, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which is a talking therapy. Speak to your GP if you're struggling with your mental health. They’ll be able to offer advice and talk you through your options.
Working up a sweat offers far more than just helping to keep you physically fit. Moving your body is a great way to help your brain release happy hormones. You don’t have to go on a run for hours to feel the benefits either – even a brisk 10-minute walk can clear your mind and help you relax.
Connect to those around you
If you’re feeling low, it’s important to speak out and let those around you know how you’re feeling. This could be your family, friends, work colleagues or your GP. Talking through your worries and stresses can help improve how you’re feeling and can also help you find solutions for your problems.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
We all love a treat now and again. But when you’re feeling a little out of sorts, it can be tempting to binge on comfort foods and indulge a little too much (we’ve all been there!). Fuelling your body with healthy, nutritious foods is a great way to help you feel good.
Savour your slumber time
Getting enough sleep every night is super important for keeping you at your best. Most of us should aim for around eight hours of good-quality sleep each night.
Don’t let the menopause get you down. Make sure to speak to your GP if you're struggling with menopause symptoms, or if you develop any before the age of 45.