Why Menopause is Messing Up My Mood

Distressed woman
Menopause and Mood. Mache Seibel

Why is this happening to me? Brain fog, mood swings, irritability, uncontrolled emotions, mood medications no longer working. Aargh! It's just not right! It's just not fair! It's just menopause?

One thing is certain, the changes in menopause can reek havoc on your mood and there are a lot of women who would understand it if you talked with them about it.

Why does this happen? There are a lot of reasons.

One of the most important ones is change in your hormone levels. First, levels of estrogen and progesterone get increasingly irregular and then they get increasingly lower until the amount of those important sex hormones that circulate to your brain are down to levels your body hasn't seen since you were entering puberty.

Here are some specific reasons to be on the look out for:

  1. You are sensitive to hormone fluctuations. Some women are more susceptible to hormonal changes. They are more likely to get PMS, post partum depression, or even have a history of clinical depression. If that sounds like you, you may be a good candidate for hormone therapy at the time of menopause.  Talk about this with your doctor or other healthcare provider. Hormone therapy is a great way to balance out the extra sensitivity. I discuss this in great detail in my new book, The Estrogen Window due from Rodale Press in April 2016.
  1. Your Chronically Sleep Deprived. There is no doubt about it – menopause creates a sleep sieve. And it is hard not to have disrupted sleep; hot flashes, getting up to go to the bathroom, palpitations, sleep apnea and restless leg are all fairly common symptoms of menopause that negatively impact sleep. Once again, estrogen (or other treatments) can play a role. Working to lower hot flashes, improve a sensitive bladder, or treating sleep apnea are all very doable and definitely improve sleep. And poor sleep is much more than just a source of being tired, it contributes to diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Estrogen is able to increase REM or rapid eye movement sleep – the restorative part of sleep. So getting more sleep will improve your mind, your mood and your mentation.
  1. A history of mental health diagnosis. Estrogen levels play a major role in a woman's mood and mindset. As levels fluctuate and slowly get lower, it can play a huge role in how well a person with a mental health diagnosis is doing. For instance, not only are women with a history of clinical depression at greater risk for depression in the years around menopause, women with other conditions such as anxiety, panic attack, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disease and others tend to worsen around the time of menopause. This doesn't mean things will get out of hand. It does mean than working with both your gynecologist and mental health professional will give you the best outcome.
  2. Other factors in your life. It just makes sense that the more things that are out of control at a time when you are struggling to keep your emotional balance, the more challenging it can be. So if you are taking care of a sick parent, working at a challenging job, having financial problems, problems with one of your kids, moving to a new area where you don't have support, going through menopause can be tougher.  These issues too often are overlooked when women come in for their healthcare visits and should be part of the discussion.
  1. Your mindset. It's amazing how much a person's outcome depends on what they expect will happen. Have you ever gone into an experience and imagined ahead of time that you would be successful at whatever you were supposed to do? Even if all things are equal, being calm to determine what choices you will make is often enough to make the right choices. Being anxious or just imagining there is no good outcome makes a bad experience more likely. As Henry Ford, "Whether you think you can or you can't, you're probably right."

So be prepared for some minor anxiety and mood swings. But don't anticipate the worst. Menopause can be as exciting and happy as any other part of your life – and with the right information, preparation and mindset, the best may be yet to come.

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