Anxiety and Menopause
What’s the connection? How do I find relief?
(Excerpt from The Magic of Menopause: A Holistic Guide to Get Your Happy Back! by Lorraine Miano)
Unless you’ve experienced extreme anxiety, it’s hard to understand exactly what it feels like. I am guilty of being one of those people who couldn’t understand, be sympathetic, or thought, “Just get over it.”
I want to sincerely apologize to anyone in my life who I may have been dismissive to when they were experiencing anxiety. At the age of fifty-six, I experienced my first anxiety attack. It wasn’t until I had that feeling of, “What the hell is happening to me??” did it hit me full in the face. I was experiencing what I now refer to as “that evil monster”. This was the kind of anxiety that leaves your heart pounding, your body shaking, and your mind racing with uncontrollable thoughts. I truly thought I was having a heart attack. I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. The feeling in my gut reminded me of that feeling you get on the downward slope of a roller coaster, but it just wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I could not control my thoughts.
On some level, many women, I believe, hold anxiety within the confines of their multitasking, nurturing (of everyone but themselves) and worrisome bodies. I am sure that I did for years. It rears its ugly little head in many different disguises, some of which include ADD, PMS, IBS, M & M’s…oh wait.
According to UCLA psychiatrist and anxiety expert, Dr. Jason Eric Schiffman, who is affiliated with the UCLA Anxiety Disorders Program and Anxiety.org, the connection between hormonal changes and anxiety and panic attacks is strong, especially during the perimenopausal period, where women are more likely to experience the evil monster. Once menopause passes, many women find that their anxiety will decrease. There may also be other factors that can contribute to anxiety during menopause, such as an increase of physical symptoms or negative life events.
Sometimes we don’t realize what is happening to us. Even more than this, we don’t realize just what “anxiety” is physically doing to our female bodies. This is especially true as we approach middle-age and menopause. Changing hormones, physical and emotional changes, along with an increase in stress levels can lead to anxiety and depression in some women. The inability to “cope” with stress during the week before a menstrual cycle (PMS) can often lead to feeling more anxious. There have also been studies linking a decrease in estrogen levels during menopause with cognitive and memory dysfunction and having difficulty concentrating. These can mimic ADD symptoms, or in the case of women who may already have ADD/ADHD, can worsen their symptoms.
Most scientists agree that anxiety contributes to the onset of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also known as spastic colon. Some of the symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, boating, gastrointestinal discomfort, and erratic bowel movements. Other factors may contribute to IBS, but anxiety is considered one of the main reasons.
There may also be the added worries of an aging body, caring for our parents, adult children, or both, and the frustration of possibly having friends and family members that can’t understand what we are experiencing and going through.
There were several holistic methods I discovered during my bout with severe anxiety that helped me tremendously. (You can read more about the reasons behind my anxiety and how I overcame it in my book) Here are some of the ways I “got my happy back!”
- Gratitude Journaling: This was a life saver. Focusing on and appreciating all of the good in our lives provides us with the ability to open ourselves up to more abundance. If you begin each day with writing down the things that you are grateful for, it has set your tone for the day in the most positive way you could ever imagine. Often in the evenings, especially just before bedtime, while we are laying there, going over all the things we must get accomplished and the worries we can’t let go of, taking out a pen and paper and writing down what we are thankful for provides us with a sense of peace and gratitude that can release us of the anxieties that hold our bodies and minds in their evil grip. Just start by writing down five things you are grateful for. Do it for 30 days and experience the difference it will make in your life.
- Supplements are a great support for women’s health, especially as it pertains to stress and anxiety. (Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before beginning any supplements)
- Vitamin B Complex: Consists of B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. These vitamins play an important role in our bodies. Vitamin B1, or thiamine helps with strengthening the body when under stress as well as boosting the immune system. Vitamin B6 is responsible for helping the body make certain hormones and neurotransmitters (chemicals) in the brain, as well as helping to boost immune system functioning. B vitamins are responsible for metabolizing fat and protein, as well as helping the body convert food into glucose. This provides the body with energy. They are also responsible for helping with healthy nervous system functioning.
- Fish Oil: Several studies have shown that the omega-3 in fish oil helps with mood disorders and depression. Interestingly, according to studies by Joseph Hibbeln, MD, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Health, depression is on the rise in the United States, possibly due to our health-conscious effort to reduce the amount of saturated fats and cholesterol in our diets. As Americans eat less of the good sources of omea-3, like red meat and eggs, they are increasing their intake of polyunsaturated fats, like soybean, corn and sunflower oils, which are lower in omega-3. (Always check with your healthcare provider before taking a fish oil supplement, as omega-34 may worsen some conditions such as heart disease)
- Magnesium: Low levels of magnesium in the body can lead to anxiety. There are so many benefits to taking a magnesium supplement. This supplement helps keep your blood pressure normal as well as keeps your bones strong. If you use PPI’s (proton pump inhibitors) for treatment of acid reflux, such as Nexium, Prilosec or Prevacid, chances are your magnesium levels may be affected. I highly recommend using the very popular CALM by Natural Vitality, which is a powder you mix with warm or hot water for a soothing drink. It is made from magnesium citrate and magnesium ascorbate and comes in several flavors. I like to take this right before heading to bed. This type of magnesium can act as a laxative, so be sure to follow the directions and start with a small amount, building up to the recommended dosage. Another type of magnesium I like is the High Absorption 100% Chelated Magnesium by Doctor’s Best. This does not have the laxative effect. It comes in pill form. This is elemental magnesium chelated with amino acids glycine and lysine. Either type of magnesium supplement is beneficial.
- L-Theanine: This amino acid is found mostly in green and black tea. You can purchase it as a supplement, but should look for those made with Suntheanine. People diagnosed with anxiety have found that it helps by inducing a relaxing effect without causing drowsiness. It is also used to prevent Alzheimer’s disease as well as to lower blood pressure, and has been granted GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status by the FDA.
- Chamomile/Lavender Tea: I drink several cups of this tea daily for its soothing effect. There are many other types of herbal teas that can help soothe your anxiety as well, such as passionflower, kava, and peppermint.
- Probiotics: Recent studies show a direct connection with your gut bacteria and your brain. Researchers have found evidence that a balance of your gut bacteria may do more for your mood than any other contributing factor. Taking a good probiotic as well as consuming probiotic foods will do wonders for your anxiety and depression. Some great probiotic foods are fermented veggies (such as sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi), Kefir (a kind of liquid yogurt drink), and kombucha tea.
- To help further with your symptoms, reduce or remove the following list of items that can cause or exacerbate anxiety:
- Caffeine: This stimulant can trigger your fight-or-flight response, which can make anxiety worse and trigger an anxiety attack.
- Wine/Alcohol: You may turn to a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage to “soothe” your daily stress or nervousness, however, increased consumption of alcohol could actually increase your anxiety.
- News programs: Of course you want to stay informed about what is occurring in the world, however, by limiting your exposure to the abundance of negative media we are bombarded with on a daily basis during times of extreme stress and anxiety in your own personal world, you can reduce the effects it will have on your personal health. I am not suggesting you discontinue listening to the news, just reducing it to a comfortable bearable level.
- Too much computer and/or device time: This is linked to an increase in anxiety and depression, especially if you are using more than one device at a time.8
- You may want to add the following to improve your mood and reduce anxiety:
- Exercise: You need to get out and move! Exercise helps to reduce anxiety and improves your mood! Just twenty minutes of exercise when you are feeling anxious can do wonders!
- Breathing and Meditation: These are two wonderful ways to reduce your stress and anxiety levels. My favorite breathing exercise is the 4-7-8 Breath. Dr. Andrew Weil was one of my instructors in school, and I remember him saying something to the effect of, “If you don’t remember anything else I tell you today, remember this breathing exercise.” I have used this exercise with numerous clients and have been told that it has helped tremendously with their sleep and anxiety. One of my clients said she can’t even get through the whole series without falling asleep. The technique is really quite simple. First, you breathe out all of the air in your lungs through your mouth. Next, breathe in for a count of four through your nose, with your tongue placed behind your front teeth. Hold the breath for a count of seven. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight. Do four sets of these at each sitting. The first few times you may feel a bit dizzy. This is normal. You should do this at least two times per day, once in the morning and once just before bed. The effects are cumulative. You should begin to feel more relaxed. You can also use this method occasionally during the day if you are feeling especially anxious or stressed. Meditation is a fantastic stress reliever. There are both physical and mental benefits to using meditation. The physical benefits include reducing blood pressure, improves energy levels, reduces risk of heart disease and stroke. Mindfulness practice helps to decrease inflammation and chronic conditions. Meditation can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and premature death. More importantly for you, meditation also helps treat menopausal symptoms! The fact remains that menopause stress can make us old! It can contribute to osteoporosis, the loss of skin elasticity, memory loss, and weight gain. By calming our mind and heart, you can reduce those menopausal symptoms and find some happiness!
I want you to concentrate on changing your mindset. You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind. You must really believe that you can fix this! You must surround yourself with positive influences. These include people who lift you up, books and audio which inspire you (look for some suggestions in the resource guide of my book), as well as activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. You are a woman who is strong. You are a woman who can overcome what life throws at her.
You’ll need to do some good work. You’ll need to do some extensive self-care, but believe me, it’s worth it! You are worth it!
You can overcome your anxiety and depression! You can get your happy back!
Cheers & Love! XO