Ah, the teenage years. You’re wide-eyed and full of hope. Then anger. Then confusion. Then hunger. Now, you’re irritated because the internet on your phone won’t load .57 seconds faster. Suddenly, you’re back to an even-keel, and ready to take on the world. Or, are you just ready for a nap?? Good thing the days of puberty-induced mood swings are long behind you! But, then why do you feel all of the above, well into middle age? No, you’re not having a “Freaky Friday!” moment, re-entering your teen years (thank goodness!). It’s most likely your brain … on menopause. Menopause mood swings, that is.
The sneaky hormonal changes that take place during the menopausal transition can do a number (a very high number) on your physical and emotional health. The two main hormones that get the brunt of the menopausal transition are estrogen and progesterone (or E and P as we so fondly refer to them in a previous post). As these hormone levels decrease, mood changes can be as common as Brad Pitt in a 1980s teen drama. The good news? You’re not alone! Feeling “crazy” (out of control mood/emotions-wise) is normal for this stage of life. You’re in great company. So, jump on the not-crazy-but-totally Natural Biological Process (NBP) train, and let’s take a scenic trip through the main effects of the menopause journey and how to manage them.
Friendly Disclaimer: Before I spell out the skinny on menopause mood swings, let me define how we’re using the word “crazy.” As a catch-all word, crazy means more than one thing. When I say “crazy,” I mean silly, strange, irrational, unexplainable, or outlandish. I may also use it as a modifier, meaning “extremely” or “intensely.” When I say “crazy,” I am not describing a person with mental illness or a mental illness itself.
The Effects of Menopause Hormonal Changes
During the different stages of menopause, your hormones are constantly changing. One minute, they’re flying higher than an international jet. The next, they’re dipping lower than an Olympic gymnast at a limbo competition and you’re feeling #FOMO for the life you used to know. Needless to say, these hormonal changes can have quite an impact on your emotions.
What Happens When Hormonal Levels Decline?
Put on your Bill Nye fan helmet because I’m about to get all science-y on you. During the months and years leading up to menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels start to decline. Throughout the body, receptors (cells that respond to stimulus and send a signal to your nerves) are available for both estrogen and progesterone. When levels start to decline, every system in the body with these hormone receptors detect the change. When the brain takes notice—just like a pre-teen at a brand new middle school—it often has a difficult time adjusting.
To put it another way: Imagine you are driving down the road and your gas light starts flashing, where your body is the car and the gas light is your brain. Your body is running low on estrogen and approaching empty. Instead of stopping for a refill, your body goes through a chain of biochemical activities that affect serotonin levels and endorphins (AKA the mood-regulating chemicals). Menopause is like a cross-country trip where you can never find a gas station when you need one, every diner you stop in for lunch has two waitresses changing the thermostat between 110 or 60 degrees, and your kids keep demanding snacks, but all you have left are raisins.
What Changes Will You Experience When Hormonal Levels Decline?
As your hormone levels decline, you may experience surprising highs followed by unexpected lows. I have lovingly dubbed it “The Menopause Rollercoaster.” While on this coaster, your ovaries are working overtime to produce the proper amount of estrogen … and are failing. Some days they are overshooting their target, while others they aren’t producing enough. Because your ovaries can’t seem to get their act together (don’t worry, they are about to go on a permanent vacation), these ups and downs have a domino effect on other systems in the body, including your brain, which is trying to compensate for the fluctuations.
When the hormonal changes are small, the adjustments are easy. But the big adjustments create some serious biological drama. We’re talking mood swings, temper tantrums, anxiety, irritability, and depression, oh my! I recommend you start a collection of adorable throw pillows. Not because they’re cute, but because they’re great to scream into!
How Can You Manage the “Am I Crazy” Feelings of Menopause?
First things first: You are NOT crazy. With 25 million people entering menopause every year around the globe, there’s a lot of people who are kept in the dark without an outlet to gain information or to share their struggles. But, rest assured, you are not losing your mind. You’re just losing your period. The good news is that there are ways to help combat these
crazy totally-normal-but-still-incredibly-frustrating feelings.
Menopause Mood Swings
Your body is going through a lot and you’re probably at a loss as to how to explain this to those in your inner circle, including your family, am I right? No need to fret or feel guilty. Menopause mood swings, irritability, lack of motivation, or increased risk of depression and anxiety are all completely normal, especially during perimenopause as estrogen levels are on the decline. Cut yourself some slack! In fact, if you have the focus and energy to be reading this article, you’re already doing great.
Some people might not go through menopause mood swings. But, if you’re one of the lucky ones, you probably aren’t reading this article. For the rest of us, here are some tips to help:
- Exercise regularly. According to at least one study, performing 50 minutes of aerobic training four times a week helped to alleviate several common menopausal symptoms, including night sweats, irritability, and mood swings. If exercising during overwhelming days is too much for you—which is totally fine!—then go for a short walk. Physical activity releases endorphins and other feel-good chemicals in the brain, so it’s a simple way to give our overworked brain a hug.
- Eat healthy food. Yeah, we all want the carbs. Fatigue and stress caused by hormonal fluctuations during menopause can leave us craving ‘quick-fix’ refined carbs and sugar. This type of food can make us feel good in the moment, but then the feeling of lethargy takes over ( aka, food coma). Mix in some healthy foods every once in a while and you may notice the difference in your mood.
- Try to get enough sleep. “But uh, I’m also experiencing hot flashes and night sweats.” I hear you. Follow the tips outlined above and you might start to see a change in your sleep situation.
- Find ways to lessen your stress. LOL, easier said than done, amirite? It can be stressful just trying to find ways to reduce stress! But, we all know that stress can shift an otherwise regular mood swing into high gear, so it’s worth the attempt. Take a look at what’s on your plate/mind and start finding ways to get rid of the items that are stressful. If you can get rid of them, then do it. Even the smallest steps could help you clear your mind and maybe lessen menopause mood swings.
From one friend to another, I can’t go on without telling it like it is … I need to get super real for about two seconds, especially since I don’t take this lightly. When we feel like we’re not on our A-Game, especially when it comes to our mental state, shame often becomes our BFF. While shame may be a loyal friend, it’s not actually a friend at all. It’s more like that mean girl in high school who only hangs out with you so she can leach off your confidence and make herself feel better by bringing you down.
Regardless of which treatment option you choose, make sure to read all the Brene Brown books you can get your hands on. Also, take the risk to be vulnerable and connect with a trusted friend or professional. Then, dump your fake BFF [shame] and embrace your menopause mood swings as the totally normal but very frustrating temporary roommates they are. And, don’t be afraid to meet with a licensed therapist, consider medication options (prescription or natural solutions, depending on your doctor’s recommendation and your preference), start doing stress-reducing activities like yoga/deep breathing/meditation, etc. Seriously, you, and your mental health, are so important.
As if getting sleep during midlife isn’t tough enough, right?! We all know that a lack of good sleep can impact our energy, mental health, and stress levels. One night you can sleep for hours and hours, the next you’re staring at the flashing lights of the alarm clock at the robust hour of 3:00 am. You roll around trying to find a comfy position, you stick one leg out of the sheets, you move it back under the sheets, flip your pillow, count sheep, then cows, then dream holiday vacation destinations, try to do breathing exercises … and then you FINALLY fall asleep only to wake up a few
hours minutes later.
We all want sleep and we all NEED sleep. Even though you are bound to encounter sleep issues during the menopausal transition, there are plenty of healthy ways to cope:
- Avoid the battle. If you can’t fall asleep, don’t lie in bed wrestling with your insomnia all night long. You will only become more anxiety-filled. If you are anxiety-filled, then you will never fall asleep. Find something else to fill your time until you fall asleep. Heck, maybe even fill your nightstand with some Brene Brown books for some middle of the night inspiration.
- Exercise on a regular basis. I know we said this already, but there’s a reason it’s a frequent recommendation. If you’re not into exercise, then don’t worry. I’m not talking about difficult barre or spin classes. Simply put on your shoes and take a walk around your neighborhood. The fresh air and movement should help to make you nice and sleepy at night.
- Create a healthy bedtime routine. As a parent, creating a bedtime routine for your children was key. Why not create one for yourself? You can help train your mind to calm down before you hit the sheets.
- Treat yourself. Buy some face masks, eye masks, awesome nighttime cream, cute bamboo PJs to combat night sweats … whatever you’ve been wanting to make you feel loved and special (and to keep you cool) at night. These items will make you excited to get ready for bed.
- Talk to family and friends. The simple act of talking about your issues might help relieve stress related to sleep issues.
- Take supplements like Vitamin D. A whole slew of supplements may help with sleep deficiency, but be sure to do your research and talk to your doctor before using them.
- Explore the therapy option. If you think that you might be struggling with insomnia, then talk to your doctor about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or whichever modality a licensed therapist recommends.
Did you know that two thirds of people experience this delightful internal sauna effect during menopause? Hot flashes vary from person to person and can be very mild or strong enough to wake you up (lovingly dubbed “night sweats”). Most hot flashes last between 30 seconds and 10 minutes (yeah, you read that correctly ). They can happen several times an hour (yikes), a few times a day (less yikes), or just once or twice a week (least yikes).
How can you control hot flashes so that they don’t mess with your mind?
- Try to avoid alcohol, caffeine, stress, spicy food, and smoking. These items tend to make hot flashes worse.
- Use fans (personal, room, ceiling) to help keep you cool and be as comfortable as possible.
- Practice deep breathing to get you through the discomfort of feeling like you might spontaneously combust.
- Exercise regularly (or at least try to).
- Take supplements, but speak to your doctor before doing so.
- Use ice packs, gel cooling mattresses and pillows, wick free or cooling fabrics (bamboo, linen, etc.), frozen water bottles, or other products to cool you down.
It’s a Wrap!
Thanks to menopause mood swings, temper tantrums, hot flashes, sleep problems, and irritability, you might be feeling a bit on the “crazy” side. But, don’t worry … or at least try not to. You won’t be feeling this way forever, and you’re not *actually* crazy!
The reason you’re feeling this way some days (or maybe most days) is because your body is going through significant hormonal changes. During the years and months leading up to menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels start to decline. Throughout the body, there are receptors for both E and P. When the levels start to decline, every system in the body that has these hormone receptors notice the change. The brain definitely takes notice and might have a difficult time trying to adjust.
Remember: This is all totally normal. Sometimes totally normal just totally sucks! Educate yourself on the signs, symptoms, and treatments associated with the different stages of menopause. Your body is going through a lot, so take it easy on yourself, purchase those pretty throw pillows you’ve been eying (be sure to get the kind that are super scream-absorbent), and take your days one step at a time.
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