Are the mental effects of menopause weighing on your mind? Women often experience irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and mood swings as they go through this phase of life. The reason: The decline in levels of estrogen and other hormones that occurs during perimenopause directly affect the neurotransmitters in your brain, explains Holly Thacker, MD, FACP, CCD, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Specialized Women’s Health.
It’s important to note that the mood swings of menopause and depression are two separate things. Menopause does not cause depression, nor are there higher rates of depression among menopausal women, Dr. Thacker says. However, she points out that women with prolonged perimenopause are more likely to report having depression.
And while menopause may not cause depression, according to a report issued by the Harvard Study of Moods and Cycles, a history of depression may bring on earlier menopause. If you are experiencing a prolonged low mood or deep anxiety, you should speak with your physician and seek treatment specifically for this condition.
“There are multiple ways to address mental changes during menopause,” says Elizabeth Ricanati, MD, medical director of Cleveland Clinic’s Lifestyle 180 program. “Your physician should address you as a whole person and try whatever works best for you. Exercise and stress management are key, and certain medications can be really helpful.”
To manage the everyday moodiness that comes with midlife, take the following positive steps — you’ll have a better outlook and feel calmer.
Get a move on. There’s very little in our lives that doesn’t benefit from regular exercise, especially for menopausal women. Not only does it help manage or prevent physical health issues that become more prevalent once estrogen levels drop, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, but experts point to a growing body of research that shows exercise improves mood as well.
“When you exercise, your body releases stimulating chemicals in the brain that promote relaxation and enhance a person’s sense of well-being,” says Lori Gemma, DO, a family medicine physician affiliated with South Pointe Hospital, a Cleveland Clinic hospital. “Since regular physical activity makes you look and feel better, it can improve your self-esteem and confidence, while reducing anxiety and depression.”
Stretch it out. Yoga is often recommended for relaxation, and research indicates that it specifically helps menopausal moodiness. In a study published in the journal Menopause, researchers found that perimenopausal and menopausal women following an eight-week program of basic yoga poses, breathing exercises and meditation had decreases in both perceived stress and the tendency to experience negative emotions. (Other studies, by the way, have shown this mind-body exercise to have positive effects on hot flashes and sleep disturbances during menopause.) Multiple yoga-for-menopause routines are available on DVD; or see if your gym or community center offers a program.
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