Have you suddenly begun crying during sad commercials? Snapping at your teenagers when you used to be calm? Had a meltdown during a staff meeting, seemingly out of nowhere? While most women who go through menopause will not develop a major mood disorder, many will experience sort of mood problem during the years leading up to, during, and after menopause—which may result in . Wildly fluctuating hormone levels are to blame, and this hormonal shifts can begin as early as
There are several ways that your mood can be affected by the hormone changes and other events around menopause, and nothing will make you burst into tears faster than someone who dismisses it as “all in your head.” You know it’s not in your head, although it can feel a little crazy sometimes. Understanding why can help you cope, and it also gives you a way to explain it to your less-than-sympathetic family or colleagues.
A number of forces converge during midlife to shake your emotional equilibrium, and some women are more vulnerable than others. If you are one of the women suffering from mood shifts, there may be an underlying clinical reason for it and there are treatments and solutions that can help. Pay attention to the nature of your mood problems, and see whether one of the following could be at the root of your emotional symptoms.
Some women are just more sensitive to hormone changes than other women. Although only about 8% to 10% of women fall into this “super sensitive” category, it can be pretty unnerving to be easily thrown by small hormone changes. Some signs that you might be a member of this group are:
- You have suffered from premenstrual symptoms in the past
- You noticed that you were emotionally up and down during a pregnancy
- You have had a postpartum depression
Any of these could be a warning that a change in estrogen levels is likely to throw you for a loop more than other women your age. Estrogen plays a major role in how neurotransmitters -– chemicals that affect brain and nerve function -– operate. This, in turn, can affect your mood and behavior. If you fall into this category, discuss the hormone treatment options with your medical provider and see whether a short course of hormone therapy would help smooth out the mood roller coaster.
Recent Cancer Treatment or Surgery to Remove Your Ovaries
As with the hormone-sensitive group mentioned above, women who have had their ovaries removed, or women whose ovaries have stopped function as a result of medical treatments, may notice the impact of low estrogen. Because the shift is rapid –- from normal levels of estrogen to very low levels -– the effect on neurotransmitters can be quite dramatic, causing serious mood problems or instability.
Treatment for the sudden loss of estrogen depends on the cause. There are hormone therapies and selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERM) medications that may be very useful to you during this time. This is definitely a topic for you and your medical provider to explore. If you are anticipating surgical removal of your ovaries or a medical treatment that affects them (such as chemotherapy), talk to your healthcare provider ahead of time to minimize your symptoms.
Women who have a lifestyle that cuts sleep time short, or who are having vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, are likely to be suffering from some form of mood problem caused by sleep deprivation. After 40, your chances of having a sleep disturbance rise. Sleep disturbance or a sleep disorder changes your mood -– and not in a good way. If any of the following are true for you, you might be suffering from sleep deprivation:
- You wake up at night with night sweats. Even if your night sweats are mild, they can keep you from getting deep, restorative sleep. You might think you are getting 8 hours of sleep a night, but if you never get down into deep sleep, you could still be suffering sleep deprivation.
- You regularly get fewer than 7 hours of sleep a night. We have a culture that worships “productivity” and going without sleep is often a badge of honor. But the truth is that we are less productive and will have problems with memory and concentration if we ignore the need for sleep. Finding a way to get enough sleep could boost your effectiveness in ways that will surprise you.
- You wake up thinking about problems. Stress is a major reason for sleep loss, so learning stress management techniques and ways to fall back asleep can give you more emotional stability to cope with life’s challenges.
- Your partner tells you that you snore. Snoring could be a symptom of sleep apnea. If you are a snorer and are tired during the day (like night sweats, sleep apnea can prevent that lovely, restorative sleep), it is probably time for a sleep study to see if you need treatment. Weight gain and age can contribute to sleep apnea, too, so midlife is a common time to develop this condition.
Sleep deprivation or a sleep disorder can cause irritability, anxiety and even depression if it goes on for long. If midlife is cutting into your sleep, or the quality of your sleep, it can affect your mood.
A History of Depression
If you have a history of major depression, you are more likely to suffer mood problems during your menopausal years. If you have been on antidepressants in the past, or have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder, the menopause years may bring another bout of depression. If you notice that your mood is suffering again, get help as soon as you notice so that the depression doesn’t get a head start.
Midlife is not for sissies. So many changes can happen during the years after 40 that you may have trouble keeping up. Change is a source of anxiety during even the best of times and when it is a positive change. But add to that any hormone fluctuations, health problems and/or major life events and you have a recipe for feeling overwhelmed. Among the common changes and challenges that a woman faces during these years are:
- Children hitting their teens. This can cause “the perfect storm” of hormones in the household, as everyone struggles to manage the mood and behavior changes of their bodies.
- Aging parents. If you are responsible for the care or well-being of an aging parent, it can be daunting. Helping them deal with health problems, mortality issues, and their own aging can leave you feeling exhausted and depleted.
- Marriage. Marriages can evolve, devolve or dissolve during this time of life, and marriage instability can lead to anxiety, depression, grief or physical illness. If your marriage is going through any major change in dynamic, get the support you need and realize that your mood will suffer.
- Work stress. Many issues come up in the work world during the middle years. You may be accepting more and more responsibility. You may or may not get a promotion, and either way, it can introduce stressors that affect your mood. You may be coming up against a younger workforce, or you may be facing the work world for the first time in many years. When a paycheck is at stake, any work stress can cause your mood to deteriorate.
- Other changes. Any changes in the status quo can push you over the edge if you run your life with a narrow margin for flexibility. A daughter getting married, relocating to a new home, health issues, or other changes to your normal routine can shorten your fuse and make you more likely to be anxious, irritable or sad.
Your Attitude Toward Aging
It’s a common theme that women over 40 begin to see themselves as less valuable, less attractive and less powerful than when they were younger. As a culture, we do not revere women as they age, and as a gender, we have absorbed those attitudes and assumptions. When a woman looks in the mirror and sees an older woman looking back, she reassesses her worth.
If you have always seen older women as less valuable or unappealing, you will undoubtedly see yourself that way unless you actively re-learn how to view aging. With so many of us coming into the middle years together, it is an opportunity to turn around the view of midlife as we did with sexuality during the 1960s. Your forties and fifties can be full of accomplishment and satisfaction when you let yourself enjoy the hard-won comfort of your own competence.
If you find yourself buying into an attitude of “older is lesser” do something to actively fight that notion. For example:
- Read empowering books, like Gail Sheehy’s Sex and the Seasoned Woman, or Gene Cohen’s The Creative Age to get ideas about how to lead a richer life as you get older.
- Start a women’s support group to teach each other how to enjoy this phase of life. Call yourselves “The Menopause Margaritas” or have a “Flash Party” to kick-start your group.
- Hang around older women you admire. There are so many ways to do it right. The more models you have for healthy and positive aging, the better you will transition through the menopause years. You will see it as the beginning of a special time instead of the end of being valued.
Feeling excited and eager about this phase of your life is the best antidote to the “Older Doldrums.” If you see yourself as being more diminished by the day, it will affect your mood and outlook. In the checklist of mood clues, be sure you do an attitude assessment to see whether that is darkening your mood.
If your mood is battered by your menopause transition, there are things you can do. If you (or someone around you) says you just aren’t yourself, many approaches that will improve mood swings. Depending on what is causing them you might want to consider:
- Hormone therapy
- Treatment for a sleep disorder
- Lifestyle changes that get you less stress and more sleep
- More exercise
- Stress management techniques
- Treatments for hot flashes and night sweats
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Antidepressant medications
Mood changes during menopause can be very unnerving. They affect your relationships and your ability to manage your life. Follow these four steps to a better mood:
- Figure out why your mood is slipping. Whether it is hormones or life stress, you need to look at what the causes might be before you try to treat it.
- Make lifestyle changes that make sense. Some simple changes can help even out your moods, including exercise, earlier bedtime, talking about it, or eliminating stimulants like caffeine.
- Get treatment. Mood problems during this time of life are common, and the earlier you deal with them, the sooner you can lessen their impact on your life. Don’t be afraid to discuss this with your practitioner or healthcare provider.
- Hang on. The worst mood changes tend to happen in the early perimenopause. As your body adjusts to the new levels of estrogen and other changes, you will probably see a marked improvement in your mood symptoms. If you are looking for a healthcare provider, you can use an online tool to help.