Anxious and Feeling Crazy? It may be Menopause. Here’s How You Can Cope.
Author: Nic Monteforte
You are not going crazy, I promise, but boy does it feel like that.
You can’t focus, you start to get sweaty palms and everything around you blurs into one. You can't think straight, you can’t make any decisions – even the basic ones like what shoes to wear. Someone asks something from you and it's like you have been asked to cut your right arm off. Yep, this is the one symptom no one really tells you about and the one symptom that happens whether you like it all not.
The thing here is that more often than not, you don’t have any reason to have anxiety but it's taken charge anyway. Well, I am here to explain to you why and my go-to’s for when it takes control.
It's important to understand that these changes in your mood or your anxiety levels are all happening because of the changes in hormones in your brain and are totally out of your control. It’s not your fault and, no, you are not losing your marbles.
When you start to go through menopause, your body stops reliably producing estrogen. When this happens, the pituitary gland which is located in the base of your brain goes into overdrive and starts to produce more of a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone or FSH. This is the hormone that supports the reproductive system in producing eggs. Now, add another layer to that with estrogen levels also being connected to cortisol level – the stress hormone and the chemical cocktail in your brain starts to take shape leaving you to handle the aftermath – anxiety. So, it's not your fault and you are not alone as most women we have spoken to have all felt its impact.
So, what can you do about it?
For me, the anxiety was by far and away the worst of the symptoms I endured during menopause, so lucky for you I have many tricks up my sleeve. Here are my top 3 anxiety hacks that got me through those days when all I wanted to do was stay in bed:
- Exercise - The thing here with exercise is that because lower estrogen means higher cortisol and more anxiety, the last thing you need to do is increase your cortisol by doing hard core exercise. Exercise here means anything where you can maintain breathing through your nose the entire time. No mouth breathing and panting please! Walking, a swim, or a yoga session are my absolute go-to. Being out in the sun also helps as it raises your serotonin levels which counteract the cortisol too.
- Vagus breathing - The vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of you that manages how calm you are. Vagal breathing is one of the quickest ways to calm the nervous system down and can be done a million times a day if you need to. It's really simple: breathe in through your nose to the count of 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds and exhale through the mouth making a gentle ‘haaaa’ sound (like you are misting up your glasses for a clean) to the count of 4 seconds. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Side note: You can also do this before you go to sleep as it calms the system down and supports falling to sleep quicker!
- A community to talk to - Being able to actually say to someone, “I have shocking anxiety today”, was one of the best remedies for how I was feeling. Knowing that you are not alone and sharing it with someone in a group allowed me to get out of my head and stop the rollercoaster internal dialogue that doesn't help anyone. I often found that when I shared it with a friend who was going through the same thing, we would end up laughing so hard at each other that the automatic release of oxytocin (the love chemical) would instantly calm the nervous system down and allow me to see things a little more clearly. A support group community is a must!
Remember, you are not alone and you are not quite ready for a straight jacket yet. It's part of this journey we are all on and it does stop happening. You are not stuck this way forever! Try one or all of my favourite go-to’s and kick those menopause symptoms out the door!