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Mood Swings – The Ups and Downs of Menopause

Mood Swings – Menopause Symptom # 4

No, you are not going crazy. You are in perimenopause!

Feeling like one minute you are about to explode, then breaking into a torrent of tears is what mood swings in menopause feel like. It feels like the end of the world, but it isn’t. This is your hormones pulling your strings.

You are officially in menopause when one whole year has passed from the date of your last period. Before that, you are in perimenopause. Mood swings can start in perimenopause and continue for a while after menopause, but they will eventually subside for most women.

What are mood swings?

Perimenopause is the period when your ovaries begin to produce less estrogen and hormones start fluctuating and this causes many physical and emotional changes. The fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone can cause mood swings, irritability and sometimes, even feelings of depression or anxiety. Think pre-menstrual symptoms on steroids!

It is normal to go through these shifts and changes in mood. You can get unbelievably upset about a minor issue that would not even bother you before perimenopause. This can get very confusing, not only for you, but for the people around you.

Some studies indicate that if you suffered from feelings of sadness, irritability and anger in the few days before your period (premenstrual) PMS, you are more likely to experience mood swings during perimenopause.

How do I know I am having mood swings?

Mood swings can take the shape of strong emotions that are not directly explainable by events surrounding you. These emotions include:

  • Feelings of sadness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Aggressiveness
  • Fatigue
  • Rage

Why do they happen?

Serotonin is the hormone that regulates moods and increases your feelings of happiness. Estrogen in the body affects the production of serotonin. So, when you start perimenopause and your body begins to produce less estrogen, you will have less serotonin in your body. Your emotions will fluctuate, and you will feel like you are not able to control them. 

Also, during perimenopause, several other symptoms can make your moods worse. Insomnia makes you tired during the day and far less able to control your irritability. Night sweats, which make disturbed sleep worse, can contribute to feelings of exhaustion, anger and irritability.

How do I know what I am feeling is because of perimenopause?

You may find that you feel enraged at how slow the car in front of you is. Sobbing uncontrollably over a movie may become a common thing. If your children do not finish their food, you may feel like your world is coming to an end. You may even feel like your life is worthless because your partner has dropped some crumbs on the floor. Trust us.. this is coming from personal experience!

Menopausal mood swings feel different from a general bad mood. They feel exaggerated and not in reasonable proportion to the apparent cause.

If you begin to experience these extreme emotions, you should take note if you are also beginning to have other symptoms of menopause such as irregular periods, difficulty sleeping or loss of interest in sex. If you are over 40, these symptoms may indicate that you have entered into perimenopause. In certain cases, perimenopause starts earlier, for example if you had your ovaries surgically removed or if you have a history of early menopause in your family.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is best to check with your doctor. Blood tests can bring the definitive answer to the question of whether you have entered perimenopause.

How long will the mood swings last?

You will probably find that your feelings of irritability and anger come and go. You flare up at the drop of a hat for a week of two, then for a few months you are back to normal. Your estrogen-serotonin levels fall over time. So, when the drop, there is havoc; then, your body adjusts to the new level. The next time the estrogen-serotonin levels fall, you may again feel sad, anxious, irritable or angry.

Eventually, the levels will stabilize, and the mood swings will lessen. However, mood swings can last into postmenopause, so it is best to be prepared. If you understand what you are up against, you can have strategies in place to counter difficulties.

How can I manage the mood swings in menopause?

The following tips may be helpful:

1. Keep a journal – Learn what triggers you

Certain substances can trigger anxiety, such as coffee and smoking. Dehydration can make mood swings worse. Certain foods can also cause spikes in emotions. Sugar is a known culprit in mood swings and anxiety. Each body is different, so it is a good idea to keep a daily journal for two or three weeks. Jot down what you eat, how much you exercise you did, how many hours of sleep you had and how you felt in the morning, afternoon and evening. This will help you analyze what the triggers for your mood swings are.

2. Get better sleep

Breathing techniques and mindful practices can be particularly helpful in insomnia. Sleeping better will result in less volatility and feelings of being stressed and irritable. Read more about how to deal with insomnia here.

3. Meditate

Meditation and yoga were found to be helpful in perimenopause according to research. Breathing techniques help calm the mind and centering you so you are better able to deal with thoughts and emotions. You can use apps such as Calm or Headspace to learn and practice meditation and breathing techniques.

4. Be mindful – Take a minute to think

Practice saying to yourself: I am not angry, I am feeling anger. You are not your thoughts. When you have a strong emotion, take a minute to ask yourself if whatever situation it is you are going through is worth this much emotion? Reflect on whether this is real anger or the result of the fluctuating emotions. Being mindful of what is happening inside you helps you to navigate strong emotions. Read more about how to talk to yourself here.

5. Practice self-acceptance

It is not very pleasant for people around you if you snap at them or are angry and irritable. You may want to suppress these emotions, but research shows that self-silencing may increase the risk of depression. 

Accepting that you are going through a difficult phase where hormonal changes are causing these feelings is a healthier way forward. You should practice self-compassion and acceptance, but should also seek to explain what is going on with you to your family and friends. 

You can read more about communication in menopause here.

6. Exercise – particularly aerobic exercise

Moving your body has been shown to produce dopamine and serotonin that make you feel better and happier. Exercise can help to counteract the dip in the hapinness hormones because of the decline in estrogen levels in the body. We know we are sounding repetitive by saying that you should exercise because of its many health benefits. However, exercise not only lifts your mood, it makes you healthier, helps you sleep better and helps you to control weight and counteract the slowing of metabolism as you age.

7. Try herbal supplements or tea

There are several herbs and supplements that help in regulating mood and calming stress. Aniseed and chamomile teas both help you to relax and de-stress. You can read more about herbs for menopause here.

8. Get help when you need it – talk to others

Menopause is a time when you need understanding from those around you. You need to tell them what is going on with you so that they can empathize, give you space and forgive your occasional outbursts.

It is also a time to reach out to other women going through the same difficulties just to discuss and perhaps laugh at what is going on with your bodies. Humor is a way to overcome stress, and getting together with friends, even if virtually, can have enormous beneficial effects in controlling mood swings as is shown by scientific research.

Menopause is a trying time for many women, and seeking help makes the journey much less difficult. Be aware that although mood swings are a normal part of the menopausal transition, severe depression and overwhelming anxiety need the expertise of trained therapists. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, you should seek medical attention. 

Read more about perimenopause symptoms here:

Hot flashes

Insomnia

Fatigue

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