Types of anxiety in menopause & what can help

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Menopause Advisor
Ask Eileen

10 October 2022

Today's Topic

We know that apart from hot flushes and night sweats, anxiety is probably the second most common symptom in menopause. Most women will experience this to some degree at some point along their journey. But did you know that in perimenopause and menopause, there are several different types of anxiety?

This can be quite a surprise, especially if it's something you've not experienced beforehand. It can also be very overwhelming if you end up experiencing several different types of anxiety together.

So today, I'm going to look at the different types you can experience and what you can do to help yourself.

What causes anxiety during menopause?

Falling and fluctuating oestrogen is often the main reason for anxiety. A lot of women find that just before a period, when their oestrogen drops, they find that their mood changes; whereas in the middle of the month, when oestrogen is high, that's when they feel at their best. So, in perimenopause and menopause, when that oestrogen dip can become much more severe, that's when a lot of women find that their anxiety levels increase.

Anxiety can also be made worse by other menopause symptoms, including poor sleep, brain fog, fatigue, and headaches. All these symptoms can affect your nervous system, making you much more vulnerable to anxiety. And when you have anxiety, that pulls the rest of your health down as well.

There are several types of anxiety and these can often increase during perimenopause, especially if left unchecked. Some of the common types of anxiety that can be experienced at this time include:

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1. General Anxiety

It can be what we would call general anxiety. So, this can include worrying a bit more about things or worrying about things that you didn't use to worry about. You may find that you're getting a bit more fretful and a bit more nervous about things. You can feel like you have a little cloud over your head. You can feel a bit more jittery, a bit more on edge, a bit more irritable, and suffer from impatience more than you would normally do.

2. Panic Attacks

These are horrible because they can come out of the blue when you're doing just normal day-to-day tasks. When you experience these, you can feel terrified of something and you don't know what. There can also be a sense of paralysis that can stop you in your tracks. You can get a dry mouth. You can hyperventilate. You can also tremble. You can suddenly find yourself shaking and you can also get really severe, painful palpitations, and any kind of combination of these together.

3. Health Anxiety

So, with this one, your health fears can heighten, causing you to worry more. All the symptoms you are experiencing can cause you to start worrying that it's not related to menopause; so, you may think, "I'm getting palpitations. Am I getting a heart attack? I'm getting joint pain. Is there something serious going on? My digestion is all over the place. Is it something really bad?"

You can start worrying about other people's health. You can start to get panicky about your loved ones. Are they going to be all right? Are they going to get ill?

It can also, for some women, be a fear of dying too. Your mortality suddenly starts to appear on the horizon.

4. Obsessive-compulsive behaviour

Menopause can cause conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to increase, and cause women who have never experienced it to become a bit more OCD about things. It may be that you have to do things in a special order. You can't leave the house until you've been around three times switching the lights off. You have to look at rituals to help you control the panic that's going on inside yourself.

For some women, it becomes an obsession about keeping the house tidy. Everything has to be just so before you can even continue with the rest of your day.

5. Social Anxiety

This is a very common anxiety. It can cause you to not want to go out or meet with friends. You find that you get into a panic about even doing things like shopping. If you're used to standing up in front of people at work, maybe giving speeches or presentations, you might find that you suddenly feel anxious about doing this now. This can be a horrible one if it affects your work and also your family life.

6. Phobias

And finally, you can also develop phobias or phobias can increase. You can develop irrational fears of things you were not scared of in the past. You might find that you can't cope with going to the dentist or the doctor. It may well be fear of flying.

A really common one that many women have told me about is a fear of driving. They suddenly get into a panic now about driving their car, which was never an issue in the past. So, it can be phobias and fears of things that you would have normally been able to cope with, without even thinking about it.

Simple ways to help ease your anxiety

So, what can you do to help yourself? Here are a few things that I recommend:

Avoid or limit food and drink triggers: Watch your diet because certain foods and drinks will rev up your nervous system, so that's things like caffeine and high salt and sugar foods.

The first time I experienced a sort of panic attack was half an hour after a very strong cup of coffee. And I really thought I was having a heart attack and I was driving at the time which didn't help. So, learning which food and drinks can trigger your anxiety can help you.

Also, don't go long periods without food, because if your blood sugar levels dip that can trigger anxiety and panic attacks as well.

Take time to relax: Remember that 30-minute me time, I am always going on about this, but it is so important. 30 minutes of proper relaxation allows your nervous system to stabilise and calm itself down. You can also do deep breathing exercises such as 4x4 breathing. A lot of women have told me how well this works once you learn how to do it and implement it.

Herbs & supplements: Look at calming herbs, such as valerian and passionflower. Also, consider a magnesium supplement, this is a great one for helping to stabilise the nerves by supporting your nervous system.

Talk about it: If you're feeling really anxious about your work, then talk to someone in your HR department or someone you know who can be sympathetic. Talk to your family about it, especially if you're losing your temper or if you're becoming irritable. Let them know that it's not you but it's just what's happening to you at the moment.

Get a little exercise every day: Exercise can give you those feel-good chemicals that can help to calm everything down too. Even a 10-minute walk each day can help.

Don't let it get out of control

The other thing here is, if your anxiety gets overwhelming to the point where it is severely affecting your daily life, please don't put up with it. The number of women who come to me and have been suffering from this for months and months! Please don't do this. Just get in touch with your doctor. It may well be that you will need something just to help tide you over through this phase, and there's nothing wrong with that. If you're really suffering and it's affecting your daily life, then please don't suffer with this - get the help that you need for as long as you need it.

I hope this has helped. If any of you out there have any great tips, and I know you will from the usual responses, please share them. I really look forward to reading all your fantastic tips every week.

Until next week, take care.

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