Mental Health Through Menopause: Challenges and Solutions
The team of women's' health experts at Gainesville's All About Women discuss coping mechanisms for the mental and emotional challenges of menopause
There's a reason that menopause is called the major change of life. The slowed production of a woman's reproductive hormones can physically cause problems like hot flashes, vaginal dryness and mood swings. Occurring at the same time as menopause and playing off of dropping hormone levels, women are also experiencing physical changes associated with aging: weight gain, loss of sexual desire, insomnia, and urinary tract changes.
Add all of these physical changes with life changes like children leaving home, aging parents, financial stress, and concerns over one's own health and aging, and it's no wonder why menopause can be a difficult transition for many women!
And, as women manage the difficulties of transitioning, some may be concerned with their mental wellbeing. They may wonder if their unpredictable mood swings indicate depression, or if their forgetfulness indicates mental decline. Women who've struggled with depression in the past may worry they're destined for more of the same through the menopause transition.
While the transition to menopause can be challenging, you can still have excellent mental health and fitness. Here we'll discuss difficulties and solutions to staying mentally fit through the menopause transition.
Challenges to Mental Health During Menopause
Harvard Health identifies three challenges to mental wellbeing that some women report experiencing through the menopause transition:
- Mood swings are a common symptom of menopause. Women may feel happy one minute and prone to tears the next. Fluctuating hormones and their disruption of a woman's life are usually thought responsible for these mood swings. Insomnia and sleep disturbances can make mood swings feel worse.
- Depression: For many women, bouts of depression throughout life are a reoccurring struggle. It's important to note that scientists have found no link that menopause can cause symptoms of depression, and that the incidence of depression during menopause is no greater for women than at other times in life. All those life changes at once, however, can leave many women feeling blue and symptoms of depression should be taken seriously and reported to your well woman provider.
- Memory / Concentration: Other women complain of memory and concentration problems during menopause. But researchers aren't convinced that the hormonal changes of menopause have anything to do with "foggy thinking," and think that memory problems are more likely to blame. It's obvious though that lack of sleep and preoccupation with hot flashes can interfere with a woman's ability to think.
Solutions to Staying Mentally and Emotionally Fit Through Menopause
While the challenges of menopause can seem like a lot to deal with, there are many steps women can take to help alleviate the most common psychological complaints of menopause:
- Exercise. Exercise should always be at the top of your to-do list, but especially as you enter menopause. Besides the physical benefits of exercise like reducing the risk of cardio problems and osteoporosis, exercise also has a wide range of mental health benefits. It helps improve cognitive functioning and lessens sleep disturbances and insomnia. Regular exercise also helps improve mood and ward off depression. Learn more about exercise and menopause.
- Seek Support. Being able to share your experiences and work through life's challenges can help you manage the many changes of menopause.
Talking with friends and family members, like your mother or aunts, can help menopause feel more normal. Sometimes you may feel like your experience with menopause is harder than other women. In that case, talking to a professional counselor might be a more productive and supportive option for you. Talk therapy can be just as effective as an antidepressant. Contact a therapist in your area.
- Engage in mentally challenging activities. Researchers agree that engaging your mind in new and challenging tasks is the best way to keep your memory and mind sharp through the aging process. Learn a new language, take an art class... try pursuing new interests you've not had time for in the past.
- Treat Menopause Symptoms. Treating menopause symptoms can help alleviate stressors and improve a woman's sense of wellbeing. There are many treatments (hormonal and alternatives) available for menopause symptoms like vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and urinary tract problems. Having a gynecologist you feel comfortable with is an important part of the process of successful treatment.
- Think positively. It's definitely easier said than done, but your outlook on menopause has a large impact on your experience. While you can't control all the changes your body may throw your way, you can be solution-oriented and focus on the benefits of the menopause transition. Many women continue to have active, happy and healthy lives through and following the transition to menopause.
At All About Women, our expert team of providers strives to provide the highest level of quality health care for women through every stage of life, including menopause. If you're in Northern Florida's Alachua and Columbia counties, contact us today to start a plan for managing your transition through menopause.