by Ellen Dolgen
You’re hot, you’re cold, you’re mad, you’re sad. So you ask, how could menopause not stress you out?
“Menopause, itself, is a stressful life event because of the various types of change that occur,” says Dr. Jeff Brown, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive for Great Health.
Hot flashes are tightly linked with stress and anxiety, according to a six-year study published in Menopause. Researchers found that anxiety and stress preceded hot flashes among perimenopausal and post-menopausal women. Women with the highest levels of stress were more than five times (I repeat, five times!) more likely than normally stressed women to report hot flashes.
But what exactly is the deal with stress? Stress is your body’s reaction to any kind of demand — good or bad. While acute (aka brief) stress can make us more efficient and effective (think: deadlines), too much stress — called chronic stress — can be harmful to our mental and physical health.
“Chronic stress comes out of conditions, relationships or health issues that don’t have an identifiable termination point or extend beyond the time frame of what would typically be expected,” Brown explains.
What’s more, chronic stress can compromise our immune systems, making us more prone to illness. Between 50 and 60 percent of all medical issues originate from stress or stress-related events, he says.
So how can you tell the difference between a stressful situation and a real stress rut? Signs that you’ve hit your acute-to-chronic tipping point include changes in appetite and sleeping patterns, headaches, crying, irritability and even panic attacks, according to Brown.
“When it comes to stress and menopause, it’s crucial to keep your finger on the pulse of physiological, psychological and relationship aspects of your life. Change is occurring and knowing yourself well is vital,” he says.
Of course, you likely won’t feel the exact same way pre-menopause as you do post-menopause, and some of that is natural. But there’s no need to feel like a totally different woman, especially if that woman is stressed all of that time! You can slash your stress levels. Remember though, while your youth’s stress-busting tactics (like bubble baths, exercise and meditating) still work wonders, you might have to go above and beyond them to beat stress during menopause — especially when menopause is the actual stressor!
“Each woman who deals with menopause may find that her typical stress-coping strategies may need to be adjusted because of the high levels of stress that may be occurring as a result of physical changes during menopause,” Brown says.
Here are the top three tips for fighting menopause-induced stress:
1. Take charge.
Don’t let menopause and its symptoms take control of your day-to-day life, says Brown. Commit to an open and close relationship with a perimenopause and menopause specialist, healthcare provider or therapist who can help you manage your symptoms and find hormone happiness. “The alliance you have with a physician or therapist can mean the world to you during tough times,” Brown says.
2. Invest in friends.
Misery loves company — but so does happiness. Recognize the people in your life who are healthy for you and invest in those relationships. Healthy people are the ones you want to hang out with, and who make you feel better about yourself, Brown says. It is especially helpful spending time with the women in your life that have already traveled the menopausal road you’re currently cruising. The support, understanding and even learning opportunities can help make this time in your life a little less stressful, he says.
3. Say no.
I know, this is a hard one for us people-pleasing, I-can-do-it-all types. While we women are famed for multitasking, it takes a huge amount of time and cognitive energy, and adds unneeded stress to an already stress-filled time of our lives, Brown says. During menopause we often don’t have the same amount of energy we did in our twenties! For your health’s sake, scale back a bit. Say no from time to time, and don’t feel guilty about it afterward.
Don’t let menopause stress suck the joy out of this amazing chapter of your life! Having conquered falling in love, raising children, launching a career and so much more, we have plenty of reason to be confident — and most importantly, happy — in our lives right now. Mourning the past and worrying about the future just deprives us of the joy in the present moment. And trust me, there is plenty of joy to be had in menopause!