Menopause technically begins when a woman has not had a period for over one year. However, many women may experience mood swings and other menopause symptoms in the few years leading up to menopause—a time known as perimenopause. The exact length of time to experience menopause symptoms varies from woman to woman. Some women may still have hormone-related mood swings up to 10 years after the point of menopause.
What Causes Mood Swings During Menopause?
Estrogen balance is important to a woman’s emotional health. When levels of this sex hormone fluctuate, it affects the balance of certain neurotransmitters in your brain such as serotonin and norepinephrine. This can produce specific symptoms such as melancholy, sadness, irritability, anxiety and overreactions to stressors (such as crying at the drop of a hat). Since estrogen levels drop dramatically over the course of your menopausal years, it is natural to experience mood disturbances. In fact, according to the North American Menopause Society, about 23 percent of all women experience menopause-related mood swings.
Menopause is a major time of transition in a woman’s life. It can prompt re-evaluations of your self-image and purpose in life as you approach old age and your life changes. For many women, transitioning to the later phase of life can be fulfilling and relatively pleasant. So, most women make it through menopause without developing a serious mood disorder, such as a major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.
Nevertheless, plenty of women experience at least a few mood-related symptoms here and there. This is simply a natural part of menopause. Other common menopause symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, low libido and insomnia. Some women also experience headaches or unwanted weight gain.
If you haven’t reached menopause yet, there are a couple ways to tell if you are at a higher risk for menopausal mood swings than average. If you have a history of severe PMS, that is one indicator. Another is a history of non-hormonal depressive episodes or other mental health challenges. Having a stressful life during menopause could also up your chances of mood swings.
How Mood Swings During Menopause Affect Your Life
Menopause-related depression and mood disturbances can be both caused by sexual health problems and also cause them. When menopause hormone fluctuations cause physical symptoms like vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy and low sex drive, the sudden lack of enjoyment in sex can be very troubling. Even if you don’t have these troublesome physical problems, if you are depressed, anxious or are experiencing a mood swing it can completely put you out of the mood to have sex.
Other menopause symptoms can further compound your mood swings. If you experience sleep disturbances, hot flashes, headache, body image issues or are struggling with infertility, you may be much more stressed and therefore experience more mood symptoms.
Mood swings during menopause do not affect only your sexual satisfaction, but can also be a detriment to your life in general. You may find that your mood swings or other mood issues lower your work productivity, affect your relationships or simply make you unhappy in your day-to-day life.
Sometimes, mood swings can be harmless. However, if they are interfering with your overall life happiness and ability to function, it is a great idea to seek help. Mental health practitioners can give you the tools you need to cope with stress and emotional changes during menopause. In the meantime, come up with a treatment plan to treat the mood swings themselves.
Treating Mood Swings
Some women benefit from pharmaceuticals for menopause symptoms. These may include hormone replacement therapy, as well as anti-depressants and other psychiatric medications. However, most women can see a significant improvement without the need to take such medications, which can have unpleasant or even dangerous side effects.
Hormone replacement therapy is not appropriate for everyone. Such treatment can increase your risk of blood clots, breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. If you have a history or a family history of any of these medical problems, it is probably not a good idea to use this type of medication.
Research shows that things like getting plenty of exercise, a healthy sleep schedule, eating a healthy diet and connecting with loved ones every day can form a great natural treatment plan for menopause mood swings. Certain natural supplements can also further alleviate your symptoms.
Ginkgo biloba is one of the world’s most ancient tree species, used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for a wide variety of ailments. The leaf of this tree, when taken by mouth, has benefits for brain function. When your brain functions better, your mood is better. It also contains chemicals that act like estrogen in the body, replacing some part of the estrogen you have lost to menopause and relieving mood swings.
Maca is a plant related to turnips and radishes, cultivated only in the highlands of the Andean mountains in Peru. This herb does not contain estrogen-like chemicals, nor does it make your body produce more estrogen. It is not currently known to science exactly how maca works to relieve menopause symptoms, but any menopausal woman who has used it can confirm its usefulness.
Not only can these ingredients relieve mood-related symptoms, but also physical and sexual symptoms, boosting your overall well-being. Other supplements you could try include lavender, omega-3 fatty acids, dong quai and black cohosh. However, ginkgo biloba and maca may have the greatest effect as they are among the most well-researched menopause herbs.