Reaching menopause is defined by not having a menstrual period in over a year. This time of a woman’s life is accompanied by a drastic drop in estrogen. These hormonal changes produce troublesome side effects like hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood changes, insomnia, weight gain and much more. All of these symptoms can be difficult to cope with, causing a woman a great deal of stress.
High Stress Levels Lead to More Severe Menopausal Symptoms
The link between stress and menopause is well-documented in scientific literature. One study, published in the journal Menopause, examined data collected from over 400 women who were around the age of perimenopause and menopause. The researchers discovered that women with higher stress levels can have up to five times as many hot flashes.
Another study looked at the relationship between a woman’s life circumstances and the severity of menopause symptoms. The researchers collected data from 347 women in Northern California. This study confirmed that higher stress levels contribute to menopause symptoms. Additionally, the scientists determined that other factors—notably, having a negative attitude toward the aging process—can increase the likelihood that a woman will have more troublesome menopause symptoms. (Perhaps it is necessary to accept and cherish the fact that you are getting older in order to have an easier menopause experience.)
Stress and Menopause: A Double Burden
Unfortunately, the excessive stress caused by the onset of menopause can itself contribute to the unpleasant symptoms. High levels of stress can decrease your body’s secretion of estrogen. With even less estrogen in your body, you’ll experience worsened menopause symptoms, whether vaginal dryness, hot flashes, or mood swings.
Many women of menopausal age find it increasingly difficult to lose weight or maintain the same weight. Your body requires fewer and fewer calories with every passing decade. Combine this decreased metabolism with a tendency for people to become more sedentary as they get older, and it’s easy to understand why menopause weight gain is so common. Although weight gain is not a direct symptom of missing estrogen, it is still associated with menopause and the stress caused by menopause can make it worse. Many people tend to stress-eat when they feel frazzled or under pressure.
Stress can also cause insomnia—not only can insomnia form its own vicious cycle, causing more stress from lack of sleep, but sleep deprivation is shown to increase overeating, contributing to your weight gain. Sleep deprivation also increases your risk of developing a mental health condition like depression.
The mood changes caused by stress and menopause can lead to depression and anxiety. These mental health conditions, though very treatable, are caused by stress and also contribute to stress. It’s important to break this vicious cycle, as well as the others described above.
How to Cope With Menopause-Related Stress
Menopause is a period of life that comes with many changes. Although it can be difficult to cope with at first, you can educate yourself about ways to ease the discomfort and break the vicious cycles. For example:
- Find healthy ways of relieving stress that work for you and your lifestyle. Meditation, yoga, massage and mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques (MBSR) are efficient ways that can be practiced by anyone. Additionally, you can prioritize calming hobbies like reading, listening to music and gardening.
- Medically address the estrogen imbalance. Many women choose to use hormone replacement therapy, a prescription medication. Others opt for natural botanicals that help balance hormones, such as maca root.
- It’s time to re-prioritize sleep. No matter how hectic your schedule is, don’t make excuses for not getting a good night’s sleep. If you find it difficult to sleep, re-evaluate your sleep hygiene practices. If you still have insomnia with improved sleep hygiene, talk to your doctor.
- Find a type of exercise you enjoy and do it every day. This will not only help you to increase your metabolism, but it will reduce stress, reduce your risk of depression and make it easier to sleep at night. Your daily exercise could be as simple as a 20-minute walk in the park, or as vigorous as a tennis match.
- To further help you beat menopause-related weight gain, re-evaluate your diet. A good start is to always fill half your plate with fruit and vegetables and to avoid sugary foods and drinks. If you need more help, meet up with a qualified dietitian. Not a nutritionist, as this is a title that anyone can apply to themselves. Dietitians have educational qualifications and licensing that make them more reliable than nutritionists.
- Don’t neglect your mental health. If you experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, or any other mental health condition, make sure to see a doctor or therapist as soon as possible to explore treatment options.