If you’re struggling with the effects of perimenopause anxiety and wondering when or if it will ever end—be reassured many women experience these symptoms, and there is hope on the horizon!
In this encouraging article, Susan Macias shares her experience of perimenopausal anxiety and 5 practical tips she found helpful for relieving her symptoms.
Get yourself together, I chided myself. Though family sounds beckoned me and life demanded my presence, I ignored it all, rolled over, and pulled up the covers. Usually I was the first up and about in the morning, but lately I lacked something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
This wasn’t normal—feeling unmotivated and lethargic. Neither were the feelings of anxiety or elevated heart rate that would catch me unaware. I worried about my kids, who ranged from preschoolers to teenagers. My eldest had already left home. His life choices and personal situations distressed me, but I also missed his presence. I wondered what it would be like as each child grew up and moved out. I felt sad just thinking about it.
This fluctuation between lethargy and anxiety with occasional stops at normal made my head spin. It also proved difficult for the entire household. Which Mom was going to show up today? Would I joke with my husband or take his banter personally? Would I cheerfully move about the day or drag around my personal rain cloud?
Something was wrong with me. But what was it?
MAYBE IT’S NOT ALL MY FAULT
Without realizing it, I had entered the scary territory of perimenopause. Doesn’t that sound ominous? Any word with that many syllables cannot be good. But once I finally realized what was occurring, I could look for help.
Perimenopause catches many of us unaware because the symptoms begin even while our cycle remains consistent. But hormone levels begin dropping long before our periods cease, and our female hormones affect more than just our reproductive cycle. The hormone receptors in our brains struggle because the decrease in estrogen and progesterone cause mood-regulating hormones—like serotonin and dopamine—to decline as well.
Another hormone affected by the decrease of estrogen is cortisol, our stress hormone. Cortisol amounts naturally increase in our bodies in the morning to help us wake up. Through most of our lives, our estrogen helps control this spike. But with perimenopause, the levels of estrogen lower, and we can wake up feeling anxious before the day has even gotten underway.
Many people describe the symptoms of perimenopause as similar to PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, all month long for months on end. No wonder we struggle. This stage of womanhood is not easy.
Looking back now, I can better understand what was happening to me. However, when it started I felt like I’d involuntarily gotten on a rollercoaster ride that never ended. I kept wondering when or if I would ever get off.
Unfortunately there’s no option but to go through this life change. But I can assure you it is not abnormal during perimenopause to experience increased anxiety, irritability, and tension. However, for some women, these symptoms can escalate into serious depression or panic attacks. If you find yourself in this situation, please visit your doctor. If they don’t seem responsive, advocate for yourself or find a physician who will help.
WHAT MAKES PERIMENOPAUSE WORSE
Though we might look the same on the outside, the interior physical changes raging inside us alter our equilibrium. Furthermore, many factors outside our control can exacerbate the situation.
Perimenopause occurs during a time of life that already holds many stressors. For moms, these are usually the teenage or college-age years. Even with ‘good’ kids these stages hold stress. When our kids leave for college we might feel not only the sorrow of the empty nest but also the financial strain of paying for higher education. Marriages often need extra care and attention to thrive in this season. All of this occurs while our hormones seem to have a will of their own.
What’s more, many women also find themselves sandwiched between the needs of aging parents and their own families. Stay-at-home moms might need to reenter the workforce while still tending to home, kids, and husbands.
On top of all these complexities, many perimenopausal women struggle with sleep. And a tired mama is an unhappy mama. The dreaded hot flashes will disrupt even the deepest REM sleep. When my first instance of internal combustion yanked me from a dead sleep I thought I was dying. Nothing I’d ever heard about the hot flash phenomenon prepared me for the intensity or the heat.
When you add all these challenges together, you can see why anxiety and depression can be such an issue to so many of us during perimenopause.
WHAT MAKES PERIMENOPAUSE SYMPTOMS BETTER
Most of the suggestions I have to offer will sound familiar. We’ve heard them our whole lives. I want to be up front and admit I’ve always been someone who has struggled to take care of myself. But I can also attest that the correlation between making healthy choices and how I felt remained high throughout perimenopause, and has continued on this side of menopause.
I should also confess that I prefer a magic pill to the mundane, time-consuming method of tending to my health. But as a woman who has crossed to the other side—an ‘older woman‘ according to the book of Titus—I will share with you my hard-learned advice.
1. ADEQUATE SLEEP
Sleep and rest contribute significantly to lowering anxiety. Since we know sleep disruption will probably occur with hot flashes, getting in bed earlier becomes essential. I found I could not count on my full seven or eight hours of sleep from the simple math of what time I went to bed and what time I got up. I needed to add in middle-of-the-night wake time and adjust my bedtime accordingly.
2. DIET AND EXERCISE
Exercise and healthy eating become more important the older we get. I bet you knew this piece of advice was coming, didn’t you? Irritatingly, these two ingredients of food and exercise always show up on any list about feeling better. I prefer to run off caffeine with a side of chips and salsa. But I can attest that taking the time to chop vegetables and make dinner at home rather than dashing through a drive-through causes all my internal systems to run better, including my hormones. When I feel better physically, I also feel better emotionally.
Exercise poses a triple threat to perimenopause difficulties. It assists us in avoiding midlife weight gain (another fun menopause side effect), it helps us sleep better, and it is a great reliever of anxiety. As joints age, we might find yoga, pilates, or another less pounding method of exercise to be a suitable alternative. Regardless of the form it takes, exercising matters.
3. HEALTHY FRIENDSHIPS
Healthy female friendships can also help reduce stress. Getting together with friends, laughing about life changes, and not feeling like we are riding this roller coaster alone is a balm for our souls. Let’s face it, no matter how empathetic a husband might be, only another woman fully understands the struggle. When I reached the empty nest years, I realized that I no longer saw many of my good friends. We had depended upon our kids’ school or sports activities to see each other. I had to relearn the practice of intentionally planning female get-togethers.
4. VITAMINS AND SUPPLEMENTS
There is no magic pill to make perimenopause go away, but there is help. You can decide with your doctor if a pharmaceutical alternative is a good approach for you. Natural supplements can also be very effective in alleviating the raging changes. For specific advice on supplements to consider, please check out this blog post. While it does not offer medical advice, this article gives specific suggestions of supplements I have found helpful. I continue today to take supplements regularly, and I find that consistency and patience lead to the best results. Natural approaches take time to build up in your system, but they really do help.
The best medicine for an anxious heart is prayer. I did not save this suggestion to the end because I think it is the least important. Conversely, I believe it to be the most vital. I’m not sure how I could have ridden the perimenopause/menopause wild ride without gripping tightly to the hand of my Savior. I talked to Jesus more during these years than at any other time. I needed to trust in His creation of me and all the extraordinary privileges and challenges of womanhood, including this biological life change. Prayer helped me remember that the Lord has a plan and that He was with me in the midst of all I was experiencing.
As I honestly complained to Jesus about my weary, unenthusiastic spirit, the pressure to perform lifted. Talking through my anxious thoughts with Jesus brought great relief. The Lord doesn’t require particular words or a specific order of prayer points. But if you are looking for some guidance, check out Laura Fleetwood’s article, Prayers for Anxiety: 3 Words To Help You Open Up to God. This fantastic model for praying through anxious thoughts follows the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
YOU WILL SURVIVE. I PROMISE!
I’ve now completed my harrowing ride on the perimenopause rollercoaster and am even on the other side of menopause.
My anxiety has lessened, though I still need to daily lay down my burdens at the feet of Jesus. My depression has lifted, though I still have mornings I don’t want to get out of bed. But as I choose each day to keep a hold of Jesus’ hand and to take care of myself, I find myself loving this new stage I am in. It contains unexpected freedoms and new joys.
Each stage of our female journey holds its own challenges and blessings. Our design is truly magnificent, even with the crazy ride it takes us on. And while anxiety and depression might darken your perimenopause years, they don’t have to define this stage. Hope and relief are available. So, take care of yourself. See your doctor. Talk to Jesus. And go out to lunch with a friend who is on the same crazy journey. Someday soon, the roller coaster will let you off and you will discover you’ve arrived at a place where you can truly thrive.
Have you or are you experiencing any of the perimenopause symptoms Susan described? How do her words help you to feel less alone in this season you’re in? What tips or encouragement would you add to what she shared?
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