What happens to the mind with menopause?
Some women pass through menopause with no noticeable changes to their brain function or mood. Others, unfortunately, won't be so lucky. Mental health symptoms such as anxiety, feeling low, and memory changes, are common amongst menopausal and perimenopausal women.
- Low mood
- Depression (persistent low mood, which won't go away) (1)
- , or difficulties with memory
- Problems with concentration
- Feelings of low self-esteem
- Having reduced motivation
- Low energy.
These can happen at any moment - and have a lot of contributing factors. Menopause and hormonal changes may not be the root cause of changes to your mental health - life events, relationships, work, diet and lifestyle will all play a part. But, the hormonal changes of menopause can wreak havoc on the brain. The women we've spoken to at Alva say it's the mental symptoms that often have the most impact on your life. It can be hard to work when your memory is flagging, or you suddenly find yourself getting much more anxious.
How does menopause affect your brain?
The simple answer is that we don't quite know - yet! So many aspects of life affect your mental health it can be difficult for academic studies to isolate single causes.
Broadly, there's agreement that the risk of some mental health problems will increase during your perimenopause. One large study identified that the perimenopause is linked to a higher risk of depression and depressive symptoms.
Our hormones interact with some of the important chemicals that control our mood (e.g. serotonin and norepinephrine). When hormone levels change at menopause, these important chemicals can become imbalanced and increase the risk of altered and lower moods. The risk decreases after menopause, when your hormones are more stable again.
There's now academics working to develop new types of experiments, which could link changes in hormone levels directly to mood swings we may experience. We'll be watching this space carefully and keeping you up to date.
Why menopause can be a difficult time
It's no secret that by the time menopause comes along women's lives are hectic! We take on responsibilities for a home, in marriages and partnerships, will often have professional lives and ageing parents... and that's before we've even mentioned children. Any number of these is a huge amount to juggle and can lead to a lot of stress.
Frankly, just thinking about the amount women have going on during menopause makes me anxious. With so much on women's plates, taking a break can be hard. Often women are not thinking about themselves at all - putting everyone else's needs above their own. As a result, there's an increased risk of burnout, and mental health problems.
The physical symptoms some women experience at menopause can add to the burden. Juggling life is enough - without hot flushes, night sweats or sleep problems.
Recognise how much you're taking on - and try to give yourself some space to look after your mental health. Exercise, good nutrition, mindfulness and hobbies you enjoy can all help. Along with other more structured ways of getting support such as talking therapy, CBT, or group therapy.
Ways to understand your mental health, and identify problems early
So much time spent thinking about other people makes it tough to recognise when you aren't feeling good.
Some signs that your mood might have dropped include:
- Feeling exhausted all the time
- Crying more often than usual
- Other people, such as partners or colleagues, asking if you're feeling ok
- Changes to appetite (both wanting more or less food)
- Feeling worried about things that haven't bothered you in the past
- Low motivation
- Enjoying life less.
Don't ignore these changes, or think they are just 'part of life'. They build up, and can lead to more serious problems if they're ignored.
every mind matters website. You can get a personal plan to help you take care of your mental health. It gives you a few simple, evidence based things to try to improve your mental health and wellbeing.