What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a very common emotion experienced by many people today. Its characterised by increased feelings of tension, fear or stress, and can really impact how we process our emotions and feel on a day to day basis.
Unexplained, new anxiety is something many women experience during menopause. In fact, they often tell us it's one of the first signs of perimenopause. This anxiety is caused by changing levels of estrogen and progesterone. Linking hormones to your emotions and anxiety can hep you understand how you're feeling in more depth. You can then explore options which help you manage the unease.
Anxiety and Perimenopause
Estrogen and progesterone play an important role in our brains. They promote cognition (thinking) and mood by regulating our "feel good" chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins.
As your body starts perimenopause, these hormones are bouncing around from high too low, as well as falling overall. The sudden swings in hormones can trigger changes in your mood, upsetting your brains ability to regulate “feel good” chemicals. This can cause feelings of anxiousness, insecurity and sadness.
Why do our hormones affect our brain?
The hormones estrogen and progesterone effect our whole body - We have receptors for them all over, and this includes our brain. Specifically within our brains, they've been shown to control our ability to create serotonin, a natural mood stabiliser and regulator of anxiety.
Stress, Anxiety and Perimenopause
Our adrenal glands are responsible for producing our major stress hormone - cortisol. Pregnenolone is the substance our body uses to make cortisol. Pregnenolone is also used to produce estrogen and progesterone.
Feelings of anxiety, that are heightened during perimenopause, are commonly associated with higher levels of stress. Naturally, our bodies favour the production of our stress hormone cortisol (fight or flight), stealing away much of the available pregnenolone. This limits our ability to produce estrogen and progesterone, creating a multiplier effect to our already depleted hormone levels - making out menopausal symptoms worse. This means it is very important to manage stress during menopause.
How can you identify anxiety within yourself and others?
Identifying feelings of anxiousness is not always easy - Only after you have recognised how you are feeling are you able to change your perspectives and move forward.
If you are feeling uncharacteristically tense, scared, and insecure and there is no explainable trigger, then your overall mood has probably shifted. These feelings can often manifest to others as being irritable or distracted. You may feel as though you are not always present and instead, are caught up in your own thoughts which seem to be running at 100 miles an hour. You may be dwelling in the past or struggling to make decisions, lashing out around those closest to you and avoiding stressful situations.
These new emotions may be unfamiliar but they are not uncommon. If you, or those that you care about, are struggling to handle this mood shift, understand that this is not a weakness and that there are steps you can take to help.
How can we Manage Anxiety?
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a talking therapy built around your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. It aims to change the way that you think and choose to behave. By targeting your unease you can shift your mindset and learn to understand the causes of anxiety.
Mindfulness is another approach, similar to CBT, which teaches you to focus on the present moment rather than your past or worrying about the future. Allowing more energy into your thoughts and feelings can help you eliminate negativity and improve your mental well-being.
Here are some useful resources for practicing mindfulness:
Breathing exercises can help you relax and manage your anxiety as well. When you first try them, find a quiet spot to practice, but once you feel comfortable with the technique then you can begin to use them when ever you feel anxious.
Can medication help?
If you suffer severe anxiety sometimes a medication called a beta blocker can be used short term to reduce panic attacks. If you have mixed anxiety and depression due to menopause, HRT may help both symptoms. Some people are unable to take HRT, or may not want to. These women should speak to their doctor about alternative options. These may include anti-depressants, that can also help with hot flushes and night sweats.
Going through menopause and experiencing changes in mood does not mean that you are mentally ill or clinically depressed. These are common symptoms associated with the hormonal imbalance faced by your body.
Physical activity is a great way in which you can manage your emotions. Regular exercise can naturally boost your mood by releasing endorphins, this helps remove existing negativity and stress. Furthermore, a daily jog or yoga will not only introduce a routine, providing you with a sense of security, but it also encourages you to focus more of your energy and priorities into yourself.
Oily Fish (salmon, sardines) are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. By consuming even 1-2 portions a week you are helping to build your brain. Studies have shown that omega-3s can help lower anxiety by promoting our mood boosting chemicals such as serotonin.
Bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, vitamin A, B6, C, carbohydrates and many more minerals. Tryptophan has been shown to raise the levels of serotonin, and because of this has been used to treat insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
A small square of dark chocolate causes the brain to release endorphins and boost serotonin levels. In a recent study, 30 people were given 40g of dark chocolate over 14 days. The results showed that chocolate eaters produced less stress hormones and their overall levels of anxiety decreased. There is a reason why chocolate (in moderation) always seems to make things better!
Chamomile tea can help you relax and de-stress if you are feeling anxious. This herb can relieve anxiety and calm your state of mind. If you struggle with insomnia then drinking this before bed may also help you fall asleep.