There’s an acronym that skincare bloggers use that fits life in general. YMMV, which stands for “Your Mileage May Vary,” is often used to explain the reality that is skin, and that sentiment fits the perimenopause/menopause journey perfectly.
Every woman will have a unique experience during this transitional time, and although that may feel unsettling because of the lack of a definitive timeline and set of symptoms, it’s something to take comfort in because you are you, and no two menopausal experiences are the same, especially when it comes to the associated emotions and how they make you feel.
Hormones, Brain Chemicals, and Mood Swings
Even if you’ve had all the children you desired – or were certain about your decision not to have any – don’t be surprised if emotional swings during perimenopause and menopause leave you feeling unhinged about the end of your reproductive lifetime.
Oestrogen, “the primary sex hormone” in women, is produced by the ovaries. While most women, and many of their doctors, are quick to blame mood swings on declining estrogen and progesterone levels, serotonin levels also drop around menopause.
Normally, this “feel good” chemical keeps moods stable, but when the body doesn’t produce enough of it, mood swings appear as if from nowhere. One minute, you can feel perfectly happy; the next, you’re angry, agitated, or anxious.
Let’s Talk About Anxiety
Aside from all the hormonal and physical changes, perimenopause and menopause can feel like an emotional nightmare filled with unknowns. When will it start? When will it end? Are these symptoms normal? When will I feel like myself again?
It’s absolutely normal to feel anxious, especially after spending decades getting to know your own body, only to have it suddenly feel completely alien. According to the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, “Medical studies suggest that even under normal circumstances, women are twice as likely to experience anxiety as men.” And as for anxiety during menopause, the symptoms only get worse. Here are a few to keep an eye on:
- Heart palpitations;
- Panic attacks;
- Shortness of breath;
- Muscle tension;
- Fatigue; and
- Chronic sweating.
If any of these sound familiar or are occurring with regularity, discuss them with your healthcare provider. Managing your symptoms might require adjusting your diet, taking leisurely walks outdoors, or listening to your favorite music until the sensation passes.
A Mayo Clinic study also found that developing a mindfulness practice where you allow yourself to take note of your feelings when they’re occurring can be a powerful tool in reducing stress as well as the symptoms of menopause.
Feelings of Literal and Figurative Emptiness
If you have kids, life after they are grown and gone can be very by itself emotional. Some experts call it “empty nest” syndrome, but the simple fact is that you’ve spent many years and an uncountable number of hours raising your children, and their departure often happens around the same time you enter perimenopause. The physical emptiness of the home can easily be internalized as you question what your next move in life should be. Career changes may be in order but can feel utterly unattainable simultaneously. Add in the changing dynamics of a marriage, and you can feel emotionally empty.
Some women even describe their lack of reproductive abilities as a physical void or empty space that can no longer be filled. For them, emptiness isn’t just emotional, it’s physical. If you’re struggling to know what to do with yourself at this stage in your life or are unable to feel fulfilled no matter what you attempt, you may be battling more than menopause.
As long as your feelings are fleeting, there’s no cause for alarm. But if you’re withdrawing from others or letting the emotions control you for extended periods of time, then reach out for help. Menopause apps allow you to interact with women who are also having similar experiences. You can share your feelings from a distance, compare notes, and get answers directly from your peers without fear of being judged. Some apps even include a symptom tracker, which can make discussing your symptoms with your doctor more effective.
Sadness Is Natural, But Major Depression Is Not
If you’ve been told that it’s “normal” to feel depressed when you enter perimenopause, it’s not. Feeling blue on occasion happens to everyone, but major depression is a serious condition that often surfaces before perimenopause and worsens as menopause occurs. According to Dr. Jennifer Payne of Johns Hopkins Medicine, “When women go through sudden hormonal changes like those that come with perimenopause, puberty, postpartum and even their monthly cycle, they’re at a higher risk for depression.” Add in hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia, and you’re “up to 10 times more likely to become depressed.” Here are some common warning signs:
- Repeatedly feeling irritable, sad, or hopeless;
- Having suicidal thoughts;
- Overeating or lacking an appetite;
- Lacking interest in favorite activities;
- Feeling unable to retain information or make decisions;
- Experiencing heavy fatigue or feeling unmotivated; and
- Oversleeping or struggling with insomnia.
Instead of dismissing your depression by saying that you’re just being overly emotional, talk with your family, friends, or even a therapist. There’s no need to “go it alone” when so many people are willing to give you the emotional support you need every step of the way.
Ultimately, there are no right or wrong feelings when coping with this emotional stage in life, but some feelings should be addressed by a professional if they prevent you from doing the things you love.