Menopause and anxiety

woman and doctor

The stresses of daily life – including work, kids and looking after a household – can all take their toll when it comes to feeling anxious. But, if you’re finding that it’s starting to become a bigger problem, it could be a sign that something else is going on. Did you know that anxiety is also a symptom of menopause?

While hot flushes and night sweats are commonly associated with the menopause, not everyone experiences these symptoms and others – like mood swings, feeling tearful, depression and anxiety – can often be overlooked.

“Many women actually start to worry that they’re going mad,” says Aly Dilks, a specialist menopause nurse and founder of the Simply Menopausal clinic.

“The average age of menopause is 51 – this is a time of life when a woman should be at the peak of her career, but instead she’s suddenly struggling with a lack of confidence and feeling anxious about things she never would have before.”

How are menopause and anxiety linked?

You may have read that anxiety in menopause is caused through women feeling worried that they’re getting older, are no longer fertile, or that menopause often occurs at a time when other major changes are going on – e.g. children moving out of home. While these no doubt play a part in some instances, there’s also a biological reason why you’re feeling anxious too.

“Estrogen plays a big part in how we’re feeling,” explains Aly. “We have estrogen receptors throughout our body, including our brain, and some of these play a role in regulating our mood. At this time of life, we’re not producing as much estrogen to latch onto all of these receptors.”

Estrogen naturally falls throughout the perimenopause and menopause. Decreasing amounts of estrogen means there’s smaller amounts in the brain to control the production of hormones like serotonin – a key player in regulating our mood and feelings of happiness.

As a result, brain fog, low mood, anxiety and mood swings often become more common throughout menopause, and it’s a serious problem.

“A lot of women think they have dementia,” explains Aly. “We’ve got women going to their doctor and being prescribed the wrong treatment, when actually these symptoms are a normal part of going through the menopause.”

Treatments for anxiety

While anxiety is a normal part of the menopause, it’s not something that you have to put up with. Seeing your GP may be your first thought but, as Aly explains, this isn’t always the most effective.  

“With pressures on GP surgeries, trying to arrange an appointment can be tricky enough and can add to anxiety,” she says. “Once you actually make an appointment, you’ll only have around 10 minutes with your GP. It’s often not long enough to talk about what you’re experiencing.

“You may present to your GP with feelings of anxiety or low mood and their initial reaction, for example, may be to prescribe antidepressants. Unless you say you think it’s linked to menopause, they’re unlikely to discuss other symptoms you might be experiencing. GPs aren’t taught about the menopause at medical school so, unless they take specialist training, they’re unlikely to make the link.”

Where else to turn

The good news is that there are clinics up and down the country where you can find support. Clinics, such as Simply Menopausal run by Aly, give you the opportunity for a longer consultation to talk through your options and can also help with prescriptions.

“A lot of people don’t realise but nurses can prescribe, providing they’ve had specialist training,” explains Aly. “HRT is one method that can help to ease symptoms of anxiety, and research suggests that it also has long-term health effects such as osteoporosis, dementia and bowel cancer.”

But HRT isn’t for everyone and there are also a raft of talking therapies and alternative options you can try to ease feelings of anxiety. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be a good option for anxiety, as can talking to a counsellor. Relaxing forms of exercise, such as Pilates and yoga, can also be really beneficial.

“The important thing is to arm yourself with information so that you can make an informed choice about your treatment,” says Aly.  

Find out more about Simply Menopausal

Got questions about the menopause?

Answering all the questions you’ve ever wanted to ask about ‘the change’,  Liz’s comprehensive beginner’s guide, The Truth about Menopause, reveals why we might need to start thinking about our hormonal health a little earlier than expected.

Enjoy 25+ pages, packed with Liz’s top tips for living, looking and feeling well during the menopause and beyond — from HRT, to getting active and boosting gut health.

Download your copy of The Truth about Menopause

Read more articles like this