Mind over menopause? Unpacking the effects of menopause on mental health
Many of us are familiar with the common physical symptoms of menopause – hot flashes, irregular periods, weight gain, the list goes on! There is however a myriad of emotional and psychological symptoms that often get overlooked. Menopause is a major life event and navigating this complicated road with little signposting can be frustrating and lonely. So how exactly can menopause affect your mental health, and what can you do about it?
A glossary of menopausal mental health symptoms
Anxiety during menopause
If you often feel restless, on edge, wired, or unable to relax, you may be experiencing anxiety. As much as 51% of women aged 40-55  experience symptoms related to anxiety. Physical symptoms and hormonal changes are the most likely culprits, but remember, anxiety during menopause is not only common but extremely treatable.
Tips to ease anxiety during menopause:
- Limit caffeine, alcohol, and sugar intake as these can exacerbate anxiety.
- Prioritise gentle movement in your body, including walks in nature and yoga which have been shown to lower stress levels.
- Try mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing exercises. (Head to the NHS website for handy mindfulness resources.)Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Speaking to a trusted loved one, your GP, or therapist is key to navigating significant mood changes during menopause.
Brain fog during menopauseForgetting or misplacing things, writing endless to-do lists, or finding it difficult to retain information? Brain fog during menopause is extremely common. During menopause, your testosterone and oestrogen levels decline. These hormones play a vital role in memory and cognitive function. When they start to decline, your brain can go into a state of deprivation.
Supporting brain health during menopause:
- Eating a balanced diet can support brain health and hormonal balance during menopause. Vitamins D, C and B as well as omega-3s and magnesium are all said to play a role in supporting cognitive function .
- Exercise your body and your mind. Regular physical exercise is linked to improved brain health and general well-being. Keep your mind active with puzzles, sudokus, or learning a new skill such as a musical instrument or language.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and drug use. These can exacerbate symptoms of brain fog.
Confidence and self-esteem decline during menopause
The physical and emotional effects of menopause, as well as changes in work and personal life, can all impact self-esteem and confidence. Not only is your body going through some major hormonal changes, but you may experience a knock-on effect in your personal and professional life. 45% of women say menopause has negatively impacted them at work . Alongside the emotional impact of menopause and general aging, it’s not surprising we may start to notice our self-confidence slipping. Finding the right support is key to navigating drops in self-esteem during menopause.
Navigating decline in self-confidence during menopause
- Don’t stay silent. Speaking to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist about how you are feeling can help you feel less alone. It can also help you to put things into perspective and make a plan to improve your mood.
- Speak to your manager or HR team if you are struggling at work. Some workplaces have policies and practices in place to support women going through the menopause. GenM provide excellent resources on navigating menopause in the workplace.
- For some, dips in self-confidence can have more serious mental health implications. If you are struggling to cope you might benefit from additional support. Counselling and online therapies as well as medications and HRT are just some of the options to consider if you’re struggling with your mental health. Speak to your doctor to find out what support is available to you.
Depression during menopause
Depression is not just a feeling of sadness. You may feel sensitive, teary, and even hopeless at times. Depression can affect all areas of life from appetite to libido, and everything in between. Studies show a correlation between depression and menopause due to the extreme hormonal fluctuations that take place during this time . If you’re experiencing depression, it’s time to see your doctor.
How to deal with depression during menopause
- Talk to your doctor who will be able to provide you with a treatment plan. This may include talking therapies, online self-help, group support, or medications such as anti-depressants or HRT.
- Stick to a routine and incorporate things you enjoy. It can be easy to want to curl up and avoid tasks and social activities when feeling depressed. Implementing a routine that leaves room for the things you enjoy can help you get out of a rut.
- Don’t skip your workout. Exercising regularly is linked to increased well-being and improved mental health. Getting out in nature or trying relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation may also help to improve mood.
- Avoid alcohol which is a depressant that can exacerbate low mood.
Irritability and mood swings during menopause
Around 70% of women report that irritability is their main emotional menopausal symptom . Declining oestrogen levels are to blame, and you might find it harder to control your moods as a result.
Tips to curb mood swings and irritability
- Try relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and meditation. These can help you step back and gain some perspective before reacting.
- Opt for decaf. Caffeine increases cortisone levels – the hormone responsible for stress! Cut down or cut out if you’re finding your moods fluctuating throughout the day.
- Prioritise sleep. Create a relaxing bedtime routine and stick to it. This might mean reducing screen time before bed, getting rid of distractions, and heading to bed earlier.
Menopause is a unique and sometimes messy transition. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re having trouble finding your feet. There are heaps of resources available to support you, particularly when it comes to mental health. Check out our list of online resources and support groups below:
- Women’s Health Concern
- Menopause Matters
- The Menopause Charity
- The Menopause Café
- Menopause and Me
 Every Day Health