Tips for natural ways of coping with increased stress and anxiety in menopause...
The menopause can be a stressful time. Changes to your body like hot flushes and night sweats, or vaginal dryness and painful sex can be a source of anxiety at work and in your personal life. These physical symptoms are related to lower levels of female reproductive hormones around the menopause, a natural part of the ageing process that effects all women. But not all women experience these symptoms and some find them easier to cope with than others. Quite why is not clear, but if you do some from stress and anxiety, you are definitely not alone.
Many women also report mood changes - feeling tearful, panicky, or angry - that also leave family members and colleagues bewildered. Of course that just adds to stress and anxiety about physical changes, so it’s a vicious circle.
Research suggests that mood swings are more likely to be associated with life stress, poor health, and a history of depression, so tackling these problems is likely to be more effective than focussing just on the menopause.
The menopause coincides with other stressful challenges - caring for tricky teenagers and/or elderly parents; feeling lonely when children - and possibly partners - fly the nest; job and financial insecurity. Could these be the real causes of your stress and anxiety? Teasing it out is hard, and these challenges are arguably harder to deal with than the menopause - but of course, it doesn’t help.
HRT can certainly alleviate the physical symptoms by boosting those dwindling hormones. There is more medical research into its efficacy and possible side effects than for other treatment, and it produced under strict regulations by the medical authorities.
However, although the benefits outweigh the risks, HRT is not for everyone, either because it interacts with other medication, or just by choice. So what are the natural alternatives for coping with stress and anxiety around the menopause, and how effective and safe are they?
Natural menopause stress treatments
These are not as well tested and regulated as pharmaceutical products like HRT, so it’s harder to be sure what exactly is in them and how well they work. That’s not to say they don’t: some women report excellent results, so it may be a matter of trying them and seeing what works for you.
The golden rules:
- Natural does not always mean safe - beware of side effects.
- Herbal remedies may interact with other medication you might be taking - consult your doctor.
- Make sure you take the right amount to avoid side effects.
- If you live in the UK, try to choose products that are approved by the government’s Traditional Herbal Medicine Scheme (THR). They have a THR logo on their packs, meaning they have the correct dosage, are of high quality and have suitable product information (drug interactions and side effects) included in the pack. You can find a list of approved products here for menopausal symptoms (type ‘control f’ and then ‘menopause’ into the search field.
St John’s Wort
Anxiety and stress can be a form of depression, leading to feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. St John’s Wort can help with mild to moderate depression but you should not take it if you are on Tamoxifen because it renders it ineffective.
Made mostly from plants to mimic the hormones our bodies produce and prescribed on the basis of a saliva test, these are not regulated and their contents can fluctuate wildly. You can read an article written by expert clinicians about them here.
Painful sex because of vaginal dryness - it’s those disappearing hormones again - can be a huge source of stress and anxiety, for you and your partner. Lubricants can help but how “natural” or organic they are depends on the ingredients, so check the label.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT helps develop practical ways of managing problems and provides new coping skills and useful strategies. It can help with low mood and anxiety, and also coping with hot flushes and sweats through relaxation techniques, sleep hygiene and learning to take positive healthy attitude to the menopause. It is approved by the NHS in the UK and you can refer yourself in some areas, or ask your doctor. Courses can be done with a therapist or online. Find out more here
This therapy helps stop your mind running away with you by helping you to focus on your present surroundings, and to stop feeling anxious about past or future events which you can’t control. A study by the respected Mayo Clinic in the USA suggested that women experienced lower menopausal symptom scores and lower stress with improved mindfulness. Try a book, app or short course to get started.
“I’m going to suggest a mindfulness app, which I know might sound like a ridiculous idea, but I found it really helpful. I began using the Clarity app to help me with sleep (and it works brilliantly well for that!). It’s an app designed especially for women coping with menopause, and our expert @Becks_Armstrong is the brains (and beauty!) behind it” Live Better With Community forum member
“When I’m out and about, I also use the 5,4,3,2,1 grounding method to help with anxiety. I find it helps me to take control back and feel calmer.” Live Better With Community forum member
This can help although it may be down to the placebo effect - our bodies natural pain relieving chemical response, as trials with sham acupuncture have a similar effect. You can find a registered therapist here.
When we take action to improve something, our bodies send out powerful positive chemical messages if we believe in the treatment. This can be at the 50-60 per cent level for all types of menopause treatments.
Certain habits can affect how anxious and stressed you feel:
If you drink lots of tea, coffee or caffeinated drinks like colas or energy boosters, try cutting down or switching to decaffeinated types, especially in the evenings. The caffeine can trigger hot flushes and make you feel more anxious and stressed by raising your heart rate, making you breathe faster and feel panicky. It will also interfere with your sleep.
Of course a glass of wine or beer can help you relax but too much can lower your mood and energy levels, so know your limits.
Getting outdoors for walks (with or without a dog!) and gentle activities like yoga and Tai Chi can help you relax. More energetic exercise like bashing a tennis ball or martial arts are a great way of getting rid of menopausal “aggro”.
Natural remedies often contain nutrients that we could get from a well-balanced diet - protein from lean meat, fish, pulses and seeds and nuts; a rainbow-coloured variety of fruit and veg, and wholegrains in brown bread, rice and pasta. You can read our article full of ideas for eating well during the menopause here.
By Hilly Janes