What are menopausal mood swings – and what can help? Here’s a practical guide to a common but distressing symptom...
It’s estimated that almost one woman in every four going through menopause will experience mood swings, along with all or some of the other most common menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes and poor concentration.
But mood swings can affect any of us – men, as well as women - at different times and can vary in intensity and duration. When it comes to menopause, we’re talking specifically about rapid and sometimes frequent mood changes that affect some women during menopause, rather than the longer-term mood changes that people diagnosed with conditions such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, dementia or thyroid conditions experience.
Can menopause cause mood swings?
Yes, it can or, more precisely, the changes in your hormone levels and the ratio of one hormone level to another can trigger mood swings. If you’ve always been fairly calm, and even-tempered but now find yourself suddenly getting snappy and irritable, you may be wondering what on earth is going on. And if you’ve always had a tendency to mood swings, as women often do when they are pre-menstrual, they may become worse during menopause.
The hormone we tend to think of first as we move into menopause is oestrogen and that starts to dip from the perimenopause years onwards. So too does progesterone, but at a much faster rate. Other hormones involved in this complex process include cortisol, insulin, thyroxine – and, yes, testosterone is in there too.
Oestrogen, in particular, affects serotonin levels in our brains. Serotonin is sometimes called the 'happy' chemical and lower levels are thought to contribute to mood changes, such as irritability an anxiety, and impulsive behaviour.
Insulin is another key player because it controls our blood sugar levels – and these have a dramatic effect on our moods. A swing in blood sugar levels can trigger a rapid change in mood, suddenly making you sad and irritable.
But it’s not all down to hormones. Menopause is frequently a time of major changes in a woman’s life: for example, childbearing years are over; older children leave home leading to ‘empty nest syndrome’. Then we may find ourselves having to take on care responsibilities for elderly relatives or coping with grief over the death of a parent. And most women of menopausal age are also working outside the home – they’re the fastest growing age group in the workforce - and may be facing major job or career changes, or increased demands to learn new skills or adapt to new technology.
Having to deal with so many significant changes at the same time can be overwhelming and can also contribute to mood changes, which are distressing and confusing not only for you but for your loved ones too. According to recent research by a women’s healthcare company in the USA, almost half the (male) partners of women going through menopause said that their partners had noticeable mood swings…
‘My temper is terrible and feel everyone is against me.’ Live Better With Menopause Community Forum member
Do all women experience mood swings during menopause?
While it’s true that mood swings don’t affect every woman going through menopause, recent surveys suggest that almost a quarter of women do experience them.
Far more, however - an estimated 70% - are suffering with irritability, which is closely associated with mood swings. So, it’s possible that many more women than generally acknowledged are, in fact, having mood swings during menopause.
Can supplements help mood swings?
Many women approaching or going through menopause are looking for what they see as a more natural approach, using plant, vitamin or mineral supplements to ease their symptoms. In fact, it’s estimated that half of all women take some type of supplement during menopause and there is evidence to show that certain supplements can be effective in easing mood swings.
If you are struggling with mood swings caused by erratic blood sugar levels, for example, ashwagandha, or a combination of chromium and magnesium may help. (And don’t forget the importance of a balanced diet in managing blood sugar levels – see below.)
If you find yourself getting suddenly getting snappy or feeling stressed, vitamins B6, B50, D3 or E could make a difference. You can find other Live Better With recommended supplements to help with snappiness and stress here.
With so many menopause supplements to choose from, it can be confusing to work out what’s best for you, so we’ve put together this handy guide, which matches symptoms to supplements and includes advice on how to stay safe with supplements.
Please note: not every supplement will work, or work as well, for everyone and, in some cases, may not be suitable for you. Always consult your GP or healthcare practitioner before taking any supplements, in particular if you are taking other medication.
Can diet help menopausal mood swings?
A balanced, healthy diet is vital for our general health and this is particularly true during menopause, when you are going through so many physical, mental and emotional changes. Too much junk food, too many additive-heavy ready meals, too much caffeine, too much sugar and the wrong sort of carbohydrates, such as processed white bread, will send your blood sugar and energy levels swinging and your moods all over the place.
Try to include foods in your daily diet that will boost serotonin levels, such as the complex carbohydrates found in wholemeal pasta and sourdough bread, wholegrains, and legumes like peas and beans. If you tend to snack, steer clear of sugar-filled biscuits and sweets and opt for nuts (not the roasted, salted variety!) or dried fruits instead.
Myths about mood swings during and after menopause
As we mentioned at the start of this article, menopausal mood swings involve sudden and sometimes rapid changes in your emotions; you may find that they affect you only occasionally in the early stages of menopause, then gradually become more frequent - and they can continue for several years after you have your last period. But they don’t last for ever and, as we’ve outlined, there are things you can do that will help.
The good news is that many women feel much better once they move into their post-menopausal years, especially if they take good care of themselves during menopause.
If, however, your constant mood swings seem to have taken up residence or your mood changes last much longer or become fixed – for example, if you permanently feel low or anxious - do see your GP. They can run tests, including hormone tests, to find out the cause, as it may not be menopausal, and they can then advise you on suitable treatment options.
A message from Diane, our resident menopause nurse practitioner
Do read our recent article Feeling Stressed, Sad or Snappy on the emotional aspects of menopause.
Visit the Live Better With Menopause Community Forum for information, advice, and tips, and to share your own questions and suggestions.