Does Anxiety Make Menopause Symptoms Worse?
The menopause brings with it a host of physical symptoms, including hot flushes and palpitations
Hypnotherapist Beverley Longhurst explores how anxiety and menopausal symptoms interact and offers practical tips to manage uncomfortable feelings
You can search for a therapist specialising in the menopause on welldoing.org – start your search here
Spring has really sprung. The sun is shining and most of us are pleased to feel its warmth, especially going through this lockdown experience. However how does this work if you are experiencing menopausal symptoms? The weather warming up may cause you to feel your inner thermostat is on overdrive, and the social isolation of social distancing can leave some feeling anxious and alone, increasing a sense of unease. What is happening to our bodies during this change of life and what sort of control do we have over how it affects, not just our temperature, but our emotional health and relationships?
What happens during the menopause?
The natural transition from pre- to post-menopause involves a gradual decline in oestrogen which can take two to eight years. The average age of menopause in the UK is 51. Vasor Motor Symptoms (VMS) are commonly known as hot flashes and can also include palpitations, disturbed sleep, mood swings, difficulty in concentration, decreased libido and loss of confidence. Symptoms vary from person to person. Many women report a similarity between how their mother went through the menopause and their own experience, indicating that there is most likely a genetic predisposition to how our bodies are programmed to respond.
Whilst the personal symptoms are something which we cannot completely change, there are many studies to suggest the frequency and severity of these symptoms is greatly influenced by anxiety. Many women report that hot flashes cause feelings of embarrassment and vulnerability when experienced in public. Some women felt obliged to explain their hot flashes or symptoms, with some women avoiding meeting new people or attending certain social situations. This highlights the significance to quality of life for the women, and how information, expectation and coping strategies are so important for our overall quality of life.
In fact, some symptoms of the menopause mimic symptoms of anxiety: sweaty palms, palpitations and feeling hot. The anxiety about the flushes therefore actually feeds the symptoms of the flushes themselves. Reducing anxiety through self-management techniques such as hypnotherapy can have a positive effect on controlling symptoms, reducing the severity, frequency and length of flushes, as well as providing a sense of agency in the whole life transition process.
Some practical steps you can take to keep cool:
- Wearing natural fibres allows our bodies to breath and can absorb perspiration, drawing it away from the skin and keeping us cool. Wearing open neck garments like v-necks are a good choice. Having something light to use, like a pashmina, if you’re feeling chilly after a flush can be really effective.
- Keep hydrated and carry cold water with you. Try keeping a couple of bottles in the freezer so if you go out you have icy water to sip.
- Consider your exercise. High aerobic exercise is known to contribute to VMS and it may be worth changing up your fitness plan to incorporate a mixture of more appropriate movement such as walking early in the morning for longer distances as opposed to running, and adding pilates or yoga into your regime.
- Keep an open window and an oscillating fan in the bedroom. Fresh, moving air is very helpful at night. Silk pillow cases are cooling and absorb moisture, while Marks and Spencer’s have a cooling range of reasonably priced bed linen sustainably crafted from the eucalyptus tree, Tencel® wicks moisture away from the skin.
- Consider a dietitian. Depending on your overall health and medical history, a dietician may be able to suggest dietary changes that can support your system as well as tackle the common issue of unwanted weight gain and advise if phytoestrogens are appropriate. Jane Clarke has a wealth of experience in providing tailored dietetic advice and supervision in this area.
- Keep a food diary. Many times doing this for a week, noting the time you eat or drink something and the time you experience a flash can identify trigger foods or drink. Be aware of what has triggered the flush can actually reduce the severity of it.
- There are aloe vera sprays and Magicool is a great secret weapon to have in your handbag. A few drops of peppermint essential oil diluted in moisturiser or coconut oil is rated well by some women to keep their skin feeling cool-never use essential oil directly on your skin.
- Chillow is a pillow insert which you keep in the freezer and insert in your pillow for watching TV or at night. It keeps the back of the head, neck and shoulder area (and you) chilled.
How does hypnotherapy help with symptoms of the menopause?
Hypnosis is focused state of relaxation, and one that we go in and out of many times a day-on a day dream for example. It is pleasant and relaxing. Hypnotherapy uses the state of hypnosis to induce deep relaxation. In this relaxed state, hypnotherapy aims to re-set some of the rehearsed anxious thoughts we may not even be aware of which are contributing to increased frequency and severity of flashes. Learning self-hypnosis with a clinical hypnotherapist will enable you to work with yourself to be more aware of when flashes may occur and how to keep calm and confident in those moments. It can also explore and alleviate some of the affiliated issues surrounding the menopause such loss of confidence, insomnia and loss of libido.
Finally, it’s important to keep in contact with your GP and a menopause specialist at this time. Kathy Abernethy (immediate past chair of the British Menopause Society) is a nurse prescriber and author who runs a specialist menopause clinic. Don’t assume it’s a menopause symptom or avoid medical support. Some of these symptoms which we assume are menopausal symptoms simply due to age may actually be from something else that can, or should, be treated or managed in another way. Equally, depending on your medical history and individual symptoms, you may require medical attention or advice to ensure you have a safe wholistic plan.