Anxiety: Is it Menopause or Something Else?

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that "From the time a girl reaches puberty until about the age of 50, she is twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder than a man."

How are women at mid-life to determine if the anxiety they’re currently experiencing is a symptom of perimenopause or something else?

This would be simple if there were a straightforward answer. Instead, let’s talk about perimenopause and the changes it causes in your body and your brain, which affect your mood.

During perimenopause, as your body readies itself for menopause, your hormone levels change, sometimes drastically. Hormones regulate everything, including your moods, so a drastic change in hormone levels can lead to panic, anxiety, and depression. It’s not abnormal to experience these mood swings during perimenopause. What is abnormal is if you experience severe and ongoing panic, anxiety, and depression over several weeks or months.

So what should you expect during menopause?

If you are mid life, experiencing erratic periods (heavy or light) and other menopause symptoms, you may be perimenopausal. If you’re perimenopausal, you can easily experience mental and emotional aspects that cause you to feel anxious or depressed. The key is to determine the severity of symptoms and how long you experience them.

If you have frequent, distressing anxiety or panic attacks, that’s not part of normal menopause. Most perimenopausal women experience isolated panic attacks. You might have a few, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a panic disorder. The difference is in the number of panic attacks and their severity. When you have a panic disorder, you worry in between attacks about your next one. Your mind is consumed with panic attacks.

The Cleveland Clinic reported that, "Women who were prone to anxiety in the past or who had postpartum depression are sometimes more likely to have a panic disorder during menopause.".

So it is important to pay proper attention to how these feelings affect your daily life. Although panic attacks themselves aren't life-threatening, they can be frightening and significantly affect your quality of life. So regardless of isolated panic attacks or a panic disorder, remember to consult with a doctor if anything feels outside of the normal.

Psychotherapy is normally indicated in both cases, and medication could be indicated in a few. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.

Hormones have a wide effect in your body

When your hormones shift during perimenopause, it influences your body’s transmitters that send messages to your brain. The drop in estrogen hormone levels prompts those pesky symptoms like hot flashes, disturbed sleep, and anxiety and mood swings.

However, if you experience symptoms like depression and anxiety every day for several weeks, it’s time to talk to a professional. Get with your doctor to rule out any medical conditions that can cause depression and anxiety, like thyroid problems.

Something else to watch out for are changes in your relationships at home and at work. If there is not an obvious reason for the difficulties in your relationships, you may need to check in with your doctor. Sometimes women experience disturbing symptoms that need professional help, such as:

  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings
  • Negative feelings over a long period of time
  • Loneliness, having no one to confide in.

What treatments are available?

Hormone therapy can help with emotional symptoms, but it’s not effective in treating several mental health issues. Talk with your doctor about treatment options; they may prescribe medication to alleviate your anxiety or depression. You may also want to seek counseling to talk about your psychological issues. Or perhaps a combination of the two treatments will make a profound difference in your life.

It’s encouraging that for most women, after menopause, when your hormones level out, you feel better mentally and physically.

How long does perimenopause anxiety last?

Each woman’s path through perimenopause is individual. What one woman experiences differs completely from your experience. That doesn’t discredit either of your experiences. It does mean that what affects or works for you might not work for another woman.

While it’s important to join in conversation with women in the same stage of life you’re currently experiencing, it doesn’t mean that you should compare your experience to another woman’s. Rather, take any pieces of advice and tips for coping you can, and enjoy the support and validation that other women offer. We are all in the same boat.

That being said, it’s not uncommon for women to experience several years of perimenopausal symptoms. Other women experience mere months. If your symptoms are severe and long-lasting, your physician can help you discover treatment options to lessen the severity of your perimenopausal experience. For example, you may benefit from Hormone Replacement Therapy; that’s a decision you and your doctor will explore.

Ways to cope with menopausal anxiety

While it might not be exactly comforting to know that other women experience anxiety during perimenopause, it helps to have options for coping. First of all, talk with your physician about your symptoms and potential treatments. Here are a few simple solutions you can explore on your own to combat your menopausal anxiety.

  • Exercise daily. You’ve heard this for years, but daily exercise helps your body relax and reduces stress.
  • Reduce stress. Relaxation techniques help you reduce stress, like meditation, yoga, or hiking in nature.
  • Sleep plenty. You’ve heard you need between 7-9 hours of sleep. It’s true. Sleep is the most natural relaxation technique ever.

Final thoughts

Regardless of the basis for your anxiety, talk to your doctor. They can help you determine if it’s perimenopause related or something else. If your doctor is not well-versed in menopausal women’s issues, consider finding someone else. There are plenty of practitioners who understand what you’re experiencing and can help you. There’s no reason you should try to figure this out on your own. Reach out for support.