What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a family of psychological feeling nervous, distressed, worried and sometimes even afraid. This condition can display as mild anxiety, which is common when one is apprehensive about an event. This is usually a little unsettling but does not interfere with normal life. However, some people suffer from severe anxiety, which can be crippling and prevent a person from living a normal life. If a person suffers from this type of anxiety, then her fear, apprehension and distress are usually not proportionate to the event that she is reacting to. This over-anxiety can often interfere with sleep patterns as well as eating.
What is The Link Between Anxiety and Menopause?
Anxiety during menopause seems to be more common than doctors originally thought. A large percentage of menopausal women – up to 80% – have reported having mild to severe anxiety during menopause. In most cases, these women did not have extreme anxiety or panic attacks before the onset of menopause. Hence, doctors are only beginning to understand the complex effect of estrogen, the female reproductive hormone, on moods and anxiety. When the levels of estrogen fluctuate during menopause, then the neurochemicals in the brain that affect moods are also affected.
Symptoms of Menopausal Anxiety
There are various symptoms of menopausal anxiety which can indicate to a woman that she is suffering from this condition. An anxiety attack will usually display at least 5 of the symptoms below at any given time. If a woman is worried that she may be suffering from menopause-related anxiety, and that this is crippling her day-to-day functions, then she should seek the advice of a medical practitioner.
- Panic Attacks: This is a sudden feeling of fear without any warning. The terror that the sufferer experiences is usually not in proportion to the situation she is reacting to.
- Shortness of Breath: You may suddenly feel that you are out of breath or have a difficult time breathing and have to consciously labor for each breath.
- Fatigue: You may have very low energy, feel extremely exhausted or burnt out.
- Dizziness: The dizziness usually comes suddenly, and you feel like the room is spinning, that you are light-headed or woozy. You may feel like you will pass out or faint.
- Chills: Feeling cold no matter what the weather is. This feeling may come suddenly, or it may become a chronic problem.
- Heart Palpitations: This feels like the heart is beating faster or too hard, or it may feel like the heart skips a beat or flops in the chest.
- Profuse Sweating: You may break into a profuse sweat, without any apparent cause for it. This may be accompanied by hot flashes.
- Nausea: You will have an urge to vomit that is usually accompanied by an uncomfortable sensation in the stomach.
- Muscle Tension: The muscles feel tense and it may be difficult to move them. This may affect one or a group of muscles.
- Weight Gain: There may be a significant, unexplained weight gain over a short period of time. This may be linked to overeating caused by the anxiety.
- Racing Thoughts: You may have multiple thoughts racing through your mind about your condition, about your family or other events that may be bothering you. These thoughts are quite unsettling and disturbing, and you may find it difficult to eliminate* them from your mind.
- Depression: This makes you feel extremely discouraged and often helpless to find a solution.
Causes of Anxiety
There are a number of factors that can cause anxiety during menopause. The first of these, as mentioned earlier, is the effect of lower estrogen on the brain’s neurochemicals. Once estrogen levels are lower, then production of these neurochemicals (like serotonin) is also lessened. This effectively affects a person’s mood, and can make her highly anxious about different situations and events. Other factors that can cause anxiety during menopause are the menopause symptoms themselves. These symptoms usually start suddenly, without any prior warning and take a woman by surprise. If her symptoms are severe, thereby affecting her physical and mental health as well as her quality of life and her relationships, then it can lead to anxiety. She is not sure how to handle this sudden onset of intense symptoms, and this stressful situation can cause her to be highly anxious about events taking place in her life.
Risks of Anxiety
The following factors may increase* your risk of an anxiety disorder. Females are more at risk than males for most anxiety disorders. If you had a traumatic experience as a child related to abuse or other traumatic experience you went through or witnessed, you are at a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder. If you have an illness that is stressful to you, it can lead to an anxiety disorder as you worry about your treatment and your future. If you have close blood relatives who have had an anxiety disorder, then you are at higher risk of developing it as well. Other factors that increase* the risks of anxiety include your personality, drug or alcohol abuse and stress that builds up over time.
Diagnosis of Menopausal Anxiety
In order to diagnose menopausal anxiety, a doctor will usually run blood tests to ascertain if you have reached menopause. Once this is substantiated, and there is no history of anxiety, then the doctor will usually ask questions or have you fill out a questionnaire in order to rule out other conditions. There may also be a physical exam to rule out other medical conditions that may be causing the anxiety.
Treatments for Anxiety During Menopause
Most women find some relief for their anxiety when they balance their bodies’ female reproductive hormones. This can done through the use of hormone replacement therapy, or through natural herbs that either replace the hormones, or enable the body to produce these hormones. If the cause of the anxiety is linked to an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), then medication to treat* this will assist with the related panic attacks. If the anxiety is linked to stress about the menopause symptoms, then exercise and a balanced diet will help to manage the symptoms. A good support system (family, friends or a support group) will also assist in lessening the stress of dealing with menopause. Some women resort to taking antidepressants during this period in order to treat* their menopausal anxiety.