What's the deal with menopause and anxiety?
Updated: Oct 4, 2022
Does menopause cause anxiety and panic attacks?
The short answer: sort of.
Changing hormone levels, entering a new phase of life, hot flushes and night sweats. Whew! Talk about stressful.
The line from menopause to anxiety to panic attacks isn’t as simple as “hormones.” But, there may be a connection.
Transitioning from the reproductive phase of life to menopause can be challenging. And, honestly, sort of mysterious for a lot of people. Knowing what to expect, what symptoms you may experience during menopause, can help alleviate some of the stress associated with big life changes.
And being aware of the symptoms of anxiety and how anxiety might show up during menopause can be a great tool for dealing with these types of feelings.
While anxiety and panic attacks may be symptoms of menopause for some people, the causes of these symptoms cannot be attributed to menopause alone. Psychological factors, lifestyle, body image, interpersonal relationships, and sociocultural factors likely play a huge role in whether you experience anxiety or panic attacks during menopause.
So, yes, changes in hormone levels during menopause might cause some people to be anxious or have panic attacks. But, other stressors related to daily life might also cause an increase in anxiety for you.
Ok, now that we know that anxiety and panic attacks can be symptoms of menopause, let’s take a look at what these might feel like. And then we can go through a few strategies you might find helpful if you have increased anxiety or stress during menopause.
What does anxiety feel like?
Think about a time you tried something new. Maybe you started a new job, or moved to a new city, or met some new people. How did you feel? It was probably a bit exciting, but maybe you felt a tiny bit of anxiety, too.
Anxiety is a natural response to the ups and downs of life. It would be strange, perhaps, if you didn’t feel a touch of nervousness before dating someone new or deciding to move abroad, for instance. However, persistent worrying can be problematic when it interferes with your daily life.
Anxiety is one of those things that can present totally differently in different people. The things you might feel if you experience anxiety can be similar to what you might feel with other conditions, so it’s important to consult with your physician if you have any symptoms that you’re worried about.
Some common symptoms of anxiety include:
Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
Having an increased heart rate
Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
Feeling weak or tired
Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
Having trouble sleeping
Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
Having difficulty controlling worry
Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
Right, so some of the symptoms of anxiety are rather similar to symptoms you might experience during menopause. And they could also be an indication of a more serious condition. Which (surprise!) can cause more anxiety. Remember to check with your doctor if you are concerned about any symptoms you might have.
Don't worry, there are some things you can do to relieve these symptoms. But hold that thought - let's first have a look at what panic attacks might feel like during menopause.
What do panic attacks feel like?
Picture this: you’re at work, sitting at your desk. You’re doing all of the things you’ve done a million times when all of a sudden, a wave of dizziness washes over you. You feel hot. Your heart is pounding. Maybe you start to sweat. Are you having a heart attack? No. It's a panic attack.
A panic attack is a sudden onset of feelings of fear or dread. They can seem to happen for no reason, and they can be accompanied by physical fear responses even though there isn’t anything to actually be afraid of.
Panic attacks aren’t rare, and like anxiety, they can occur throughout a person’s life. And the good news is that they aren’t dangerous to your health on their own, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to go through one.
Panic attacks can include some or many of these symptoms:
Sense of impending doom or danger
Fear of loss of control or death
Rapid, pounding heart rate
Trembling or shaking
Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
Numbness or tingling sensation
Feelings of unreality or detachment
No, thank you. Again, some of these things are very similar to what you may feel as symptoms of menopause. And, like anxiety, some of the symptoms of panic attacks can be indicators of more serious health concerns.
Please consult with your doctor if you’re concerned about any symptoms you’re experiencing, even if you suspect it may be a panic attack. Your doctor will be able to tell you if you’re experiencing anxiety or something more serious.
Ok, now that we’ve sunken down all the way into the wonderful symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks, let’s dig ourselves out a bit with some specific strategies you can use to help alleviate anxiety and cope with panic attacks if you experience them.
What can you do to cope with anxiety and panic attacks in menopause?
Let’s start with medical interventions like hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and antidepressants. These tools are often what people think of when they imagine ways to deal with stress and anxiety. While they can be helpful for some people experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, they are often not the most effective treatments for these symptoms during menopause.
Grounding techniques are specific tools you can use when you feel anxious or are in the midst of a panic attack. These techniques basically help you bring your attention to yourself in the present moment and step away from your worries.
An example of a grounding technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. With this strategy, you pay attention to your senses to ground yourself:
Five things you can see
Four things you can feel
Three things you can hear
Two things you can smell
One thing you can taste
By bringing your attention to your senses, you can slow your heart rate and reduce your feelings of anxiety or panic. Ah…don’t you feel more relaxed already?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one way you can try to deal with the causes of stress and anxiety in your life. Through CBT, you can gain awareness of your own feelings and how you deal with them.
With the help of your therapist, you can then challenge ways of thinking that no longer work for you and develop strategies for moving forward in a new direction. Talking to a professional therapist can be an enlightening experience and help give you new perspectives and tools to deal with challenges and changes in your life.
Another way you can address anxiety and stress during menopause is to try to have a balanced diet full of nutritious foods that promote general wellbeing while avoiding foods that can increase anxiety and stress. Caffeine, for example, is linked to increased stress and anxiety. And foods that promote gut health are linked with less anxiety and stress.
If you’re looking for a bit more support when it comes to reducing caffeine, the Olivia menopause app has a great program that can help you create new habits around caffeine intake.
Exercise is another tool you can use to combat anxiety and panic attacks during menopause. Being physically active regularly can boost your energy levels and help you manage stress.
Luckily, there are tons of ways to be active. You can do a workout routine in your apartment or go for a run. Or, you might think about joining a tennis club or another group activity. Activities like yoga have been shown to have both physical and mental benefits. And even dancing can be used to get your body moving and bring your attention to the present moment. However you choose to be active, exercising is a great way to address stress and anxiety in your life.
Enjoying activities that relax you is another way you can reduce stress and anxiety during menopause. Go for a bike ride. Read a book in your garden. Go for a walk by the beach. Play with your pet. Watch the birds in your backyard. Whatever relaxes you, do it!
Sometimes this is easier said than done, but finding ways to help get quality sleep can be useful for dealing with stress. You can create a relaxing bedtime routine, examine your sleep environment to make sure it’s optimal, and talk with your doctor if you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep.
If you’re looking for additional support when it comes to sleep, the Olivia menopause app has a really useful program that can help you adjust your sleep habits.
Finally, self-compassion can go a long way in helping you cope with stress during menopause. Treat yourself as you would treat a good friend. If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, take a break. Take time for yourself. Acknowledge any feelings of guilt that might come with taking care of yourself, and move forward. You deserve to take care of yourself!
Alright, we know that menopause can be an exciting and stressful time of life. And while menopause can cause anxiety or panic attacks for some people, there are thankfully some pretty easy things you can do to try to cope.
It’s important to remember that people use a variety of strategies to deal with stress and anxiety during menopause, and no one method is a cure-all. If you’re experiencing anxiety and stress, and it’s worrying you, please talk with your doctor about possible treatment and support options that might be a good fit for you.
Disclaimer: This website does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to text, graphics, images, and other material contained on this site are for informational purposes only. No material on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen. And never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
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