October marks Menopause Awareness Month around the world – an annual campaign to raise awareness around the natural stage of a woman’s life when her hormone levels decline, and periods cease triggering various symptoms including hot flushes, mood swings and anxiety.
A recent survey by Anxiety UK revealed that 98% of women report feelings of anxiety during menopause and perimenopause and that 61% of these women have been recommended anti-depressants (like benzodiazepines which are highly addictive) to treat their anxiety. However, not all symptoms and experience’s warrant taking this type of medication. Instead, women may want to manage their symptoms naturally.
“Anxiety is a prevalent symptom of the menopause, but awareness amongst women and indeed healthcare practitioners is low – comments Anxiety UK CEO Nicky Lidbetter -. Societally, most of us are familiar with hot flushes and weight gain as being symptoms of menopause; this survey however shows that we need to get much better at recognising anxiety as being a key symptom. Indeed, Anxiety UK wants all women experiencing perimenopausal and menopausal anxiety to have fast access to accessible support and to have access to a wide range of treatments.”
Anxiety occurs when your bodies ‘fight or flight’ defence works continuously. An ‘imbalance’ in the way the body processes environmental and sensory stimuli leads to a disproportionate ‘excitatory’ response and excessive release of neurotransmitters between nerve cells in the brain. Leading to overstimulation of the nervous system and feelings of anxiety. During menopause and perimenopause, changing hormone levels contribute to this imbalance in the brain and heightened levels of anxiety.
Immediate Past Chair of the British Menopause Society Kathy Abernethy explains:
“When you start menopause, oestrogen levels begin to decline and fluctuate. Your body also produces less progesterone. Both of these hormones influence the production of a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which is a mood-regulating transmitter. Alongside these emotional changes, coping with physical symptoms, such as sleeplessness and hot-flushes, can leave women feeling worn out, frustrated and of course anxious.”
Research suggests that some herbal remedies might help. Lavender oil, in particular, is considered a non-addictive alternative to benzodiazepines for subthreshold anxiety sufferers which is able to reduce excessive neurotransmitter activity, reducing overstimulation and hyperactivity of the nervous response, and improving symptoms of mild anxiety.
Black Cohosh and Motherwort may work on keeping anxiety at bay, too. The first one is a commonly used herbal product for menopause and may help in reducing hot flashes, body aches, and mood swings. The second one is another natural remedy that is believed to help deal with heart palpitations.
Another familiar herbal medicine that may help in dealing with menopause and anxiety is St John’s Wort. Popular for its benefits for depression, scientists have now discovered that it may also be useful in reducing mood swings. What’s more, consuming herbal teas such as chamomile tea can have a calming effect which can help in reducing anxiety, too.
Anxiety is a beast, but it is possible to win the battle without medication. Sometimes, overcoming worry and nervousness is simply a matter of modifying your behaviour, thoughts, and lifestyle. You can start with a drug-free approach, and then speak with a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or worsen.