While it can start sooner for some women (known as premature menopause), the menopause tends to happen anywhere between the ages of 40 and 58, and in the UK the average age is 51. It is preceded by the perimenopause which lasts between four to ten years, as your ovaries gradually start producing less oestrogen and your body transitions towards menopause.
In the final phase of perimenopause (roughly one to two years), the oestrogen decline accelerates, and it is during this time that some women may experience more noticeable menopausal symptoms. Once your ovaries stop releasing eggs and you haven't had a period for a year, you are officially diagnosed as menopausal.
However, it's not uncommon for some women to have one or a few periods after this time and for them, it might be more appropriate to diagnose them as menopausal after two years without a period. The postmenopausal phase is the years after menopause, and it's during this time that menopausal symptoms may ease.
Postmenopause women are more at risk of conditions such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease due to lower oestrogen levels.
We are all different, and not all women will have the same experience of perimenopause and menopause. Some can breeze right through it, while others can struggle. Aside from irregular periods, common symptoms include night sweats and hot flashes, disrupted sleep, muscular and joint aches and pains, brain fog, vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex, skin changes, thinning hair, increased facial hair and lowered sex drive.
For many women, mood swings, anxiety, and depression are a challenging and unexpected reality, and that's what we'll be discussing in this article.
Mood swings & anxiety during perimenopause, menopause
Dealing with the menopause while still carrying on with commitments, family, and work can add a significant layer of stress to daily life. It can often coincide with other major life events like coming to terms with children leaving home, caring for ageing parents, or dealing with teenager issues.
This is a hugely transitional time affecting a woman not just physically, but also mentally and spiritually. While some women welcome menopause, others can find it a painful time as they mourn the end of their childbearing years, grapple with changes in their appearance and any physical changes.
It’s a time when many women naturally evaluate their life, what they’ve achieved, the choices they’ve made and where they are at. It’s not unusual to reflect on where you want to go from here and what your true purpose is in life.
It’s understandable then that many women find the mental-emotional symptoms of menopause just as challenging as any physical symptoms they may experience. This can be a very stressful time leading to increased irritability where you can quickly fly off the handle. You might find that you are more sensitive and emotional and frequently feel teary or more upset than usual.
If you’re prone to anxiety, you may find this increases with perimenopause and menopause. You might regularly suffer from anticipatory anxiety, feel a sense of unease, worry, tension, panic or fear.
Depression is also a genuine and unpleasant symptom for some women going through the menopause, added to which lack of sleep due to night sweats and hormonal changes can affect your mood, adding to feelings of stress and contributing to mood swings.
Part and parcel of all these menopausal symptoms, you may also experience feelings of distraction, racing thoughts, trouble concentrating and indecisiveness. All this stress can exacerbate or bring on sleeplessness, tiredness and fatigue, digestive problems, headaches and changes in appetite.
If you are struggling with any of these symptoms, there are some natural ways you can help overcome them. By implementing them, you may find that many of these symptoms ease, life becomes more tolerable, and you start to feel happier again.
Here are 12 ways to naturally calm your moods during menopause.
1) Balance your blood sugar levels
Prolonged stress and anxiety take their toll on the adrenals, affecting hormones and blood sugar balance. When your blood sugar levels are out of whack, your mood is affected. This creates a vicious cycle of mood swings and irritability. It can also aggravate other menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and have far-reaching adverse effects on your overall health.
In a nutshell, you need to cut excess sugar out of your diet – this includes simple carbs like white bread, rice and pasta as well as sugary snacks and treats. You need to start checking ingredients lists for added sugar in condiments and any processed or packaged foods. Better still, avoid packaged and processed foods altogether.
Exchange simple carbs for complex whole-grain versions (brown rice, bread, pasta) and eat other whole grains like oats, quinoa and buckwheat.
Add healthy protein to every meal; along with whole grains this helps to slow the sugar release from your foods, balancing your glucose levels. Healthy proteins include oily and other fish, shellfish, lean meat, eggs and dairy.
When consuming any animal foods, eating organic, grass-fed and free-range is best. High protein vegetables include mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, sweetcorn, peas, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and artichokes.
Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit. Along with whole grains, these provide lots of fibre which also helps to regulate blood sugar. Hydration is hugely important as it can also help to control your blood sugar levels.
For more in-depth information on how to keep your blood sugar (and hormones) in check, click here.
2) Manage your stress
Postmenopause, oestrogen levels are roughly a third of what they were before. As you proceed through perimenopause and menopause, your ovaries gradually produce decreasing amounts, and you become more reliant on your adrenals to make much of that remaining oestrogen.
When you’re stressed, your adrenals release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin. If you are chronically stressed, your adrenals can start to take a pounding as they don’t get the chance to come back into balance and replenish. The consequence? You become depleted in minerals like magnesium and B vitamins, which all help you to cope with the adverse effects of stress.
You have chronically high cortisol which messes with your blood sugar, and your hormone balance is affected. You start to feel tired and worn out, suffer from insufficient sleep, and blood pressure can rise. So managing stress is essential for the sake of your sanity, your hormones, your stress response, your mood and energy.
Here’s the good news: all the suggestions in this article will help to support your adrenals and stress response! For more ways to effectively de-stress, click here.
3) Stock up on B vitamins
These play a vital role in how you cope with stress and anxiety and can quickly become depleted, particularly during difficult times.
B vitamins, including B12, help produce brain chemicals that affect mood. Vitamin B6 modulates adrenal activity and the stress response. Vitamin B5 is essential for energy production that enables optimal adrenal function. (Remember that you’ll be relying more heavily on your adrenals to produce oestrogen as you go through the menopause, so you need to look after them).
It is essential to replenish your B vitamins daily to help carry you through this time. Eat these foods often: Wild Atlantic salmon and mackerel, sardines, cod, dark green leafy vegetables, parsley, broccoli, beetroot, turnips, asparagus, romaine lettuce, lentils, bell peppers, eggs, oats, full fat organic live yogurt, brussels sprouts, and peas.
You could also consider taking a good quality vitamin B complex supplement.
Related: A Comprehensive Guide to Vitamin B
4) Start journaling
Help clear your mind, regain clarity and lift your mood by getting thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto paper.
When you’re chewing over worries, or coming to terms with challenging ideas, feelings and situations, they can become overworked in your mind, and you can end up feeling worse. It can calm your mind for a better night’s sleep, help to offload overworked thoughts and create time for quiet reflection, allowing you to work through any issues.
You can also take the time to practice gratitude. Write down any recent conversations, experiences or acts of kindness you’ve experienced and appreciated, no matter how small. Focusing on these things can help to shift your perspective and show you all the things that are working in your life.
5) Consume enough magnesium
Magnesium is an essential mineral that is crucial for numerous processes in your body. Among its many uses, magnesium helps to calm the nervous system, regulate mood and relieve feelings of anxiety. It may also help to ease depression and can help improve insomnia.
It’s relatively common to have low magnesium, and prolonged depletion can lead to an increased risk of chronic illness.
Magnesium is known as an essential mineral as we don’t store it in our bodies. So your body relies on you getting enough through food.
As it performs many tasks, we use a lot of magnesium. Because it plays such a vital role in the stress response, when you’re feeling anxious, depressed or stressed out, you can quickly drain precious magnesium supplies as your need for it is increased.
Research shows a link between reduced magnesium levels and raised anxiety. As magnesium plays such an essential role in brain function, mood regulation and the stress response, if you are perimenopausal or menopausal and are suffering from any mood disorder, you need to increase your magnesium uptake now, more than ever.
Bank some magnesium whenever you can by eating foods like dark green leafy vegetables, okra, avocado, mackerel, halibut, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, and bananas. You might also consider taking a supplement – the safe upper limit for magnesium is 400mg. If you do supplement, take it as part of a healthy balanced diet, full of magnesium-rich foods as you won’t absorb it all.
As already mentioned, you also need to focus on B vitamins to help cope with stress and anxiety and balance hormones. Vitamin B6 enhances the absorption of magnesium, getting more of it to get into your cells. Salmon, chicken, lean red meat, sweet potatoes, potatoes, avocados, bananas and pistachio nuts are all rich in vitamin B6.
NB – As an aside, as your oestrogen drops, you’re more at risk of osteoporosis, and you also need magnesium to help keep your bones healthy and strong).
6) Don't skip meals
Skipping meals can negatively impact your mood, energy and other physical symptoms. It messes with your blood sugar and can affect hormone balance.
So, if you’re struggling with mood swings, irritability, anxiety, low mood or depression, be sure you eat three meals a day, eating healthy protein and fats with every single one.
7) Eat healthy fats, especially oily fish
Your brain is around 60% fat, so eating adequate amounts of healthy fats is essential for balancing mood.
Healthy omega-3 fats, particularly the EPA and DHA found in oily fish, are critical for healthy brain function, and low levels are linked to depression. Oily fish include sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring and you should try to eat these three times a week for adequate amounts of EPA and DHA. If you’d rather, you could take a daily fish oil supplement.
Be sure to include other healthy fats in your daily diet to feed your brain and balance mood like shellfish, walnuts, chia seeds, linseeds, hemp seeds, egg yolks and avocados.
Creating some regular ‘me’ time to unwind and relax is crucial. Find something that suits you and make more time for it. It could be reading, listening to your favourite music, taking a walk, spending time in nature, or doing some yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.
Gentle exercise such as swimming might also help you to relax, as well as massage, reflexology, or acupuncture. Take your pick of all the fantastic relaxation opportunities to be had.
9) Look after your gut health
Looking after your gut health is also crucial when it comes to improving anxiety, stress and depression, as the gut and brain are very closely connected. Brain and mood can affect gut health and vice versa.
We have lots of information about gut health on our blog but to start with, check out this article on the link between anxiety and gut problems and how to help resolve them.
If you want a deep dive, stick on the kettle then get stuck into this piece.
10) Eat foods high in zinc
Zinc is vital for normal brain function, memory and learning, and regulating your mood. Low levels are linked to depression. Zinc aids hormone balance and also plays a role in the synthesis, storage, and secretion of insulin which helps with blood sugar balance.
During menopause, you’re likely to pull more heavily on your zinc resources. Like magnesium, our bodies don’t store zinc, and we need to replenish it continually. You need to stock up daily by consuming lots of zinc-rich foods including oysters and other seafood like mussels, shrimp and crab, beans, nuts including almonds and pine nuts, and leg meat from chicken and turkey as well as lean red meat.
Also eat seeds including pumpkin and hemp seeds, lentils, eggs, oats, quinoa and whole wheat.
11) Pack in the vitamin C
Vitamin C can help reduce your physical and mental response to stress, and its antioxidant powers decrease the inflammatory free radicals stress, depression and anxiety produces. It also helps regulate cortisol and blood pressure.
Excellent sources of vitamin C include yellow, red and green peppers, leafy greens, kiwi, broccoli, mixed berries such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, peas and papaya.
12) Get good sleep
The hormonal fluctuations associated with perimenopause and menopause can play havoc with your sleep. Poor sleep is also associated with increased stress, anxiety and depression.
Following the suggestions in this article will all help to balance hormones and moods and encourage a good night’s sleep. Cutting down on alcohol and caffeine can aid sleep, too. If you are struggling, stop drinking alcohol close to bedtime as it can disrupt your shuteye.
If you’re suffering from night sweats and hot flashes, wear lightweight, loose-fitting bedclothes, keep a window open and a glass of water by your bedside. If you are experiencing hot flashes, cut out any triggers like alcohol, caffeine, spicy food and smoking.
Stress can also contribute to hot flashes, so follow all the advice in this article if that sounds like you. For more advice on how to get a good night’s sleep, click here.
Mood swings, anxiety and depression are common perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. For many women, menopause coincides with other life events like children leaving home, which can exacerbate these symptoms. Moving out of your childbearing years and into a new phase is a transition that can carry a lot of emotion. It can be a time of reflection and life reevaluation and can be very challenging.
Though there may be a lot to come to terms with and accept during this time, it can also be a catalyst for extraordinary change. Many women find it transformative and empowering. In their wisdom, they discover that they are happier and more fulfilled in their 50s and 60s than at any other stage in life.
If you are suffering from fluctuating and low moods or anxiety, stick to the tips mentioned in this article, and you should hopefully feel a positive difference!
Always try to maintain a balanced, varied whole food diet so that you can get all the nutrients you need during this time. It can be tempting to isolate yourself and your emotions when you’re feeling low. If that’s the case for you, don’t spend too much time in solitude. Socialise regularly, and talk it out with friends and family. Be sure to spend quality time in uplifting company and remember to have a laugh.
If your problems persist and you are struggling, don’t suffer in silence. Speak to your GP or a health professional of choice.
By Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, a Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
Postmenopause women are more at risk of conditions such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease due to lower oestrogen levels.