Managing stress and looking after your general mental wellbeing is a key part of having a healthy menopause. However, the hormonal changes that are taking place together with the life factors typically happening in your 40s and 50s, such as children leaving home, caring for elderly parents and holding down a busy job, can combine to create the perfect storm. This can leave you feeling stressed and coping with mood swings, irritability, feeling anxious as well as having lapses of memory and concentration, or ‘brain fog’.
As you enter the perimenopause, the phase leading up to the menopause that typically lasts around 1 to 3 years, your levels of oestrogen and progesterone can fluctuate quite significantly. It’s thought that it’s this fluctuation that may result in low mood and mood swings, so that life can feel out of balance. Some women are particularly sensitive to these shifting hormone levels, while others may have no symptoms at all. Once the menopause occurs (this is when you stop having periods), your ovaries stop ovulating and producing oestrogen. Oestrogen receptors are found in the brain and affect various functions, which is why the declining levels of oestrogen may cause low mood by reducing the availability of brain serotonin, as well as impacting memory and concentration.
If you’re experiencing stress, your body only has one response and that is to pump out adrenaline and then cortisol from your adrenal glands. The release of these hormones will trigger a blood glucose spike to provide energy and if it’s not used, will be deposited as fat around your middle.
Now is the time to act!
One of the first things that’s worth focussing on is balancing your blood sugar levels. In my previous post on the Nourish [Please link to Nourish article] step of the healthy menopause plan I talked about swapping from refined carbohydrates and sugar to complex carbs. This helps to reduce blood sugar imbalances, which may worsen mood swings, irritability and tiredness. You may also want to consider swapping fruits such as bananas and dried fruit for fresh or frozen berries, which have lower fruit sugar per serving and help to keep blood sugar levels stable.
Sources of the healthy fats, omega-3s are good to include in your diet. The best options are oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. Omega 3s are important for brain structure and function and there is some evidence that eating more fish means you are less likely to suffer from depression. Vegan sources of omega 3s include nuts and seeds.
Stress can deplete your body of key nutrients including magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin B5. To replenish these nutrients, good sources of magnesium are dark green leafy vegetables, figs and pumpkin seeds, vitamin C is found in red peppers and citrus fruit, while vitamin B5 is found in avocado, eggs and lentils.
Much has been written about how our gut may communicate with our brain and vice versa, the so-called gut-brain axis. There have been some suggestions that your gut health may influence your mood, although much more research is needed in this exciting area. In the meantime, it’s worth supporting your gut health by eating foods rich in prebiotics and probiotic foods. Prebiotics feed your healthy gut bacteria and can be found in foods such as onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts and grapefruit. Good choices of probiotic foods that provide your gut with friendly microbes, include live yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and raw apple cider vinegar.
Taking time out to practice mindfulness has been shown to reduce both stress and menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes in midlife women.
Breathing practices may also help. The International Stress Management Association provide a ’60 second tranquilliser’ technique that aims to help with feelings of tension and anxiety.
‘Forest therapy’ or ‘forest bathing’, seems to be the perfect fit for midlife women. It has been shown that around 15 minutes of either walking through a forest or sitting and looking at the trees in a forest can reduce your blood pressure and levels of your stress hormone, cortisol, as well as improving your concentration and memory.5 It’s been suggested that this may be due to the release of chemicals by trees into the forest air, which feels like a very comforting thought!.
Getting good quality sleep and keeping active during the menopause will both help to manage stress and your mental wellbeing. I’ll be covering these topics in upcoming posts.
And if you need help in managing your perimenopausal or menopausal symptom, do get in touch and I’d be happy to organise a free call.
McNamara, RK. (2016) Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Etiology, Treatment, and Prevention of Depression: Current Status and Future Directions. J Nutr Intermed Metab, 5: 96–106.
Toribio-Mateas, M. (2018) Harnessing the Power of Microbiome Assessment Tools as Part of Neuroprotective Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine Interventions. Microorganisms, 6, 35; doi:10.3390/microorganisms6020035.
Sood, R. et al. (2019): Association of mindfulness and stress with menopausal symptoms in midlife women, Climacteric, DOI: 10.1080/13697137.2018.1551344.
International Stress Management Association (2017). Available at: The-60-Second-Tranquilliser-050620.pdf (isma.org.uk) (Accessed 25 November 2020).