The behavioral effects of perimenopause—the years of hormonal transition that typically develop during a woman’s 40s and preface the end of menstrual periods (menopause)—can be easy to ignore when dealing with physical symptoms, but they’re no less important to address.
Think of perimenopause as an ocean journey. During this time, estrogen levels fluctuate, like a boat riding the crest of a wave before descending. The long-term trend, however, is for female hormone production to decrease. Women in perimenopause may experience a variety of physical symptoms—including the hot flashes you’ve heard so much about, but also irregular menstruation, poor sleep, headaches, weight gain and incontinence. These changes eventually lead to menopause, which is defined as 12 consecutive months after a woman’s last period.
During perimenopause, you might notice that you don’t feel “like yourself,” and it’s not uncommon for some women to experience depression, anxiety, mood swings, memory lapses and feelings of having lost control of one’s life. Whether these symptoms are the results of hormone changes, the physical signs of perimenopause, or personal or professional upheaval that coincides with perimenopause is debatable—all likely play a role. No matter their cause, perimenopause-associated behavioral health symptoms can have a devastating effect on quality of life. These tips may help prevent them:
Adopt a positive perspective. Research shows facing perimenopause with positivity and humor can reduce its emotional effects.
Get back to basics. Regular exercise, consistent sleep and a well-balanced diet are powerful tools in the effort to lesson symptoms during perimenopause.
Rectify imbalance. For many women, the scale of life tilts decidedly toward caring for everyone except themselves. If this sounds like you, make your health your No. 1 priority and carve out time each day to do something that brings you joy and serenity. Your future—and your ability to care for others—depends on it.
Speak up. Silence is damaging. Talking with friends, a support group or a mental health professional can help you make sense of what you’re experiencing and find ways to cope.
Stay social. Interacting with others can lift your spirit and keep your mind sharp.
Trust your best ally. Your primary care provider (PCP) can suggest ways to cope with perimenopause, and if necessary, prescribe medications to treat symptoms such as depression and mood swings.
Perimenopause is undeniably tough, but if you put your health first and lean on those you love, you’ll find you’re tougher.
Relief in a Flash
The physical symptoms of perimenopause may contribute to emotional symptoms. This means taking steps to alleviate hot flashes, difficulty sleeping and other common complaints of perimenopause are important components of maintaining mental health during this time of transition. Looking for things to do to start combating symptoms right now? Try these tips.
Difficulty sleeping—Take a 30-minute walk after dinner, and make it a daily habit. According to Harvard University, exercising can help increase the production of melatonin, a natural sleep hormone.
Heavy or frequent periods—Make an appointment with your gynecologist or PCP, who may prescribe hormonal medication.
Hot flashes—Take a few minutes, several times a day, and breathe slowly and deeply for 15 minutes at a time. Known as paced breathing, this activity encourages the body’s relaxation response and may help reduce the frequency of hot flashes.
Incontinence—Do Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles.
Night sweats—Sleep with a frozen cold pack under your pillow or at your feet.
Learn about our women’s health services at stvincent.org/Services/Womens-Health.