Menopause is another major milestone in a woman’s life and is one of the final frontiers of change that woman goes through in her lifelong development. From puberty and menarche to pregnancy and childbirth and finally, to menopause, a woman’s body goes through numerous changes over the course of her life. The last transition, menopause, is no different than the rest, and as such it requires careful thought and consideration to make the transition as comfortable and smooth as possible. It can be a difficult time to navigate with so many changes happening.
Unfortunately for many women, depression is a common symptom of the transition into menopause. This can be incredibly uncomfortable not only for the woman but also for concerned loved ones. Because depression can have such a major effect on a person’s life, it’s very important to understand the symptoms (especially when taken within the context of menopause) and to know the potential options available for treatment.
Menopause is the technical term for the time in a woman’s life when she stops menstruating (officially starting 12 months after the woman’s previous period). Menopause generally occurs for women somewhere between the ages of 45 and 55, and the transition into menopause, also known as perimenopause, lasts between 7 and 14 years and is often characterized by a number of symptoms. These symptoms occur in response to physiological and hormonal changes in the woman’s body as she goes through the transition to menopause. Depression is an extremely common symptom of both perimenopause and menopause, but it is by no means the only symptom. Some other symptoms of menopause include:
Anxiety and depression symptoms are frequently observed in women who are in the transition to menopause as well as women who have already gone through the transition and are now officially menopausal. The connection between depression and menopause isn’t very well studied yet, but it is an undeniable part of perimenopause as well as the beginning stages of menopause. Luckily, although not much is known about why women get depressed during menopause, there is plenty of information available on how to treat it.
Among women who have experienced it, the connection between depression and menopause is poignant and essential to understand. The actual causes of depression during menopause are highly variable, but the most propagated theory relates to the effects of dropping estrogen levels. Throughout life until menopause, the female body produces estrogen to start menstruation in girls and encourage physical development, to regulate sex drive, manage the growth of uterine lining during pregnancy, and control weight gain and metabolism. At the onset of menopause, estrogen production dramatically drops, leading to a variety of symptoms, including depression.
In fact, during other stages of life low estrogen levels or rapid drops in estrogen result in similar symptoms to those that women experience during menopause. At certain stages during and after pregnancy or right before menarche (the start of menstruation) or the menstrual cycle, many women experience similar (though often less dramatic) symptoms to those that women experience in perimenopause. This demonstrates the intimate connection between estrogen and a decrease in hormone production with depression and irritability during the first stages of menopause.
For menopausal women, having the “menopause blues” is very normal. Feeling somewhat more irritable, sad, or melancholy than normal is to be expected. However, some women experience more noticeable depression symptoms that negatively affect their daily lives and ability to function and get through the day. No matter the severity, depression during menopause can be very uncomfortable and it’s important for women to be aware of the resources that are available to them so that they can get treatment and go back to their normal lives. Thankfully, there are many tools available to help!
Depression during menopause can be a result of a number of different things, not only dropping estrogen levels. Sleep troubles, changing body image and actual physical appearance, and changes in sex drive can all be causes for a poor mood as well. While the overall symptoms of menopause, including depression, are often attributed to hormonal changes, depression symptoms can be fueled through multiple sources. But treatments are available! Here are some of the most effective ways to treat menopause-related depression symptoms:
Exercise and Physical Movement
Exercise is an incredibly important part of any treatment plan for depression, especially for women who are entering menopause! When you exercise for 20 minutes or longer doing continuous moderately strenuous movements, your body releases endorphins and you start to feel happy. Keeping a regular exercise routine can not only increase the “happy hormones” in your body, but it can also create a sense of routine in your schedule that can in and of itself be reassuring during the transition to menopause. If you exercised before, try to keep up your old routine or modify it to suit your changing needs.
Although it can be difficult to start or continue an exercise routine when you’re feeling depressed, it can make a huge difference in your mood.
Yoga and/or Meditation
Establishing a regular yoga or meditation practice (or even a combination of the two) is a good way to reconnect with your mind and body and you’re going through the transition to menopause. If you’re feeling depressed, meditation can be a good way to “get away” for a period of time so that you give yourself the opportunity to gain perspective and have a few moments of peace. Plus, because your body goes through changes during menopause just as it did during menarche, practicing gentle movement like yoga can help you relearn your body and practice working with it in new ways.
Herbal Remedies and Dietary Changes
For thousands of years in China and India, women who started perimenopause visited traditional acupuncture or Ayurveda practitioners for advice. Practitioners of these medical systems would offer specific herbs to women and propose very particular dietary changes to help them get through perimenopause and manage the symptoms of the transition. In the west in the ancient past, it wasn’t uncommon for herbs and diet to be used at this time in women’s lives as well. Today, these traditional therapies are making a comeback. If you’re interested in natural remedies for treating menopause symptoms, contact a specialist so that you can get high quality, personalized information for your unique situation.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
For women entering menopause, hormone replacement therapy (with either organic or synthetic hormones) is a viable and popular choice. This treatment involves the administration of extra estrogen during perimenopause in order to reduce the problems associated with decreased hormone levels, such as the symptoms of anxiety and depression. The estrogen may be self-administered either as a pill, a patch, a gel, or a special vaginal ring. Contact an HRT treatment specialist for more information if this treatment option appeals to you.
While the symptoms of depression that occur during menopause are most commonly caused by something physiological, that doesn’t mean that therapy can’t help women overcome anxiety and depression at this time in their lives. For example, therapy for the symptoms of depression can help perimenopausal women to reflect more consciously on their mood and its correlation with their physical symptoms. For many women experiencing menopause, being able to discuss the changes in mood and physical feeling or appearance is a major key to being able to successfully overcome the symptoms of depression. While not all the symptoms may go away with only therapeutic treatment, therapy is a great addition to any menopause treatment plan because it offers support and reassurance during the process.
The transition to menopause can be a difficult time in a woman’s life for many reasons, but it can also be rewarding and offer many surprising benefits. Although the transition itself is hard, many women say that once they got through it that they were able to go back to living their lives as normal and that they even had increased energy, a higher sex drive, and better focus! Nonetheless, developing a suitable treatment plan that will support, heal, and comfort you during the menopausal transition is very important, especially given that the transition can take some time.
If you’re currently going through menopause and you’re experiencing the symptoms of depression, our therapists at BetterHelp can help. Contact us today to set up your first appointment and get started building a support network.