Navigating Menopause: Identifying The Signs Of Physical And Emotional Shifts

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated March 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Menopause is a natural biological process that can involve considerable physical and emotional shifts. While some of the physical signs of menopause, such as hot flashes, irregular periods, and night sweats, are often widely recognized, the impact of this transition on mental health often remains less discussed and understood. Additionally, cognitive changes like difficulties in concentration and memory lapses can accompany this transition, adding to the overall psychological impact. 

There are many aspects of menopause, and becoming more familiar with the range of physical and emotional signs may help individuals better understand and navigate this profound life shift. Here, we’ll explore more about menopause, some of the physical and emotional symptoms that may occur during this time, and strategies and resources that can help individuals move through this significant life phase while supporting their well-being. 

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Navigating changes associated with menopause can be challenging

Understanding menopause

Menopause marks the end of a person’s menstrual cycles, when a person has gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period.

While frequently associated with cisgender women, menopause can affect anyone who has a period, which may include some non-binary individuals, trans men, and other individuals assigned female at birth. 

Menopause can result from naturally declining reproductive hormones (natural menopause), but it can also result from surgery that removes the ovaries, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and primary ovarian insufficiencysurgery that removes the ovaries, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and primary ovarian insufficiency

In the U.S., menopause happens at the average age of 51 years old, but the transition to menopause often begins in a person’s mid-40s. Also called perimenopause, this phase can begin around eight to 10 years before menopause and involves gradual hormonal shifts. As the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone decreases, a range of symptoms of menopause can start to surface. Understanding these symptoms can be helpful when navigating the menopausal transition.

Physical symptoms

Different people may experience different symptoms as they transition into menopause, but some of the most commonly recognized signs are hot flashes (sudden feelings of heat in the upper body) and sleep disturbances, which may manifest as insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns. 

Another common symptom is irregular periods, which can vary in frequency and intensity as one nears menopause. Some may also experience vaginal dryness, a symptom caused by declining estrogen levels that can cause discomfort and affect sexual health. Other possible physical symptoms include joint pain and weight changes. Some people may also experience urinary urgency, which involves having an urgent need to pee more often. After menopause, individuals may also be at higher risk for conditions such as heart disease and osteoporosis

These physical discomforts can also put considerable pressure on mental well-being. Persistent physical discomfort can disrupt daily routines, leading to frustration and reduced quality of life. Understanding and managing these physical symptoms can be crucial in ensuring mental health throughout this transitionary phase.

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Emotional and cognitive changes

In addition to physical symptoms, the transition to menopause can also involve emotional and cognitive changes. These might include emotional changes such as mood swings or irritability, and some people may notice that they have difficulties in concentration or lapses in memory. 

Around menopause, a person’s risk for depression and anxiety may also increase, which could be linked to changing hormones, other menopausal symptoms, or other factors. Despite these symptoms' substantial impact on a person’s daily life, societal stigma often leads to their downplaying or outright dismissal. 

It’s important to underscore that these emotional and cognitive symptoms can be a common part of the menopausal transition and deserve as much attention and care as physical symptoms. Reducing societal stigma and embracing understanding is key to supporting people through this significant life phase. 

Coping mechanisms and support

Menopause is a natural process and part of aging, but for some people, some of the symptoms of menopause can cause significant disruptions to daily life, and incorporating coping strategies or seeking treatment for those symptoms can be very beneficial in navigating this time. Depending on individual needs and symptoms, this may range from lifestyle adjustments, such as nutrition and exercise, to therapy or medication. Some people may also benefit from joining support groups to connect with others also going through this transition. 

Different people can have very different experiences when it comes to menopause, and there is no “one size fits all” approach to navigating this transition. What works best for one person may not yield the same results for another, but recognizing the physical and emotional changes occurring during menopause and seeking support when needed can be helpful. 

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Navigating changes associated with menopause can be challenging

However, the stigma around discussing menopause and its effects might make some people hesitant to seek help in person. Online therapy can help mitigate this barrier, as it allows you to connect with a licensed therapist in a discreet way from the comfort of your own home. This may make it feel easier for some people to engage in an open dialogue about menopausal symptoms, discuss their experiences, seek advice, and explore coping strategies. 

Research has also demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for a range of concerns, including those related to menopause. For instance, a 2021 randomized controlled trial evaluated the efficacy of an internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program for sleeping difficulties in menopausal women. The researchers found that “Internet-based CBT is effective in reducing sleeping difficulties,” particularly in regard to sleep quality and insomnia. 

Takeaway

Marking the end of a person’s menstrual cycles, menopause is the time when a person has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. The transition to menopause can involve a variety of physical, emotional, and cognitive shifts. Different people may experience different symptoms, but some of the possible symptoms of this time include hot flashes, mood swings, sleep problems, irritability, memory lapses, and difficulties in concentration. 

If menopausal shifts are causing you distress, know that there are many coping strategies and resources available that can help. For some individuals, some of the societal stigma and misunderstanding surrounding menopause may make it feel difficult to seek help in person. In these cases, online therapy may present a convenient option, as it offers the ability to connect with a licensed therapist from your own space.

Understand how menopause impacts the body and mind
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