By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
I’ve been meaning to write this article for months now, as it’s a pattern that I’ve been observing in the many women I work with through perimenopause and menopause. Most people come to see me for the physical symptoms they are experiencing – changes in menstrual flow (light, heavy, irregular), body aches and pains, night sweats, weight gain, brain fog, sleeplessness, itchy skin, hot flashes, and more. And yes, all of these physical symptoms are due to the rapidly fluctuating, and then dropping hormones associated with menopause.
The other side of the hormonal and life transition that I’ve observed so many times are the emotional changes. It’s as though your life’s emotional baggage has come up to the surface to process all at once. In some cases it’s all about relationships, your role in your family, and very often it is past trauma. I want to normalize this part of the perimenopause and menopause experience – it’s as if your body is giving you a strong push to address what’s not working in life, or past events that you are carrying, so you don’t bring it forward to the next phase of life.
You may be experiencing this as increased anxiety, depression, anger or irritability. You may become aware of codependency in your relationships, or boundaries that need to be made, or depression and deep sadness you’ve been living with and are ready to look at. It may also feel like a return of depression or mood disorder from the past. I find that through menopause, women often feel some urgency around a deep need to change what isn’t working in their life and in their health.
Many people have written about the 50’s as being the archetypal decade of metamorphosis. After passing through the immense care-giving decades of the 30’s and 40’s – supporting family, children, friends, colleagues, where the focus has naturally been on taking care of others first. With menopause, the focus often shifts back to yourself finding time and energy to create balance, find what brings you joy and meaning, and a new sense of self.
In many cases, this metamorphosis or transition can be quite rocky, especially if you’ve been moving at the speed of light through your 40’s and haven’t directed much attention to your emotional health, or physical needs. In our 30’s and 40’s, it’s as if we don’t have needs – we can work extremely hard, take care of all of the people around us, and still seem to be thrive. Usually around the late 40’s or early 50’s, as the hormones more noticeably shift and you’re starting to have irregular periods, something big starts to shift. Women need to know that during perimenopause and menopause, it is normal to have big emotions and trauma come to the surface.
So what do we do about the emotional rollercoaster, and deep need for change?
As always, creating a strong health foundation can be immensely helpful. Eating well, prioritizing sleep, daily movement and stress-reducing practices will form a stable base, both physically and emotionally. Take a look at my recent article “What’s your perimenopause type” for direction in how to support your body through this transition – there are different patterns with this experience. Supporting blood sugar balance, reducing inflammation and addressing stress are key. In some cases we do need to directly address the hormones so there are less dramatic fluctuations both physically and emotionally – this may be with herbs, or sometimes hormone replacement therapy if the hormone shift has been very abrupt, or highly symptomatic. But most importantly, you may need some emotional support right now – working with a therapist especially to address the sadness, anxiety, trauma or relationship issues that have come to the surface.
My main purpose in writing this article is to share with you that this side of perimenopause and menopause is normal and expected. The emotional changes, the urgent need to address them, the need for extra support, and the feeling of being on the edge of a big life transition. Think of it as shedding the unwanted layers, and emerging with a renewed sense of self, joy and meaning. It is certainly not an easy journey!
I hope that this short article has normalized some of the emotional changes that are common with perimenopause and menopause. If you need support with the physical and emotional parts of your menopause transition, please ask – we can work together on a plan for physical wellness, and emotional wellbeing.