Written by Georgia Riley
There are approximately 34 known symptoms of menopause, and they're largely due to changes in the brain. Oestrogen is the main chemical that changes during the menopause and affects the same brain regions that also regulate:
- Sex drive
Up to 85% of women in the UK report hot flushes during menopause. Body temperature is regulated between set thresholds within a few tenths of a degree above or below 37C.
Like a thermostat, the brain detects when our core temperature crosses one of these limits and triggers the body into action. If you are too hot you sweat, flush red, take off layers, kick off bedclothes, etc. If you're too cold, you shiver, seek heat, and cover up. During the menopause, these thresholds move together, so your thermostat narrows and becomes very sensitive to tiny variations in temperature. You will sweat and shiver more easily.
Disrupted sleep is a frequently-reported complaint in menopausal women. Getting a good night's rest seems to be harder during this time of life, just as it can be during puberty and pregnancy, due to hormone fluctuations.
You may be sleeping – or wanting to sleep – but your oestrogen levels are still up dancing all night long, and that continual action can interrupt healthy sleep. This, in turn, reduces both the quantity and quality of your sleep. And when that happens, hormones can go further off kilter, filling your waking hours with even more symptoms, particularly emotion-based problems.
Disturbed sleep can cause no end of troubles, no matter what age or gender we are. When a child has a bad night's sleep, they can become emotional, irritable, and have poor concentration the following day. When a man has poor sleep, he can be moody and forgetful. Night sweats and anxiety can be a cause of sleep disruption but in turn be caused by lack of sleep!
While hormones influence your mood and your temper, what can make everything seem worse is a lack of sleep. One of the first benefits commonly experienced from solution focused hypnotherapy sessions is an improvement in sleep quality and this can occur quickly.
You are not losing your mind!
Menopause is a time of increased vulnerability to foggy thinking and memory issues. Many fear it’s the start of dementia, which can lead to a great deal of anxiety. However, as we have seen this may be due to poor quality sleep too, compounded by stress, mood, and life circumstances.
Oestrogen maintains sharp thinking by keeping synapses healthy. Therefore, as oestrogen-levels drop, forgetfulness, brain fog, and fuzzy thinking are normal in menopause. Functioning from the intellectual mind with an empty stress bucket will make dealing with a foggy head so much easier, and you will readily be able to come up with ideal solutions.
Oestrogen helps to control body weight. With lower oestrogen levels, we tend to eat more and be less physically active. Oestrogen may also lower metabolic rate.
Research suggests that the drop in oestrogen changes how effectively the brain uses glucose, which is why the risk of Type 2 diabetes increases. However, as women age, many other changes contribute to weight gain. You're less likely to exercise and lose muscle mass, which lowers your resting metabolism, making it easier to gain weight.
The rate at which you can use up energy during exercise declines as you age. Therefore, to achieve weight loss, you may need to increase the amount of time and intensity of exercising, no matter what your past activity levels were. An awareness of these aging factors can help reduce negative feelings, like guilt or shame for gaining weight or negative feelings like “exercise is pointless because its not working anymore”.
ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, AND LOW CONFIDENCE
Serotonin (our feel-good chemical) regulates sleep, energy, mood, and libido, and is central to our wellbeing.
Serotonin requires oestrogen for its production in the brain. So, when oestrogen levels drop abruptly, so does serotonin, and mood changes can be fairly sudden and dramatic. During this time, women are vulnerable to developing concerns such as anxiety, depression, low confidence, mood disorders, and cognitive change. As well as health fears, embarrassment, and forgetfulness, a frequent cause of anxiety during the menopause is losing your temper or being seen as moody with loved ones or work colleagues.
The low serotonin levels caused by menopausal loss of oestrogen can sometimes be offset by vigorous exercise or use of a lightbox. Low serotonin levels can also be treated with antidepressant medication. The SSRIs, the newest category of antidepressant, work directly on keeping the serotonin in the brain longer. This is where solution focused hypnotherapy can offer you a natural way to increase your own serotonin production and improve symptoms.
There is much fear and negativity in our society – fears around health and memory loss caused by the onset of dementia; fears about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), taking it, not taking it, does it cause cancer, does it cause dementia; loss of confidence and looks – weight gain, hair growth or loss, spots, saggy boobs; divorce, relationship issues, and mood wars in duelling hormonal households with hormonal teens going through puberty as mum goes through the menopause.
Take into account: mood swings, anxiety, and depression are common at this time whether you are male or female! Midlife is a time of busy lives, jobs, managing kids, teenagers, elderly parents needing more help, problems in long-term relationships, and financial issues. There is often a lot of reflection and ‘what ifs’.
There are a few key things you can do that might make a huge difference in managing this change. Among the most important is to reduce the stress in your life. According to a Harvard University stress expert: “the effect of stress on hormone activity can be so profound that it is capable of inducing symptoms, reducing stress can have the opposite effect”. Other studies report that women who participated in organised relaxation saw a 30% decrease in their hot flushes, plus a significant drop in tension, anxiety, even depression. They also reported fewer mood swings and more stable emotions overall.
Think about what’s going on in your life
Be aware of what is piling into your stress bucket.
- What is happening in your life?
- What is happening in your brain?
- What is happening in your body?
Acknowledging the contents of your stress bucket can be a vital first step in dealing with menopause. Being self-aware can help you to understand why you are feeling the way you are, and give you the tools to manage menopause effectively.
You are not alone
Solution Focused Hypnotherapy can increase your understanding of menopause and change your perspective from being overwhelmed to building the confidence to maintain a normal, healthy lifestyle.
Georgia Riley BSc, MBPsP, DSFH, CNHC, AfSFH, NCH, NBMP
Solution Focused Hypnotherapist & Modern Psychotherapist
0743 2154 586