Menopause: I don't know how to deal with it!
For most women, menopause occurs somewhere in their mid to late forties. During menopause, the estrogen levels in the body begin to drop, and ovaries stop working. The hormonal changes that occur during menopause may cause sleep disturbances, irritability, mood swings, memory loss and difficulty concentrating. Menopause is also the time when women face multiple stressors. A woman who is experiencing menopause may also be going through significant life changes. Losing fertility can also be distressing to a woman. Women with severe hormone depletion may be vulnerable to depression or anxiety.
Hormones and a woman’s mental health: what’s the link?
Mood swings, irritability, crankiness - these behaviors in women are culturally attributed to hormones or PMS. We understand that hormones have an impact on our behavior and can make us more emotional - but what is the link? How is our emotional wellbeing connected to the hormones in our bodies?
Hormones and mood
Estogen, progesterone and testosterone are hormones in women that regulate their menstrual cycles. During the different reproductive stages, the level of hormones go up, down, or fluctuate and this impacts mood. During these times, there are also new stressors in women’s lives. It’s the combination of hormonal changes and stressors that can impact mood, make a woman feel less in control of her emotions, and even increase vulnerability to mental illness.
Why are teenagers irritable and moody?
During puberty, the body begins to secrete estrogen hormones, and the levels fluctuate based on the menstrual cycle. The brain is also still under development, and it’s hard for a teenager to control their impulses and manage their moods. They also have several internal and external stresses: coming to terms with puberty and bodily changes, body image issues, acne, and increased awareness of sexuality. They may struggle to make sense of the changes within them, and balance peer pressure and messages from family.
Why do I feel cranky before my period?
From puberty to menopause, there is a fluctuation in hormones through the menstrual cycle. In the first two weeks, the levels of estrogens go up, boosting your mood and energy. In the second week, testosterone levels begin to rise. This combination of high estrogen and testosterone levels can lead to good mood and an active libido. During the third week, progesterone rises and may lead to a sluggish mood while estrogen goes down; some women may also feel emotionally low during this period. During the fourth week, the levels of estrogen drop; this can lead to irritability, body pain and moodiness. Meanwhile, progesterone levels are dropping too, so some women feel energetic.
I’m pregnant and should be glowing, but I feel tense…
Pregnancy is the one time in when there are more hormonal changes happening than at any other period in a woman’s life. During pregnancy, there is a drastic increase in the production of estrogen and progesterone.
Due to the hormonal changes, a woman may be more irritable or moody. Due to the sleep disturbances, she may be more forgetful than usual or emotional.
Some women may experience emotional distress: low moods or anxiety during this period.
I just had a baby, why do I feel so sad?
During the late stages of pregnancy, the body has a large quantity of estrogen and progesterone. After the birth of the baby, the levels of these hormones drop drastically. The hormones that begin rising at this time (oxytocin, to promote bonding between mother and baby) are geared towards the baby’s care. The woman may be struggling with her transition to motherhood and finding it hard to get adequate sleep and food. This makes it an extremely vulnerable period for the mother; and this is also why baby blues are so common.
What does this mean for me?
There are particular stages in a woman’s life when she is most vulnerable to mental illness, and these are when she is undergoing hormonal changes (puberty, childbirth, menopause). Most women experience slightly intense emotions during these phases. It’s not all to do with hormones though. For most women, these emotions are manageable.For some others, stressors in their immediate environment can exacerbate existing distress, leading to overwhelm.
If you find yourself overwhelmed during any of these phases, reach out for help. Managing your stress will help you cope with these life changes and stay emotionally well.