Despite its natural inevitability, menopause remains a somewhat taboo topic of discussion, leaving women feeling isolated and uncertain about what lies ahead. On top of hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mood swings, and a changing metabolism, many women find this period of their lives incredibly stressful. And while these symptoms and uncertainty are all reason enough to feel anxious, emerging research suggests that menopausal stress may be, in part, a symptom itself. As estrogen drops, its regulatory function on the stress hormone cortisol also diminishes, creating more stress-signaling pathways in the body. This leads to even more stress and an increase in overall symptoms—a vicious cycle! Thankfully, there are proven changes you can make to lower your stress levels and comfortably manage any other symptoms you may be experiencing.
1. Eat a Menopause-Friendly Diet
One of the best ways to ease menopausal symptoms—including stress—is by supporting your body with the right diet. During the menopausal transition, estrogen levels start to decline which can slow metabolism and lead to weight gain, as well as affect your cholesterol levels and your body’s ability to digest carbohydrates. Hormone changes can also negatively impact your bone health. Perimenopausal and menopausal women also tend to be less sensitive to insulin, meaning that processing sugar and refined carbohydrates gets a lot tougher. They’re viewed by the body as irritants and store more readily as fat, upsetting the body’s balance even more than fluctuating hormones alone. It’s vital during this stage to find a balance between proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats, as well as fiber to help with fullness and regularity; omega-3s to stabilize blood sugar; calcium to support bone health; B vitamins for mood and nervous system support; and hormone help from phytoestrogen—naturally-occurring estrogen found in plants like soybeans.
In addition to cutting back drastically on added sugar and refined carbohydrates, you’ll likely also want to cut back on alcohol and caffeine, both of which can impact mood and sleep, as well as spicy food that may cause digestive upset and intensify hot flashes.
2. Consider Supplements
In addition to a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, high-quality supplements can be a powerful weapon against common menopausal symptoms. To help alleviate stress, medical-grade botanicals like ashwagandha, GABA, hemp oil, lavender, and lemon balm are all proven effective and efficient at quickly restoring a sense of calm. Other menopausal problems like hot flashes and night sweats can be managed with supplements such as black cohosh, chaste tree, green tea extract, and resveratrol. Finally, insomnia and sleep disturbances can be alleviated through a magnesium, melatonin, or valerian root supplement. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before adding any of these supplements to your routine, as some may have interactions with prescription medication or existing health conditions.
3. Finesse Your Exercise Regimen
Exercise is always a good idea, but your needs may change as you transition to menopause. Low-impact mind-body exercise like yoga can seriously reduce stress and anxiety, as well as improve sleep. Strength training with free weights or resistance bands, at least two to three times a week, can improve bone health and balance. Cardiovascular exercise is also important, but you may need to tone down the intensity and/or impact of your workout, as higher-intensity workouts can lead to injury and/or a spike in stress hormone levels.
4. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
One of the most common problems women report during menopause is trouble sleeping. Not only does daytime stress keep you awake, but bedtime hot flashes and night sweats don’t help. What’s worse, a night of poor sleep can lead to even more stress the following day, perpetuating the cycle of insomnia. If you don’t already have a bedtime routine, now is the time start! By practicing good sleep hygiene, (reducing screen time, having a set sleep/wake schedule, keeping your room as dark as possible), you can help train your body to fall asleep more easily. If your circadian rhythms are off, try getting in a quick lunchtime walk every day, as sunlight can help. Also consider investing in your comfort; if your mattress is old, replace it, and switch your pajamas and bed linens to looser and more breathable fabrics.
5. Try Alternative Therapies
Acupuncture and acupressure are both extremely effective at lowering stress, and they can benefit a lot of other menopausal symptoms, too—including sleep and mood. A recent Danish study found that just 15 minutes of acupuncture a week significantly reduced menopausal symptoms in participants, including less severe and less frequent hot flashes, night sweats, sleep problems, skin and hair problems, mood swings, anxiety, and pain. Overall, 80 percent of the participants felt that acupuncture had been effective at reducing their symptoms. If you can’t imagine how you’ll fit another appointment into your busy schedule, acupressure, which you can perform yourself, has also been shown effective at improving sleep quality and lowering anxiety.
6. Schedule Some “You” Time
Women are often the primary caregivers and their own needs and wellbeing can take a backseat when caring for children or elderly parents. However, menopausal women report a drastic reduction in stress and anxiety levels when they make a conscious effort to include self-care as part of their symptom management routine. In addition to caring for yourself through a balanced diet and exercise you enjoy, giving yourself permission to block off some guilt-free “you” time is just as essential. Meditation, journal writing, a massage, gardening, or visiting with friends are just a few healthy ways to alleviate stress and take a break from the hustle and bustle of your every day.
While on their surface these are all easy ways to help yourself, it can be hard to incorporate lasting lifestyle changes on your own. If you’re transitioning to, or already in, menopause and need help overhauling your diet, finding the right supplements, or learning other ways to manage the stress and challenges that come with the territory, contact me. Together we can help keep you feeling calm, cool, and collected!