With all that is happening in the world today, plus the common increase in anxiety and depression in perimenopause and menopause — it’s no surprise a record number of women are asking our physicians, dietitians, and in our community about behavioral changes and taking care of their emotional health.
First, we’d like to make very clear that any woman who is depressed, considering suicide or self-harm, anyone who feels their emotional state is putting them or someone around them in danger, needs to contact a mental health professional right away.
The information in this article is meant to help those with mild or moderate symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. It does not replace care from a licensed health care provider.
We talked with our dietitians who coach women in menopause, to see what sorts of questions they were hearing from women, and the resources and advice they were sharing.
Jessica Gingrich, Gennev Dietitian, told us that yes, there is definitely an uptick in women asking for mental and emotional health resources. Common questions include:
Most likely, yes! As Jessica says, it’s important to normalize the idea that perimenopause often causes an increase in anxiety. Considering the extra concerns we have in 2020, increases in emotions are totally understandable. It’s also important for people to understand that the use of medications for the short term to support a feeling of an emotional “steady state” is normal, healthy, and safe.
To help with this, Jessica suggestions we focus on fueling throughout the day to prevent menopause diabetes, blood sugar spikes, and valleys that can impact mood (if you have kids, you know how being hungry can effect emotions). Also, consider reducing foods that stimulate energy but come with a “crash” afterward, like sugar, refined carbohydrates, or caffeine. And cut back on anything that disrupts sleep, like alcohol or eating too late.
Jessica loves this question because exercise during menopause can be such a potent de-stressor. But, she emphasizes, the type of exercise that is most helpful for stress is the exercise you do and enjoy doing. Restorative exercise like yoga, walking, or stretching can be particularly helpful for calming the mind, while more intense cardio can be helpful for “getting the yayas” out.
Katie Linville, Gennev Dietitian, has also noticed many more women looking for relief from emotional symptoms on their coaching calls. Here are some of the things she’s been hearing:
Not just more emotion, but more difficulty regulating emotion generally is, as Katie says, totally normal, even if it’s exacerbated by the challenges of 2020. One way to try to regain control is by figuring out where the emotional response is coming from: is it hormonal? Is it the stress of having kids at home rather than at school? Is it because you haven’t been able to go to your gym? If you can figure out the trigger, you have a better chance of finding a solution to match. Understand that triggers and coping techniques will vary widely from person to person.
Katie says often when women ask this question, they’re beating themselves up that they’re “not doing enough.” It’s important to first work through any feelings of guilt and shame they may be burdened with. She also suggests women consider therapy — even if feelings of not being “strong enough” are mild or aren’t apparently interfering with life, therapy can still be really beneficial. Seeking help is a normal, healthy response, and if it helps a woman deal with the challenges of 2020 and/or menopause, why not do it?
Director of Health Coaching Stasi Kasianchuk has also been helping more women than usual handle emotional stress and pain. Even when stress is moderate, it’s constant, and that is wearing people down after months and months of COVID-19 worry.
The unrelenting stress is a common theme among her clients—a moment of Zen might be all they need to get back on track, but enough time to take a deep breath is hard to find. Her advice? “Be kind, gentle, and give yourself some grace. We know we are in unprecedented times, and menopause doesn't make this easier. Remember that all women in menopause currently have never endured menopause AND a pandemic. There is not rule book for this; things WILL feel differently than before. Know that whatever you give each day can be enough, if you let it.”
If you’re looking for additional help, Stasi has some apps she likes:
Finally, it’s important to know when your emotional issues are serious enough to consult with a professional. As Stasi says, “If you are feeling anxiety, depression, and/or emotions that are too extreme, and you have tried many of the strategies listed above without any noticeable improvement, it's time to reach out to a mental health provider. These practitioners are trained to support you, and when it comes to mental health, we all deserve support.”
If you’re struggling with emotions that just feel out of control, or you feel you could use some support, please come join the conversation in our Gennev Community. You’re not alone — many of us are feeling overwhelmed and stressed to our limits, and now’s the time to lean on each other and give and get strength from one another.
And remember, if your concerns just feel too heavy to handle, there is no shame in seeking professional help: The National Suicide Prevention Lifelife phone number is 800-273-8255. You can also chat via the web at suicidepreventionlifeling.org/chat/.