Why put together post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and signs of menopause ? Turns out, there may be more to how menopause symptoms play out in people who’ve experienced trauma exposure, assaults, or abuse. And with so many experiencing increased levels of anxiety in perimenopause and depression in menopause, we think it’s worth a look. 

One study on PTSD and menopause

From what has been uncovered so far, the connection between trauma and menopause merits serious study. Those who have experienced trauma in their lives often have a particularly difficult time in the perimenopause > menopause transition. Many report a resurgence of emotional symptoms and worse physical symptoms than those who haven't experienced trauma.

Participants in this study were enrolled in Kaiser Permanente Northern California, an integrated health care system serving approximately 30 percent of the region’s population. Their average age was 61; most were postmenopausal (77 percent), college-educated (81 percent), and overweight or obese (74 percent). Approximately 39 percent of participants were white, while 20 percent were Hispanic, 21 percent Black, and 19 percent Asian. 

Carolyn Gibson, PhD, a clinical research psychologist affiliated with the UCSF Department of Psychiatry, conducted this study and shared, “Our findings suggest that routine assessment and recognition of PTSD symptoms and lifetime traumatic exposures when women are seen by health care providers may enhance the effective management of menopausal symptoms.”

This is the good news. More recognition, awareness, and communication with your doctor (or one of our doctors via Telemedicine) will bring about more insights, better options for your personal journey, and more tools for you to work with to maintain your well being on all fronts — physically, mentally, emotionally, perhaps spiritually too. This is true for all who are on their perimenopause or menopause journey, and especially so for those who’ve experienced violence and/or other painful traumas, diagnosed or not.

 

Feeling alone in your menopause journey? Work with a Menopause Health Coach. Learn more.

More specifics in the study

The study by Gibson focused on three main types of menopausal symptoms:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats
  • vaginal symptoms, including dryness, irritation, and painful sex

The study's findings share, upfront, that, "An estimated 25% of women will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) or sexual assault in their lifetime, and 1 in 10 women will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after these or other traumatic exposures. A growing body of evidence suggests that IPV, sexual assault, and PTSD have long-term effects on health and functioning. Over time, these exposures may compound the risks for the development of aging-related health conditions. However, most research in this area has focused on reproductive-age women, and relatively little is known about the prevalence of these experiences and their associations with health conditions among midlife and older women."

Gibson goes on to share in another article about her study, "A surprisingly large number [of women] had clinically significant PTSD symptoms as well as past experience of emotional intimate trauma violence (IPV), physical IPV, or sexual assault, and all of those exposures were associated with a range of menopause symptoms that can really affect health functioning and well being for women during this period."

On PTSD and substance use

It's worth noting this fact shared by Addiction Psychiatrist Kristen Schmidt MD, "We know that females who have PTSD are five times more likely to become substance users than women who haven't had some kind of serious trauma in their lives." We did a double-take when we saw this stat: 5 times more likely.

Observing substance use may inform and inspire the next steps you'd like to take toward improved health, including minimizing or better managing menopause symptoms. After all, alcohol, sugar, and caffeine are a couple of substances that can exacerbate hot flashes, and no one wants to experience those any more than they have to. 

Connecting some dots

Is there something else contributing to (or removing from) our general well being and overall health as we age? Can violence and trauma exacerbate and heighten menopause symptoms, making it an even more challenging path to walk? Can the effects of assault or exposure to traumatic events from years, or decades, prior affect a person’s menopausal journey? Try these foods to help with hot flashes and other menopause symptoms.

One study can’t and a statistic can't, and doesn’t, report it all. 

But this study does spark a helpful slew of new questions and potentially rich personal insights. Even if they aren’t easy or fun insights, a little support and exploration can illuminate new ideas, reframe, help you get un-stuck (if you are), and ultimately aid you in taking meaningful steps forward in your whole, beautiful life.

What can you do?

As the sole owner and only person in your body, only you will know what has been part of your past in terms of experience. 

Finding and working with trusted support is job one, in terms of healing and progressing through PTSD and menopause. If trauma, pain, and loss have played prominent roles in your life and you’re already aware of it, consider the following to be talking points for your next or future session with your counselor, coach, or support system. Truly, we can't stress the need for professional care and support enough: don't go it alone.

An exercise: Taking a look

Take a few minutes and scan your personal history for painful or challenging relationships. You can go deeper into details, dynamics, and feelings of these challenges with a professional, your doctor, menopause practitioner, therapist, counselor, or coach. 

Prompts for scanning: 

  • Parents or family
  • Dating or partners
  • Friends: school, university
  • Work relationships or colleagues
  • Were you witness to accidents or emotional or physical violence done to another person?
  • Were you ever a witness to someone’s death?

Write the names or incidents down, if you’d like. This can act as a tool and exploration inventory, one you can share as you move forward in health and well being.

If you begin to feel edgy, anxious, or even triggered during this scan, you can stop. Pick it up again, (or don’t) with trusted friends, understanding family, or a healthcare professional at a later time.

Finding and engaging in new supports

This is in addition to medical, counseling, and/or coaching support, not instead of. Finding new and nurturing support may feel challenging, but it may prove to be more supportive of your health and well being in the long run. The possibilities are numerous and can range from exploring a new type of bodywork or massage, or a new form of therapy, or perhaps a meditation retreat or new yoga practice. Nurturing support is key. 

And you can keep it simple too. How about extending your walk or run by a few minutes? When was the last time you took a break at work that lasted longer than the 15-minute lunch you ate at your desk? It might be time to break up your workdays just a little bit in order to better sustain and support your mind, body, and spirit.

Transformation is, indeed, afoot

Perimenopause and menopause are absolutely transformations and processing is part of the way forward. It’s a time to plan for, take, and receive more support… not less.

 

Join us in the Gennev Community Forums for more on this topic and many others around perimenopause, menopause, symptoms, and solutions. See you inside.

 

Shannon Perry

February 19, 2020
Director of Programming & Media

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