As women age, it’s only a matter of time before menopause sets in. Since every person is unique, the timing of menopause varies from one person to the next. But, generally speaking, menopause affects women, transgender men, and some nonbinary individuals in their late 40s and early 50s.
While menopause is a completely natural process, individuals can feel its effects quite differently. For example, some people going through menopause might feel nothing much out of the ordinary while others might feel anxiety and depression. In extreme cases, some women going through menopause can experience a condition called menopausal psychosis.
But before we examine the different phases of menopause and how menopause and mental health tie together, let’s take a step back and take a deeper look at what menopause entails.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is the process of transitioning from a fertile individual who can get pregnant to an infertile individual who can no longer give birth. When an individual passes menopause, they become post-menopausal, i.e., someone who hasn’t had a period in at least one year.
As women endure this process, they may experience a number of medical symptoms as the ovaries stop producing as much estrogen and progesterone. Some of these symptoms include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, weight gain, insomnia, and mood swings.
As a result, many women going through menopause also lose quite a bit of their sex drive.
Going Through Menopause: The Phases
Generally speaking, there are three distinct phases of menopause:
- Perimenopause starts when women begin to become less fertile and the body stops producing as much estrogen and progesterone. At this stage, a woman might start having irregular periods.
- Menopause occurs when a woman hasn’t had a period in at least 12 months. On average, this occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.
- Postmenopause is the final phase of the process and describes women, transgendered men, and nonbinary individuals who have gone through menopause. Due to a lack of hormone production, women at this stage are more likely to develop conditions like heart disease and osteoporosis.
Now that you have a better idea of the process menopausal woman go through, let’s turn our attention to some of the signs that might indicate someone is experiencing menopause.
What Are the Symptoms of Menopause?
The most common symptom of menopause is hot flashes, which affect as many as 70 percent of those going through the process. These sudden overwhelming feelings of heat can last as long as 10 minutes.
Here are some additional symptoms menopausal people may experience:
- Vaginal dryness, which causes discomfort during sex and contributes to a decreased sexual appetite
- Incontinence, with women having to go to the bathroom more frequently and potentially leaking small amounts of urine when laughing or sneezing
- Slower metabolism, making it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it
- Reduced bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis and broken bones
On top of these physical symptoms, women may also experience mental health problems. In addition to insomnia and mood swings, some women may also encounter memory issues and have shortened attention spans.
What’s more, some women may also become very anxious during menopause. After all, this is a major life transition; not everyone is willing to easily accept that they’ve arrived at this moment in their lives. Unfortunately, research suggests that women with anxiety can exacerbate the symptoms of menopause.
Further, women going through menopause are more likely to experience depression. In fact, one recent study found that 60 percent of perimenopausal and menopausal women were experiencing anxiety, 60 percent were experiencing depression, and 80 percent had brain fog. According to Harvard, women are twice as likely to become depressed during menopause.
What Is Menopausal Psychosis?
While 60 percent of women experience mild menopausal symptoms, 20 percent experience no symptoms at all. The remain 20 percent, however, experience menopause moderately to severely, which may lead to other problems and require professional help.
For example, some women going through menopause may develop a condition called menopausal psychosis. Women who’ve been diagnosed as schizophrenic are perhaps most likely to see a resurgence of that condition. Should they find themselves developing menopausal psychosis, women would be wise to enlist the services of a therapist to help them navigate these choppy waters.
While society has long held that women going through menopause tend to be overly emotional, the science increasingly points in the other direction: that there is a major correlation between menopause and mental health, and that this is a major transition that has a massive impact on the body and mind. In fact, studies show that women endure the same kind of rapid hormonal shifts as they undergo during puberty.
For these reasons, it’s important for menopausal women to recognize the severity of the process and learn what they can do to decrease the chances that menopause causes serious mental health problems for them.
How Menopausal Women Can Deal with The Changes
While there’s nothing women can do to prevent the process of menopause from happening, there are some tactics they can employ to reduce the severity of the symptoms they might experience during the journey:
1. Pay attention to your diet.
Research suggests that caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods can all trigger hot flashes. To reduce the likelihood and severity of hot flashes, women going through menopause are advised to avoid these three substances as much as they can.
2. Get your exercise.
Menopausal women can also benefit from doing various kinds of exercise. For example, kegel exercises, i.e., pelvic-floor exercises, can help women develop stronger pelvic muscles, which gives them more control over their bladders. Further, research suggests that women who practice yoga can lessen their stress and improve their mood, which can decrease the chances they’re affected by depression and anxiety.
3. Use lubrication for sex.
When women experience vaginal dryness, sex can become painful, causing libidos to decrease substantially. If a menopausal woman is in the mood for sex, she should consider using over-the-counter lubricants to make the act more pleasurable.
In addition to these options, menopausal women — and particularly those who are having a very difficult time dealing with the condition — should strongly consider looking for a therapist to work through the issue.
The right therapist will be able to help you navigate this trying period and help you overcome things like body image issues, stress, and grief while helping you improve your self-esteem and conquer sleeplessness and depression.
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