4 Natural Ways to Reduce the Anxiety of Perimenopause
In 2019, I started having panic attacks. I’m a highly-strung person anyway, but this was different – it felt like my skin was on fire. Simple tasks like going to the shop to buy groceries left me short of breath and trembling. I couldn’t sleep, concentrate, or work. I lost my job, confidence, and peace of mind. At the time, I’d no idea my symptoms were normal.
Two years later, during which I studied nutrition to find out what was going on in my body, I understand that my condition wasn’t some weird hiccup in my personality or a sign of latent weakness, but the result of my plummeting oestrogen levels. This is a common experience for perimenopausal women, and here, I explain why.
What is Menopause?
A lot of women don’t realize that the symptoms we associate with menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats and brain fog, are actually symptoms of perimenopause, which occurs in the years leading up to menopause. It’s important to understand the stages of menopause because hormones are doing different things at each stage, affecting your body differently.
Menopause occurs at different ages for individual women, but generally happens in the late 40s to early 50s. A normal age to start experiencing perimenopause symptoms is between 44 and 46. Menopause has 3 stages and looks like this:
1. Perimenopause is when female sex steroid hormones start to fluctuate, and occurs in the years leading up to menopause, usually four to five years prior to menopause.
2. Menopause is one point in time, and is the month that periods have stopped for 12 months. Once you hit that 12-month mark without a period, you’re in menopause.
3. Post-Menopause is the rest of your life after menopause. At this point, oestrogen falls dramatically, and remains low for the remainder of life.
What is Oestrogen?
Oestrogen is one of the sex steroid hormones that are dominant in woman. Female sex steroid hormones include oestrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulate hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (FH), and testosterone. Oestrogen and testosterone are present in both men and women, but in different ratios, with oestrogen higher in women, and testosterone higher in men.
Don’t let the word “steroid” confuse you. What these hormones do is regulate the female menstrual cycle. However, in the last 20 years, research has expanded to reveal that these hormones do a lot more than control the reproductive system. They also play key roles in muscle and bone health, metabolism, homeostasis and brain function.
Sex hormones are also present in the breasts, bones, skin, kidneys, and lungs as well as the vascular, nervous and immune systems. Understanding that they’re present throughout the body is key to understanding how fluctuations in sex hormones affect everything from body temperature to mood during perimenopause.
There are three types of oestrogen, and these change over the life cycle of a woman’s body. In the pre-menopause years i.e. the fertile years before menopause, a type of oestrogen called E2 is dominant, and is the most powerful type of oestrogen. The other types are estriol or E3, which is dominant during pregnancy, and estrone or E1, which is dominant during menopause and ten times less potent that E2.
What Oestrogen Does
Oestrogen or E2 does some of the most important jobs in the body. It:
- Stimulates tissue growth,
- Stimulates muscle growth
- Promotes inflammation
- Provokes immune response
The following are just some of the functions oestrogen affects:
- Regulates the balance of insulin in the blood, controlling blood sugar levels.
- Regulates calcium absorption in bones.
- Crosses the blood-brain barrier impacting the nervous system to regulate mood, body temperature and hydration.
- Interacts with gut microbiota to regulate appetite.
- Is involved in glucose homeostasis, affecting energy levels.
- Is a precursor to serotonin, affecting mood and overall feelings of wellbeing.
It’s important to note that oestrogen and progesterone antagonize each other, meaning they do opposite jobs. For example, whereas E2 promotes inflammation, progesterone counteracts it. And the ways oestrogen and progesterone antagonize each other is heightened during perimenopause, as sex hormones fluctuate and plummet.
While the symptoms of perimenopause are directly related to hormone levels, the symptoms associated with menopause, such as bone loss, muscle loss and weight gain, are more age-related. However, taking action to regulate perimenopause symptoms can mitigate the effects of menopause.
Symptoms of Perimenopause
The list of perimenopausal symptoms is long and includes:
- Hot Flashes
- Mood Swings
- Back Ache
- Joint Ache
- Facial Hair
- Dry Skin
- Low Libido
- Dry Vag
- Increased Urination
- Brain Fog
- Muscle Loss
- Weight Gain
- Lack of Co-ordination
- Lack of Confidence
Natural Ways to Reduce Anxiety of Perimenopause
1. Physiological Sigh
This comes from the lab of Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist who hosts a podcast on Youtube that examines practical ways science can help you boost your health. His podcasts cover a wide range of topics, everything from how to improve your sleep cycles to how to learn faster and combat feelings of negativity or stress levels.
One of the hacks he recommends is called the Physiological Sigh, which is basically taking two quick inhales in succession, followed by one exhale. In this podcast clip, he explains how and why it works. He recommends doing this in moments of anxiety or in high stress situations. He says, you only need one physiological sigh to calm your nervous system, and three, at most.
In this podcast, The Science of How To Optimize Testosterone and Estrogen, he talks specifically about how sex steroid hormones affect the body, both male and female, and offers natural solutions to manage symptoms associated with low hormone levels. As well as the physiological sigh, he explains the importance of light, and how natural light first thing in the morning can lower levels of cortisol in the body, reducing stress and boosting feelings of wellbeing.
2. Resistance Training
As mentioned, oestrogen is involved in bone health, muscle growth, metabolism and brain function, functions that are also impacted by exercise. It’s not that exercise increases the levels of oestrogen in your body but what it does do is boost metabolism, promote bone density and muscle synthesis, and regulate serotonin levels. However, it’s important to note that the types of exercise you do are important.
Because bones are weakening and muscles are degrading during perimenopause, it’s better to stay away from aerobic exercise such as running and cycling, and focus on resistance training such as weight lifting or yoga. If you’re someone who already enjoys running and cycling, rather than cutting them out, it’s better to do them in conjunction with forms of resistance training.
One of the biggest benefits of resistance training during perimenopause is that it strengths muscles and improves bone mass, which will safeguard against the natural bone and muscle loss that happens as we age. The ideal solution is to find a form of resistance training you enjoy so that you can maintain for the rest of your life. Working out will also balance feelings of fatigue and help you sleep better.
If you’re new to exercise, start with bodyweight movements such as plank, walking lunges, squats and glute bridge. Here’s a list of 53 bodyweight exercises that you can do at home and don’t require any equipment.
3. Plant Remedies
There are a variety of plants that can be used to offset the symptoms of perimenopause, and this article on GOOP lists some of them. Here, I’m going to focus on two that I use: maca and cannabis.
Maca, also known as Peruvian Ginseng, is a cruciferous vegetable related to broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale. The edible part of the plant is its roots, and it’s available in powder or tablet form. In powder form, it has an earthy taste, and can be added to smoothies or soups. For easy consumption, a tablet is better, but find a brand that offers pressed powder rather than a capsule, as capsules can aggravate IBS.
Maca is packed with nutrients including vitamins C and B6, copper, iron, potassium and manganese. In various studies, it’s been shown to mitigate symptoms including hot flashes, low libido, mood swings, insomnia and irritability. It’s also been shown to improve bone health.
In my case, I noticed the effects of maca instantly, as it boosted my waning energy levels, helped me concentrate, reduced hot flashes and stabilizes my mood. I can’t stress enough how effective this root plant is at combatting hot flashes. Once I started taking it, my body temperature cooled significantly, and the trembling feeling that dogged me for two years disappeared.
The other plant that helped my sense of wellbeing was cannabis. Research on how cannabis affects states of anxiety and depression is thin on the ground, but this study by Washington State University reported “significant reductions” in negative feelings, with depression reduced in 89.3% of sessions, and anxiety reduced in 93.5% of sessions.
To be fair, this is a crude study, and we’ll have to wait for more in-depth studies to assess the true benefits of cannabis. For now, I can only give anecdotal evidence, but in my experience, the greatest benefit of cannabis was its ability to help me sleep. Without it, the insomnia I experienced would have been unbearable. Cannabis ensured I got a good night’s sleep, and could wake up the next day feeling refreshed.
Remember, cannabis is a drug, and a powerful one at that. Also, it’s not going to work for everyone, as some people will find it too potent, leading to feelings of paranoia. It’s necessary to find the strain that works for you. Also, the effects of eating it are much stronger than smoking it, so it’s important to consider consumption method too.
4. Quiet Reflection
This is a tough one. Believe me, I know. When you’re deep in the fog and feeling at war with yourself, the last thing you want is to spend more time with yourself. I found it better to get out of the house, and spend time in nature, either a local park, or even better, local woodlands, lake or beach. But I highly recommend this as a way to sort through the noise in your head.
After you’ve employed the techniques listed above, take some time out to sit in a quiet space and have a chat with yourself. Ask yourself what you need, and see what answers come. Don’t judge, just let your mind float and see what comes up.
You may want to change jobs, change home, or change relationship. You may want to offload your kids on the nearest taker. First, know that these desires are normal. Give yourself space to feel and honour them.
Once you acknowledge your desires, no matter how outlandish they seem, they will start to take forms that are more tangible, and surprising solutions may arise. Obviously, you’re not going to abandon your kids or dump your husband of fifteen years simply because you feel like it (or you might?), but there’s likely a midway solution that gives you some much-needed relief.
What you need is relief to open up headspace to see solutions. No one but you can give you this headspace, and you give it to yourself by taking time to sit in quiet and by learning to hear your needs. As women, we often put our needs last, or feel guilty for even having needs. Fuck that shit. You have a right to give yourself what you want, and fulfill the craziest of desires. Guess what? Now is the time to do it. Go get it, grrl.
If you’re experiencing insomnia, hot flashes, restlessness, go online and order yourself some maca. Also consider taking copper, zinc, Evening Primrose, and omega-3. Add seeds to your meals: flax, chia and sesame.
If you want nutrition guidelines on how to reduce the anxiety of menopause, get in touch today, email firstname.lastname@example.org