How To Deal With Menopause Anger
Have you noticed yourself feeling, as one of my patients puts it, a little more ‘barky’ than before? From mild irritation, to ‘murderous rage’ and everything in between, anger is one of the many unwanted gifts that menopause can bring us. But why do 70% of perimenopausal women notice that they’re more irritable or angry than they’ve been since puberty?
Why Do We Get Menopause Anger?
There are a few reasons. To start with, being outwardly angry, annoyed or mildly irritated isn’t seen to be the done thing these days. We’re conditioned to keep it quiet when we have something to be angry about, and the prospect of confronting someone who’s upset us isn’t terribly appealing. For most of us, it’s just easier to let go, and move on. The only problem with that is we usually don’t let go quite as much as we think, so we end up collecting and storing residual anger year upon year.
All of the ancient traditions of medicine from around the world have recognised for a very long time, that suppressed anger can lead to all kinds of physical health problems. More recently, a new field of medicine called ‘Psychoneuroimmunology’ (PNI for short) has confirmed that thoughts and emotions really do affect our health. The reason I call menopause anger an unwanted ‘gift’ is that it’s like a safety valve, forcing us to let off the steam of suppressed emotion before it goes deeper, creating havoc in the form of physical illness.
Menopause is certainly good at lifting the lid off the Pandora’s box of anger, but there are chemical reasons why it happens. During our childbearing years, we need good amounts of oestrogen in order to stay fertile. Oestrogen also has the happy side effect of making a woman kind, patient, understanding and nurturing, all of which are essential pre-requisites for raising children! Our threshold of tolerance of other people’s behaviour is pretty high, but it dissipates as our oestrogen levels seesaw throughout perimenopause, and nosedive at the end. If you ever used to watch the TV programme ‘Grumpy Old Women’, perhaps now you’ll understand why being ‘grumpy’ and reaching middle age can go together!
And yes, hormone changes in men can make them a little less tolerant around this age too. I’ll talk more about that another day, but for now, let’s go back to talking about menopause anger.
One high risk scenario for menopause anger comes after a hysterectomy. Where a woman has needed surgery for an oestrogen sensitive cancer, she won’t generally be offered HRT, and the sudden shock to the system can lead to huge menopause anger.
On top of that, we need to factor in any insomnia, which if it goes on too long, is disastrous for our mental health! We expect ourselves to carry on functioning as normal but on far less sleep, and we’re simply left without the resources we need to cope when things don’t work out as we hoped.
Plus, there’s the drop in serotonin levels which often comes with menopause. Serotonin being a key neurotransmitter for happiness and calm, it’s not surprising that both can go out the window when levels are low.
What Does Menopause Anger Look Like?
It’s a huge spectrum, starting with mild irritation at the lower end, to seething, murderous rage at the other. Menopause has been used as part of a defence argument for murder in the past, so it’s not to be underestimated! Very often, the woman is surprised at her reaction in situations that would never have bothered her in the past. It’s not unlike returning to the “don’t slam the door!!!” teenage years, which of course is also caused by hormone changes. We just don’t expect it to happen again in our 40’s and 50’s!
How Does Menopause Anger Affect Us?
For those ladies who are usually cool and calm, suddenly flying off the handle can be really frightening. Not only that, it can leave us feeling guilty when loved ones bear the brunt of our anger. That in turn leaves them upset, and confused as to why their behaviour, which as they see it may have been acceptable for years, suddenly isn’t any longer. It’s not much fun in the workplace either! Conflicts and grievances can become more common as those annoying colleagues you’ve put up with for years become completely intolerable.
What Can We Do About Menopause Anger?
Communication is really important here, and saves a lot of misunderstanding in the long run. Whoever you feel was at fault when you got angry, explain that you’re finding it harder to control how you feel at the moment, due to the hormone changes you’re going through. Once you’ve calmed down and you can look more objectively at what happened, you might still feel justified in how you felt. If that’s the case you could explain how you feel in a more non-confrontational way like “I wonder if you realise that when you do X it makes me feel Y?” Menopause is a really good opportunity to set some new boundaries.
I think it also helps to explain to your family and friends that your hormone changes are largely what’s sitting behind your anger, and that right now you don’t feel as in control as you’d like to. If you have some ideas or plans for overcoming your menopause anger, maybe talk about those as well.
In terms of self-help, there are a few options.
Firstly, think about the last few times you’ve felt angry or irritable, and what the triggers were. Try taking the hormonal element out of the equation, and remembering how you felt at the time. Now you’re feeling calmer and you can see the situations from a new perspective, do you still feel justified in your anger? If you do, what needs to happen to help prevent that happening again?
It also helps to have a physical outlet. If you’ve ever observed young children getting angry, they instinctively stamp, or clench fists and punch. Turning up your favourite tunes and dancing is a great way of releasing anger, and so is punching pillows. Racket sports are another good way, and failing that, any vigorous daily exercise, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
But if the real problem is still your hormones, that’s the best place to look for a long term solution. There are lots of things you can do at home to start smoothing the rollercoaster. Here are a few ideas:
- Include some phyto-sterols in your diet, such as linseeds, miso, or sage tea.
- Have some probiotic food every day.
- Foods and herbs which support the liver are also very helpful when it comes to anger, so eating organic liver (if that’s your thing!), artichoke, beetroot, and other liver-loving foods are a good idea.
Where to get help with menopause anger.
Again, this will depend largely on how much you feel is justified, perhaps because your life has been out of balance for a while. Let’s say that on reflection, you’re doing the majority of the work involved in raising the family and running the house, as well as working full time. This might be a habit you’ve got into decades ago when you worked fewer hours, but now the responsibilities could be shared more evenly amongst the rest of your household. If your anger is more circumstantial, perhaps some life coaching, talking therapies or Hypnotherapy would be useful, as well as having some discussions with your family. Likewise, if you feel that your hormone levels need some help, there are a few options. Obviously, HRT is one, but it’s not for everybody. SSRI antidepressants which increase the amount of serotonin you have available to use are another option, but again, not everyone wants those.
Herbal Medicine For Menopause Anger
Around 20% of my patients say they became more angry or irritable when perimenopause came along. Even when we don’t fully understand the reasons why, herbal medicine still really seems to help. Perhaps it’s not surprising given that in one bottle of medicine we can include herbs that work on hormone balance, liver clearance, sleep, and serotonin levels all at the same time. When we cover all bases in this way, my patients usually notice themselves feeling calmer within 1-2 weeks.
Herbal Medicine For Hormone Balance
Of course it’s natural and normal for hormone levels to wobble around perimenopause, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work on making the transition a little easier. Herbal medicines containing phyto-sterols can be used to smooth out the fluctuations in hormone levels. There are other herbs which can influence levels by working on the glands which produce the hormones.
All of my prescriptions contain at least one herb that will help the liver to metabolise and clear used hormones, and support the gut with excretion. Every tradition of medicine around the world recognises a link between liver function, and anger. This is why in the English language we have terms like “I was livid (livered) about that” or “I’m feeling a bit liverish today”. I can’t explain exactly how it works, but herbal liver tonics really do seem to help calm down menopausal anger!
Herbal Medicine For The Nervous System
The group of herbs I use primarily for working on the nervous system are called nervines. I talked about nervines in my ‘Menopause Anxiety’ (insert link) blog, but just to recap, they’re herbs which can help to calm or stimulate the nervous system depending on what’s needed.
Often with menopause anger, there’s a constant undertone of irritability, and the woman feels as if she’s living on a very short fuse the whole time. Sometimes this happens when she feels overwhelmed and overstressed, in which case, I’d use relaxing herbs to help her feel calm and better able to cope. Herbs like Vervain, which work on the liver and nervous system at the same time, can be really useful.
Herbal sedatives can be really effective in helping to aid restful sleep, and once we’ve achieved that, half the battle is won. When your life simply won’t let you sleep for whatever reason, I work on getting the best quality sleep under the circumstances, and use adaptogens to sustain you until they change.
Let’s not forget this really important family of herbs! Chronic stress does our mental health no favours, and can leave us living on a very short fuse. Adaptogens are great at helping us out of our stress response regardless of what’s going on at the time, and they work beautifully alongside nervines.
Of course, besides these basic building blocks, I can add in more herbs to target specific symptoms. Let’s say that several night sweats each night are keeping you awake, and the lack of sleep is making you irritable. I would use herbs specifically to help ease the night sweats, which would allow you to sleep better, which would help you to feel better able to cope during the day. There are endless possibilities when it comes to herbal medicine!