Natural Remedies For Menopause Anxiety
Anxiety is quite a common problem that can affect women going through perimenopause or menopause. One of the big problems with it though, is that it’s often misdiagnosed, or missed altogether!
Menopause anxiety comes in many guises, ranging from feeling mildly agitated, to full on panic attacks. Other ways you might notice anxiety around this time include:
- Health anxiety – worrying that you have one or more illnesses.
- Imposter Syndrome – the niggling feeling that you’re not good enough at something (or anything!)
- Social anxiety – not wanting to be around other people, even close friends and family.
- Generalised anxiety – feeling anxious most of the time, or about specific situations like driving.
Many of the women I see comment that up to that point they’ve always been fairly laid back, and have never had these kinds of problems before. I find that patients with a long history of anxiety often have found some coping mechanisms by the time they reach perimenopause. Although they may not be able to resolve their symptoms completely, often these ladies know of some ways to help themselves feel a little bit better. When menopause brings anxiety for the first time, those coping mechanisms simply aren’t there. That makes matters worse, because feeling totally out of control creates more anxiety, and a vicious circle which can take a while to break.
What Causes Menopause Anxiety?
There are a few ways that menopause anxiety can manifest, and it’s not all down to low oestrogen! That said, good levels of oestrogen help to maintain healthy blood flow to and from the brain. Good blood flow means plenty of oxygen and nutrients, and helps to ensure that any metabolic wastes are removed quickly. Both are really important for both long and short term brain health.
Having plenty of oestrogen helps to make sure you have healthy levels of Serotonin, a neurotransmitter which helps you feel happy, calm, and alert. Oestrogen levels don’t crash until the final stage of perimenopause, although the cyclical changes during the lead up can mean that some women suffer in the second half of their cycle. Usually after menopause, any mental health problems will settle down again but very occasionally they stick around.
Oestrogen levels are also involved in making endorphins, another family of chemicals which make us feel happy and calm. Lower oestrogen can mean fewer endorphins for some women.
Then there’s Progesterone, which aids calmness and restful sleep. Often during perimenopause, progesterone levels can decline, and this become more of a problem as oestrogen levels rise towards menopause itself.
On top of that, we need to take into account that most of us live busy, fast paced lives these days. When we add together a hectic lifestyle, perhaps with some chronic sleep deprivation and then hormonal changes on top, it’s the perfect storm for anxiety.
How Is Menopause Anxiety Treated?
Given that there are a few reasons why perimenopause can cause anxiety, without accurate testing it can be difficult to establish the best form of treatment. What will work wonders for some women will do nothing to help others, so certainly where mainstream treatments are concerned, finding the right treatment might take a while.
There are a few options available, depending on how severe it is, and your personal preferences as to which forms of treatment you’d like to use.
Some antidepressants, like Sertraline, work by increasing serotonin levels, and are commonly used to treat menopause anxiety. Although they can be very effective, they can also take a few weeks to get going, so you would be usually be monitored by your Doctor during this time, and your dosage increased as needed. You can find out more about how antidepressants can help with anxiety here.
If you meet the criteria for HRT, this would be another option for you as it’s the fastest way of upping your oestrogen and progesterone levels. Your GP or Gynaecologist will be able to advise on the best forms and monitor your symptoms over time.
If low progesterone appears to be a particular problem, your Doctor might suggest using a Mirena coil, which delivers progesterone directly into your uterus. Again, this might not be a suitable option for you, so it’s best to discuss all the options with your Doctor.
Herbal Treatment For Menopause Anxiety
One of the things I love about herbal medicine as I prescribe it, is that it’s tailor made for the patient. That means I can mix together a number of herbs which will help to stabilise oestrogen, progesterone, and serotonin levels all at the same time. It saves a lot of time and effort just taking one bottle of medicine, plus when patients have some input in how their medicine is formulated, it helps them to feel more in control.
Each of my treatments starts with a long first consultation, where I ask lots of questions about exactly what’s going on for the patient at the moment, and what’s happened in the past. That allows me to build up a picture of what the underlying causes are, and which herbs we need to use. Herbs are grouped according to their key actions on the body, and there are a few actions I’m looking for when I’m putting a herbal medicine together for menopause anxiety.
Firstly, I look at those which will help to smooth out the fluctuations in hormone levels. Some of those herbs would contain phyto-sterols, which have a weak hormonal activity in the body. Whilst they’re not as powerful as our own home-made hormones, or HRT, they’re usually strong enough to help normalise hormone balance. Other herbs, like Vitex agnus castus, don’t contain phyto-sterols, but do influence the glands which make our hormones. This is why it’s good to be aware of which herbs should and shouldn’t be used alongside HRT.
At the same time as balancing the hormones in the background, we can work on other key areas too. You may have already noticed that stress can upset hormone balance very easily! By helping a person to cope better with their stress, we can also work on stabilising hormone levels indirectly. There are two main actions I look for when it comes to buffering the effects of stress. Firstly, I usually include at least one Adaptogen, that is, a herb which helps a person out of their stress response even when the stressful situation is still ongoing. Adaptogens you may have heard of would include Liquorice, Ginseng or Holy Basil, and each works slightly differently, supporting different areas of the body.
I also use Nervines to work more specifically on the nervous system. The nervine family can include sedatives to calm anxiety, and hypnotics to aid restful, refreshing sleep. Some of my patients are given a dropper bottle with strong herbal sedatives, and/or a nasal inhaler with calming essential oils to help them calm down during a panic attack. Some nervines you might have heard of would include chamomile, lavender, oats, and St John’s Wort.
Nutrition For Menopause Anxiety
Eating well is vital for your mental health in general, so it’s important to eat a varied, nutritious diet and cook your meals from scratch as much as possible. Make sure you include:
- Colourful vegetables and fruit to make up around half your diet.
- A probiotic food once a day.
- A good source of Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids every day.
- In addition, it can be really useful to supplement Magnesium every day, as it helps enhance the soothing effects of progesterone, even if your levels are on the low side. Magnesium in the form of Epsom Salts can be absorbed through your skin in baths or footbaths. They are instantly relaxing too, and give you some much needed self pampering.
Self Care For Menopause Anxiety
Luckily there’s a lot you can do to help yourself with menopause anxiety. Personally this is one form of anxiety where I’ve found meditation doesn’t always hit the spot, but I’d still recommend giving it a go for your overall wellbeing. The key to fixing it really is addressing the hormone imbalances, but here are some other things you can try:
- Make sure you get some outdoor exercise every day.
- Drink herbal teas containing a mixture of relaxing nervines, like this one.
- Keep an aromatherapy ‘Remedy to Roll’ with you, like this one, and apply it to your pulse points when you need to calm down.
- Get a meditation app, like Headspace or Calm on your phone and use the SOS feature when you need help.
- Treat yourself to regular Epsom Salts baths or footbaths.