Anxiety was the first major symptom that I experienced.
I woke up one morning with an odd sensation in my gut like I had a million butterflies flying around in my stomach. I couldn’t put my finger on it as I wasn’t consciously worrying about anything. My daughter was happy and doing well at school and my life was going along nicely. But as the days and weeks went by, the feeling became more and more intense until it had completely overwhelmed me. It got to the point where I couldn’t eat, work or even leave the house. Even basic things like picking up the phone or cooking dinner seemed to elude me. Honestly, I was completely terrified by how I felt and I didn’t know what to do.
Now that I was 50 and with the benefit of experience on my side, why was I struggling so much?
The only thing that seemed to ease my internal angst was completely submerging myself in a film. The moment I put a film on that horrible feeling inside me would just start to fade. But the second the film finished I was back to square one; my mind pulsing and insides churning. I had completely lost my appetite and my muscles became torn and stiff from the constant feeling of stress and tension.
I remember thinking just how strange it all was. I’d been through my teens, 20s, 30s and 40s and dealt with everything that life had thrown my way. Now that I was 50 and with the benefit of experience on my side, why was I struggling so much? I was completely thrown. Even the smallest and most trivial issues became mountains in my mind. I tried everything I could think of to rid me of this feeling, from breathing exercises to meditation and everything else in between. But no matter what I tried, my mind stayed a chaotic mess and I was just lost, swirling away in whirlpool of anxiety.
Perhaps one of the worst things about anxiety is the sense of isolation you feel. No matter how close you are to your loved ones, anxiety has a way of putting up thick, soundproof walls between you and those closest to you. You almost feel that no matter how loud you scream they can never hear you and it’s that sense of being alone that is terribly frightening.
Anxiety also creates a vicious cycle that you get caught in. You worry, which makes you worry more, which makes you feel anxious, which you worry about and the worry makes you worry (and on and on and on).
I was shocked as I had never associated any of those symptoms with the menopause.
One day, I was reading about anxiety online and discovered that anxiety was linked to the menopause. I went to my GP and told him about my symptoms. He prescribed me a course of anti-depressants and sent me on my way. But somehow I didn’t think that was the right solution for me. So I went back to my GP and told him that I’d also been experiencing sore joints, headaches, tender breasts and feelings of nausea too. My GP then said that there was a strong possibility that I was going through the menopause. I was shocked as I had never associated any of those symptoms with the menopause.
After I had seen my GP, I started researching in more depth and I realised that my unexplained anxiety was down to the falling levels of estrogen in my body. I couldn’t quite believe that something as ‘simple’ as falling estrogen levels could have such a negative effect on my mental wellbeing. As with childbirth, the menopause can also trigger bipolar and depression and I will talk about this in future posts.
After I started HRT treatment and my estrogen levels increased, I found myself starting to calm down after a week or so. Anxiety had taken me from being a confident, outgoing person and turned me into a shadow of myself. It was the most empowering feeling as I started to feel like Meg again.
My Top Tips
Try and cut out caffeine
Your hormones are already in flux and too much cortisol (a stress hormone) can have a negative effect on the amount of estrogen and progesterone in your body. This can cause the imbalance of hormones to worsen. Now, I’m not one of those people that finds it easy to say no to the smell of coffee but if I have to have one, I try to avoid having one first thing in the morning as this sudden jolt can make your anxiety worse. I’ve also had to train myself not to use caffeine as a crutch if I feel tired and now I go for a smoothie or a juice instead.
Cut out alcohol
I’ve spoken to a lot of women and many of them have told me that alcohol doesn’t help at all. When you are anxious, it can be really tempting to reach for a bottle of wine to take the edge off the feeling. But things tend to only get worse if alcohol becomes your crutch not to mention the effects of a hangover as your liver has to work overtime.
Go for a walk
Even if you don’t feel like it, even if the thought of seeing anyone along the way gives you anxiety. Go for a ten or fifteen minute walk round the block. Even a small amount of exercise increases serotonin levels in the brain and can improve your mood.
Try and get some sleep
A lack of sleep and the menopause go hand in hand. Anxiety, night sweats and generally feeling out of sorts can really take its toll on your sleep pattern. It might sound too simple, but a hot chocolate or Ovaltine made with oat milk or whatever milk you fancy can really help you. A hot bath with a cup of Epsom salts before bed can also help you relax and the magnesium in the salts is a vital mineral that the body can absorb.
Find the treatment that works for you
You have to decide what will be best for you based on your body, family history and lifestyle. HRT may be the right thing for you but equally it may not be. Research different treatments and when you visit your GP, be honest and open about your symptoms and make sure you get the help and treatment that is right for you.
DON’T SUFFER IN SILENCE
Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling, no matter how hard it may be. Just talk. There is great truth in the saying that a burden shared is a burden halved. If your anxiety is taking over your life, go and see your GP or speak to a medical professional.