When a person thinks about menopausal symptoms, their mind might instantly jump to hot flushes, night sweats, low libido, and body aches.
Of course, these are all common symptoms of the menopause, but they often overshadow some of the more complicated, harder to treat symptoms like anxiety, mood swings, and depression. It’s easy for a doctor, a friend, or anyone around you to think that these mental symptoms are caused by literally anything else other than the menopause: midlife crisis, changes in family structure, stress at work, fear of ageing, or even being oversensitive. In reality, fluctuations in hormones during perimenopause and the menopause definitely play a role in your mental health.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can be one solution to the problem, since it helps restore your hormone levels. But of course, HRT isn’t for everyone. That said, anti-depressants shouldn’t be the go-to solution either, as outlined in our article Antidepressants and the Menopause. So, what else are you left with? Many of our readers including our very own Meg Mathews have noticed a difference when using CBD Oil but if you’re looking for a non-pharmaceutical, non-hormonal and non-herbal treatment for menopause-induced anxiety, mood swings, and depression, consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
WHAT IS CBT?
Put simply, CBT is a talking therapy that encourages understanding the links between your thoughts, your feelings, and your behaviours. With regard to the menopause, CBT might be used to help you understand how your symptoms affect your thoughts and feelings, which in turn affect your actions. For example, if your night sweats and insomnia are keeping you up at night, you might feel irritable and angry the next day, which could make you perform poorly at work, leading you to feel even more upset and angry by the end of day which in turn keeps you up at night with anxiety. CBT can help you to understand these links, and other negative thought processes that lead to low mood or anxiety.
Through a variety of techniques, such as mood diaries and worksheets, you can learn to become aware of these thoughts, control them, and reframe them. As a result, you can find a way to change the way you think and therefore, change the negative behaviour that comes from negative thinking (like poor performance at work, social isolation, and addiction). CBT is a practical, hands-on way of tackling your negative thoughts and moods, and as opposed to many other talk-therapies, focuses on your current life and current problems, rather than diving into your past.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT?
Typically, you would see a CBT therapist once a week, or once every two weeks. A course usually lasts between 5 to 20 sessions, with each session lasting about 30 to 60 minutes. With your therapist, you would break down any negative thought cycles and try to understand how your behaviours and actions are influenced by your thoughts – and in the case of the menopause – by your symptoms as well. The aim, again, is to learn skills to cope with and control your thoughts, breaking the cycle.
As with everything, there are some clear pros and cons to CBT. On the plus side, it has been proven as an effective treatment, a course can be completed in a short-time, and if successful, should equip you with skills to handle your daily life even after your course is finished. On the other hand, you need to be sure you’re willing to commit to it and engage with it – it only works as well as you’re willing to make it work. If you’re not willing to actively engage with the techniques and exercises, it won’t really be effective. One thing to bear in mind though is that CBT doesn’t focus on your past or your more deeply-rooted life problems – and so if your depression, anxiety, and mood swings are part of a wider set of issues (to the extend that you’ve been experiencing these symptoms for most of your life), then it may not be the right therapy for you.
If you’re interested in learning more, Women’s Health Concern has created a factsheet rich with information about CBT and the menopause, including self-help exercises to give you an idea of what you might be doing. If you’re ready to jump right in, there are plenty of private clinics that specialise in CBT, and it is also available for free on the NHS (no referral needed). Just because it’s normal and natural to be experiencing certain symptoms as a result of the menopause, that does not mean you have to put up with it. Every symptom of the menopause, including these tricky mental ones, can be addressed and alleviated. You don’t have to suffer in silence!