The Menopause Charity

For many, menopause can feel stressful in itself, managing changes to our body, navigating relationships at home and in work and facing the challenges of modern-day living.

Fluctuating hormone levels during perimenopause and menopause affect the way we respond to stress both physically and emotionally.   Many women are left with feelings of low mood, loss of confidence, or feel overwhelmed, anxious and isolated.  It is important we recognise and understand the impact of stress, whilst adopting good habits to help combat it.

The science

Your body produces two hormones under stress – adrenaline and cortisol. They are also known as your ‘flight or flight’ hormones.  Produced in the adrenal glands, adrenaline increases your heart rate, blood pressure and boosts energy, whilst cortisol increases blood sugar levels.  Cortisol also alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive and reproductive systems.

Once the stress passes your hormone levels drop, and your body returns to its normal state.  However, long-term (chronic) stress can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes.  Anxiety, high-sugar diets, conflict at home or work can lead to the adrenal glands sustaining high levels of cortisol; which can lead to depression, exhaustion, headaches, insomnia and brain fog.  Chronic stress can also increase the risk of strokes, diabetes and heart attacks.

Increased cortisol levels also impact the production of oestrogen and progesterone.  During perimenopause, the adrenal glands take over the production of oestrogen.  If the adrenal glands are making stress hormones, they might not be able to make oestrogen and progesterone.

Impact of stress on menopause symptoms

  • Hot flushes can be triggered by stress as it puts pressure on our nervous system
  • Sleep problems arise as low oestrogen affects our ability to get to sleep and / or stay asleep long enough to get a good night’s rest. Stress can quickly exacerbate if you lie in bed worrying at night
  • Mood swings can be triggered by stress as we worry about things more, or feel unable to cope
  • Weight gain can increase as your body finds other ways to increase oestrogen production by storing fat around the stomach. We also tend to crave sweet or unhealthy foods when we are stressed that can increase fatigue as well as weight gain
  • Digestive troubles arise when you are stressed that can lead to indigestion, bloating, constipation and leave you feeling generally uncomfortable

Self-care tips

Lifestyle and nutrition changes can help manage your feelings of stress, adopt these good habits to help you combat stress:

  • Knock the bad habits. It is important to avoid unhealthy ways of managing stress such as using alcohol, smoking or comfort eating.
  • Avoid processed foods and high-sugar diets. Your body uses cortisol to bring your blood sugar levels back up after cake and coffee, so aim to keep your blood sugar levels balanced.
  • Balance your diet. Enjoying a diet enriched with a variety of vegetables will stave off cravings of unhealthy foods. Whilst good quality protein with lean meat, oily fish, eggs and pulses will help keep you fuller for longer.
  • Stay hydrated. Remember to drink water or non-caffeinated fluids throughout the day – aim for 1.5 to 2 litres a day.
  • Move more. Enjoy any activities that get your heart rate up and strengthens your muscles – this could be dancing, brisk walking, jogging, yoga or weightlifting.
  • And relax. Make time for hobbies such as reading, listening to music, arts and crafts or gardening.  Meditate or keep a journal to write down your thoughts or what you’re grateful for.

Learn what triggers your stress and consider how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally when a situation arises.  Remember our breathing techniques to slow your heart rate, relax your mind and help ground yourself.

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