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December 2014

Menopausal Mood Swings - How The Menopause Makes You Angry

The menopause affects different women in different ways. Some lucky ladies sail through it without even a shadow of a mood swing. Others suffer the entire A-Z of the NHS ‘Menopausal Symptoms’ [1] list. Most of us, however, get a kind of pick’n’mix of various symptoms, which may come and go as the change progresses. Of these, among the hardest symptom to deal with can be increased irritability and anger.

Fluctuating Serotonin

It is entirely natural for a menopausal woman to experience surges in anger and irritability. During the menopause, your hormone levels fluctuate. This in turn affects your mood and central nervous system. Many of the affected hormones help to regulate the body’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is described by Bristol University as a “wonder drug” [2], which plays an important role in controlling our circadian rhythms, our muscle contractions, and our cardiovascular functioning. Crucially for our purposes, it also has a major influence on our moods and behaviour. The NHS uses ‘SSRIs’ (‘Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors’) [3], which increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and a variety of other problems. Low or fluctuating serotonin levels is well known to cause bad moods – which all too easily for the menopausal woman translates into snappish and irritable behaviour.

Estrogen And Anxiety

Estrogen also has a big part to play in female moods. As our estrogen levels fall, so our anxiety rises. Depending upon how one manages anxiety, this can translate to stress-related irritability. Don’t worry – your body will ultimately adjust to the new state of affairs and you’ll feel just fine again. In fact, according to The Independent, you may even feel better, “due to the levelling out of those frightful fluctuating hormones” [4]. In the meantime, however, there are drugs available which can help to take the edge of estrogen (or lack thereof) - induced anxiety and stress. This is just as well – because being periodically angry for very little reason is not fun at all.

The Trouble With Anger

Anger is a problematic emotion for a number of reasons. Chronic anger can even become a big issue, requiring psychiatric treatment. It’s difficult to know how to deal with anger. Some suggest that ‘bottling’ anger is an “unhealthy behaviour”, and that anger should be ‘let out’ when it’s felt lest it begin to fester within the affected individual. However, when you’re getting angry over every little thing (your partner shut a door too hard and the noise annoyed you, your kids didn’t call bang on the time they said they would…), exploding at every little thing may seem like a massive overreaction – even if you’re only letting out the anger you feel. A lot of women, coping with unaccustomed levels of anger and irritability, begin to feel as though they are becoming an unrecognizable person. One who is nasty, and snappish, and has zero tolerance for practically everything. If they’re good people, your friends and family are bound to understand the reasons behind your sudden transformation into Womanzilla and be sympathetic – but this doesn’t stop a lot of women from feelings of guilt and concerns that they’re alienating their nearest and dearest.

Anger And Identity

Transforming into an angry person can make some women – particularly those who, pre-menopause, were calm and tolerant – feel as though they are losing their identities. In a time which is already troubling for some for a variety of reasons, this can cause a backlog of worry and other psychological issues which will only make the problem worse. The important thing to remember is that the menopause is a transitional moment. After it, while your periods will remain absent, the other symptoms will fade away and you will become yourself again – if not even more yourself than before. Many women report that, post-menopause, they feel happier and more confident than they ever did prior to the change. The New York Times point out that “women with a history of pre-menstrual depression often have significant mood improvement” [5] post-menopause. Others speak of the “post-menopause zing” [6], i.e. a new era of improved confidence, higher energy and even greater libido – plus a lot less expenditure on pads and tampons. So hold on to that while you internally rage at the traffic lights and gnash your teeth at the TV!

References

[1] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/pages/symptoms.aspx

[2] http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/serotonin/introduction.htm

[3] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/SSRIs-%28selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors%29/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/why-women-feel-great-after-the-menopause-465200.html

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/menopause/print.html

[6] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2836929/The-women-PMS-Thats-Post-Menopause-Zing-New-energy-Higher-libido-confidence-follow-dreams-menopause-best-thing-thats-happened-you.html

Article written by Helen Garner

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