Do anxiety, stress and worry continually knock at your door like unwelcome houseguests? We’re at that time in our lives when caring for ailing parents, raising children, and working full-time are on a collision course. Mix in menopausal hormones, stir and you’ve got a recipe for stress-induced depression! However, psychiatrist Dr. Harry Croft, principal researcher at Clinical Trials of Texas, says putting yourself first is critical in restoring a healthy mind-body balance.
First and foremost, it’s not your imagination that life is rockier than it used to be. Dr. Croft says twice as many women than men suffer from depression and menopause can be the tipping point between waking up with a smile and pulling the covers over your head!
Even the various stages of menopause can affect your mental wellbeing. A recent study cited by the National Institute of Health uncovered significant differences between peri and post-menopausal women in terms of vitality and quality of life. Two control groups of each age range were scored on anxiety, depression, and quality of life and the differences between the two groups was dramatic. Considering you spend one-third of your life in the peri and post-menopausal years, it’s a good time to sit up and take notice.
“Stress and menopause can make for an endless anxiety-riddled loop, requiring women to examine whether their current approach to managing their health is really working. For example, low estrogen can make you feel crummy and you won’t function as well. Throw in lack of sleep due to insomnia or waking in the middle of the night and boom—you’re super stressed. Because of that stress women may recognize depression, anxiety, and turn to self-medicating through alcohol consumption. There is a huge rise of alcohol abuse in older folks because they don’t have to get a prescription to drink. Many women closet drink and tell themselves it helps them relax, but might not recognize that they’re drinking because of stress. Also, women build up a tolerance to the effects of liquor and then have to drink more to feel good. Now, if they go to their doctor complaining they can’t sleep and doc writes a script for a sleeping pill, then that can be a troubling mix,” explained Dr. Croft.
Dr. Croft says a much smarter approach is to have a menopausal specialist run a hormonal panel. Balancing menopausal hormones is an important first step to feeling better. Often, women find that hormone replacement therapy as recommended by their specialist is enough to get them in top shape. If there is a need for further evaluation by a psychiatrist who might prescribe antidepressants, those meds work more effectively once hormonal levels are closer to normal, especially estrogen.
“These two specialists are critical at this stage of life,” explains Dr. Croft. “A women’s gynecologist might just prescribe a pill and not consider that there could be deeper mental health issues involved. Because studies now show that depression is twice as high in women and extra life expectations at this time of life can be unrealistic. It is good to mobilize into action -whether it’s just balancing the hormones, changing nutrition and exercise habits, or looking into antidepressants,” says Dr. Croft.
There are some simple, positive steps you can take right now to improve your quality of life. We hear it time and again, but exercise is a critical component of a good, healthy lifestyle. Many of us complain here about lack of time, but scientists have published new studies that show short bursts of intensive exercise, taking 10 minutes are less, are enough to get the job done by dramatically increasing oxygen consumption. If you feel the need for something a little less dramatic, yoga is always an excellent alternative and can be modified to comply with any fitness level. Even better news: yoga actually improves sleep efficiency, as shown in a recent study. Turns out, that is critical, too.
“The biggest thing to control is sleep,” says Dr. Croft. “Not just getting to sleep, but maintaining uninterrupted sleep. If women keep waking up, they won’t feel rested and stress will pop up again.”
“Depression in menopausal women is very common,” says Dr. Croft. “Clinging to unrealistic life expectations that you can manage everything and everyone doesn’t make any sense and can damage your health. Take care of yourself, first.”
Suffering in Silence is Out! Reaching Out is In!