Anxiety can be devastating for some women in perimenopause and beyond. Perimenopause and wellness coach Catherine O'Keeffe of wellnesswarrior.ie shows you 5 ways to stop anxiety from taking over.
What is Menopause Anxiety?
One of the biggest issues that raises its head in perimenopause is anxiety, it slowly builds over time until it reaches epic proportions if you have not noticed or started to deal with it…it’s that day when you wake up and have this strange feeling in your body, you feel unsettled and don’t know why, you feel off kilter and anxious when there may not be anything to be anxious about. Then your heart starts to beat faster, your psalms get sweaty, your mouth goes dry etc…. the physical symptoms are endless and differ for everybody. No two women will experience menopause in the same way. One may experience anxiety another may not but may be plagued with hot flushes, no set symptoms for this chapter in our lives.
There are many different forms of anxiety that can exist with Health Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Generalized Anxiety Disorder probably the most common experienced by women in perimenopause. Often women don’t realize this is related to menopause and put it down to other life events but more often than not in your mid-late 40’s the hormonal rollercoaster kicks off an anxiety ride that is far from fun. Personally I see this coming on slowly over time with women, it’s not something that happens in a short space of time but very gradually over a year or more….daily life events that may never have caused you to stop and think now fill you with dread. It is very common to hear women say they get anxious driving on the motorway, they get anxious going out to social events, doing the shopping etc.
As Ulrika Johnsson stated when talking about menopause …’ and then came the most unimaginable anxiety that I’ve not known before. Anxiety, like, proper panic - at one stage I thought my head was going to explode, just anxiety over the tiniest thing, and then you become even more scared because you're anxious."
Thankfully as menopause is now being talked about more openly it’s becoming more obvious the levels of anxiety that women experience at this life stage.
How to Reduce Anxiety at Menopause - 5 Top Tips
Incorporate some form of relaxation into your daily habits which will help you feel calmer and more relaxed, think of it as your daily self-care ritual. To deal with anxiety you need to do the work upfront so that it’s easier when anxious moments strike, you will then be able to calm yourself down easier
Like nutrition is one of the cornerstone of a less anxious life. The benefits of exercise are well documented and numerous ranging from enhanced cardio vascular health, improved sleep, release endorphins which are natural anti-depressants and burns off the stress hormone adrenaline. Consider the various forms of exercise readily available to you and decide on one that you can slowly add into your life and one that brings you joy.
3. Good Food:
Look at your diet and how rich it is in vital nutrients, magnesium , the B’s , vitamin C to name but a few. Try and get as much fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet as you can and where possible opt for organic. It’s not just you are what you eat, it’s also you are what your food eats. So aim for wholesome food little and often.
Look at your caffeine intake: there are numerous studies which show that caffeine increase feelings of anxiety and don’t just think coffee, this extends to tea and chocolate too. Look for alternative drinks ideally herbal teas, water, juices etc
4. Vitamin D:
Essential to ensure optimum brain function and we all need to supplement this into our diet every day. For years we have associated Vitamin D with stronger bones and teeth (due to its ability to help absorb calcium), it is now well known that Vitamin D plays a key role in both sex hormone production (when women are deficient in vitamin D, it reduces estrogen levels) and mood. A lack of Vitamin D diminishes the body's ability to produce feel-good brain chemicals including serotonin and dopamine, as such it is an essential aid to help reduce anxiety. So make sure you have it in your daily food and/or supplement, food sources include fatty fish like mackerel and salmon, egg yolks, shiitake mushrooms, cheese and foods fortified with vitamin D. Getting out in fresh air will also provide some Vitamin D but not enough on a daily basis. It is worthwhile at your next bloods check up to also have your Vitamin D checked (in Ireland this has become a standard addition to blood tests).
5. Keep a Gratitude Journal:
I’m a great believer in the power of being thankful and it only takes a few minutes a day to jot down 3-5 things that you are grateful for, it is just a nice thing to do!
Please note: If you are experiencing panic attacks and palpitations, do get them checked out by your GP or other health professional, low iron can be a cause of both.
If not, it might be time to start protecting your hearing. Take it from someone who knows, author and wellness coach Catherine O'Keeffe of Wellnesswarrior.ie, hearing function begins to decline in the middle years, as the protective effect of oestrogen wanes.
Some people are afraid of going to the dentist, for me it’s a visit to the audiologist. So I made a very brave move recently, one I will tell you I put on the long finger for some time.
One of my kids I reckon has animal hearing, he can hear a sweet wrapper being crinkled from miles away ! Recently I took a trip to an audiologist - no easy task for me I will admit but what I do know and did learn is the VITAL importance of watching your hearing at midlife…please take it from someone who knows…our hearing will reduce over the coming years so doing what you can to protect it is a must.
When I was 21, I suffered nerve damage in one of my ears which left me with surround sound of 20%, so I was petrified to be very honest with what this visit would tell me and in the back of my mind I have had the niggling worry that I might in a few years be facing more severe hearing loss across both ears. Anyway I went, obviously things haven’t improved (that isn’t going to happen, these nerves don’t regenerate themselves) but the great news was how good my hearing is in my ‘good ear’ (I have developed strategies over the years to use my dominant ear as much as possible) and I’m not yet at the stage for a hearing aid. So I’ll take that for now and see what happens over the next 5+ years. What I do know and did learn is the VITAL importance of watching your hearing at midlife…please take it from someone who knows…our hearing will reduce over the coming years so doing what you can to protect it is a MUST.
(1) Do get your hearing monitored by an audiologist so you have a benchmark to go against in the coming years, you can be reviewed every 5 years.
(2) Oestrogen does help protect the auditory system so make sure you are getting phytoestrogens into your diet. Phytoestrogens are an essential component of a woman’s daily diet,
they are compounds that are naturally found in plants and plant foods.
If your diet contains fruits, vegetables, legumes, and some grains,
then you are already getting phytoestrogens.
A plant based diet is very rich in natural phytoestrogens in healthy amounts,
especially from soy. “Phyto-” is a Greek word meaning “plant” and estrogen
is the female hormone that regulates functions in both women and men.
When we eat phytoestrogens, our bodies may respond as if real estrogen
were present and thereby reduce some of the common symptoms of perimenopause.
Potential benefits of phytoestrogens include:
•Reduce menopausal hot flushes
•Prevent bone loss and protect against osteoporosis
•Stabilize blood sugar levels
•Regulate the menstrual cycle
•Improve cognitive function
Best food sources are soya, tofu, linseeds, chickpeas, lentils, red beans, black-eyed peas, green peas, split peas and soybeans.
(3) Protect your hearing as much as possible by avoiding loud environments
(4) Wear ear plugs if you mowing the lawn (better yet leave that one to someone else !!), on a plane or at musical concerts.
If you need help with perimenopause or menopause symptoms, Catherine provides a full coaching service (Wellnesswarrior.ie) to help women who are finding hormonal change challenging. It includes a lifestyle audit, a practical plan for movement/exercise, sleep, meditation and relaxation that works with your life. It includes nutrition for weight management and energy and recommendations for supplements. Consulatations start at €120 for 90-120 minutes and include a personalised plan.
A huge number of women suffer from a variety of psychological symptoms during perimenopause and menopause including anxiety, panic attacks, brain fog and feelings of invisibility. In this blog Catherine O'Keeffe, Wellness Warrior.ie, looks at brain fog and gives us her top tips to achieve optimal brain function. Some of us need to support our brain function as hormones readjust at menopause.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, menopause and the accompanying age is revered by society – a woman is seen as at her pinnacle of wisdom and a source of vital support for her community. In the West the story is different, at perimenopause the typical women is running after kids, ageing parents, doing a job, dashing to get food for dinner. In that dash the supermarket run – your mental list comprises three items, but by the time you get there they are totally gone from your head – inspiration doesn’t come as soon as you enter the supermarket either! Your phone rings, it’s a work call (you forgot your 1pm meeting), texts are coming in on evening activities for the kids. All the while you’re still trying to remember the 3 items – you get 2 but one remains elusive. You rush back to work.
Seriously it’s multi-tasking at the extreme – our poor brains. Women carry very heavy mental loads and when this is constant our brains need support. Your brain is changing as you age – in another world we would have ‘staff’ to help with all this ‘stuff’. In menopause we should be promoted to Chief of Staff – managerial levelJ
Brain fog is one of the heavy hitters in perimenopause. You go to the press, you haven’t a clue what you were looking for, you’re talking to someone familiar and completely forget their name. It’s so common and it is unfortunately all part of the process – as we get older our circulation slows down so less oxygen is being circulated around the body and the brain. Also as oestrogen stimulates the neurotransmitters in the brain, the changing hormone levels that come at midlife slow down these neurotransmitters and so our brains aren’t working at optimum. End result our brain isn’t as sharp as it was in our 20’s. So many women report fears of dementia, fear of losing their mind and it certainly feels like that – the good news is there are many ways to improve our brain function and eliminate the brain fog/cloudiness.
There is a whole new area of research emerging called Neuro Nutrition which reinforces the importance of taking care of our brain health and this approach looks at the body as a whole and not just the brain. The gut-brain connection has been around for a number of years now and this certainly reinforces the impact that our daily nutrition has on our brains – at all life stages.
With healthy lifestyle choices, reduced stress and nutritional support we can help our brains both heal and regenerate.
Top Tips to achieve optimal brain function
Omega 3 Fatty Acids, the elite brain food. The Mediterranean diet consists of foods rich in Omega 3 and offers great support in perimenopause and menopause to maintain optimal brain function. Omega 3 is the only fat that consistently goes into the brain. Sources: Chia seeds, flaxseeds, extra virgin olive oil, sardines, anchovies, mackerel.
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables, contain phytonutrients which are strong anti-oxidants. As such they also enhance gut health and help in the ageing process. Sources: Broccoli, Kale, mixed greens
Eat the rainbow - Fruit, Vegetable & Grains are another powerful source of anti-oxidants, the rule of thumb is the brighter the colour, the better, they are a rich powerhouse of antioxidants and anti-ageing chemicals. Sources:Blackberries (higher in Vitamin C than blueberries), apples, sweet potatoes, parsnips, brown rice, buckwheat. Recent research indicated the gooseberry or known in Indian as Amla as being the highest anti-oxidant known.
Prebiotics/Probiotics, as a second brain the gut communicates regularly with our brain, affecting our moods and energy levels. Recent research indicates 70% of our body’s serotonin (the feel good hormone) is made in the gut. Probiotics provide significant antioxidant protection and lessen the risk of developing a number of inflammation-based conditions that can affect the brain. Prebiotics are the food the probiotics will thrive and grow on. Sources: Probiotics: milk kefir, fermented foods. Prebiotics: garlic, white onions, apple cider vinegar
Water, dehydration is no friend to the brain or to perimenopause. It has a huge impact on anxiety and brain fog. Water is essential for optimal brain function, it prevents dehydration and increase the blood’s circulation – both of which keep away cognitive decline and nerve damage.
Ensure a minimum of 8 glasses of water a day and ideally this should be good mineral/spring water via a filtration system. The minerals in water are as essential as the water itself – this is why coconut water has such powers as a rehydration water due to the minerals / electrolytes.
Avoid alcohol, too much alcohol has a definitive impact on our brain functioning and if you do experience ‘foggy brain’ then I would certainly suggest staying away from it, as even one glass a day will impact you if you are already experiencing symptoms of brain fog.
B Vitamins are really important for the brain with the emphasis on Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Folic Acid and Choline. If you don’t get enough Omega 3 in your diet it is worth looking at a good supplement as this is one of the most important nutrients in perimenopause.
Exercise has been promoted as a possible preventer of neuro generative disease – this includes both physical and brain exercises. Aerobic exercise has been linked to significant increase in brain volume and cognitive function in midlife. It is also believed that exercise has an anti-inflammatory effect that promotes brain health.
The ideal is 5 times per week in 30 minute intervals where you get to the stage of feeling breathlessness, this gives oxygen to the body and also release the feel good hormones.
Exercise for the brain can be any of the following, learning a new language, knitting, puzzles, using your non dominant hand to colour or write for a few minutes each day, read a book outside of your normal reading list. You can also check out some Apps – I’m currently using Peak-Brain Training but there are loads out there to choose from.
Look at the daily stressors in your life and look at ways you can eliminate or reduce them, the less stress in your life the greater your ability to really focus and pay attention. Also consider some form of daily relaxation like mindfulness or meditation that gives your brain a complete rest and respite from the busyness of life.
None of us functions at our optimum when we have missed a few hours of good deep sleep. Our brain needs this down time to process the day’s events and renew itself. It’s a time for rest. When you have had a night of hot flushes or night sweats, you will automatically feel more tired the following day, as your body is tired so too is your brain.
Review your sleep hygiene and consider making small tweaks to ensure you are getting your required amount of sleep per night – for some people its 6 hours for others 8.
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