Perimenopause can be an emotional rollercoaster. The same hormones that control your menstrual cycle also influence serotonin (the happy hormone), and when these hormone levels drop, serotonin levels also fall, which can contribute to feelings of depression. Perimenopausal depression is more common than you may think and often goes misdiagnosed. We’ve compiled self-help strategies for perimenopausal depression, however, if you notice any signs of depression, make sure to talk to your healthcare professional as soon as you can.
What Is Perimenopausal Depression?
Perimenopause is a transition females go through prior to menopause. It can cause symptoms such as abnormal menstrual periods, hot flashes, and insomnia, and for some people, it can lead to depression, and worsening of existing depressive symptoms.
Natural and dramatic hormone fluctuations leading up to menopause put women at a higher risk of developing depression during this time. It can also be a time of significant life changes, such as career shifts, marital conflict, children moving out, and conflicted emotions about aging. This can create a perfect storm for perimenopausal depression.
10 Signs & Symptoms of Perimenopausal Depression
- Crying a lot (often for no reason)
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and helplessness
- Feeling numb
- Losing interest in your normal activities
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Slow cognitive function
- Mood swings and irritability
- Heightened anxiety
- Intense feelings of despair
- Thoughts of suicide
11 Causes of Perimenopausal Depression
Mental health changes can have a number of different causes. Here are some things that can contribute to perimenopausal depression:
- Fluctuating levels of the female hormone estradiol
- Falling/changing estrogen and progesterone levels
- Menopausal symptoms can lead to intensified stress and fatigue (for example, hot flashes and their impact on sleep)
- Stressful life events at this stage of life (divorce, job loss, death of a parent, sending children off to college)
- Family history of depression
- Being diagnosed with depression in the past
- Negative feelings about aging and menopause
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Social isolation
- Low self esteem
7 Self-Help Strategies for Perimenopausal Depression
1. Regular Exercise
Exercise is one of the best things you can do when you’re feeling low. Regular exercise can release serotonin and endorphins (both of which are feel good hormones) into the body. An increase of these hormones can help decrease feelings of depression, and can also halt depression before it starts. Exercise also keeps your heart healthy, helps you maintain a healthy weight, and relieves stress. For an extra mood boost, it’s best to exercise outside and/or in a group.
2. Prioritize Sleep
If you’re getting too little or poor quality sleep, it can lead to poor decisions, irritability, fatigue, and other negative symptoms. It can affect your ability to solve problems, control your emotions, and cope with change. Not getting enough sleep has also been linked to depression. Prioritize sleep by creating a healthy sleep environment. Go to bed and wake up on a regular schedule, avoid screens at least an hour before bed, make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet and comfortable, and avoid heavy meals and caffeine before bedtime. Click here for more tips on perimenopause and insomnia.
3. Healthy Eating
Following a healthy diet can help improve your mood. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats, and eat fewer fats and less sugar. Consider following a Mediterranean-style diet, which has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and better health overall. The Mediterranean diet uses olive oil as its main fat, is rich in plant-based foods, and encourages a moderate intake of seafood, dairy, and lean meats, while limiting red meat and sugar.
4. Stress Relieving Activities
Chronic stress can very negatively impact your mind and body, and perimenopause is often a time of high stress due to poor sleep, changing careers, aging parents, and relationship issues. The hormonal fluctuations women experience during perimenopause only make these stressors more severe. Try mindful breathing, a technique that involves paying attention to your body’s response to natural relaxation as you breathe in, and then exhale. Doing this for 15 minutes a day can help bring down your stress levels. You can also try yoga, meditation, walking, and dance.
5. Talk to Friends
You’re likely not the only one you know who’s feeling this way. Open discussions about what you’re experiencing will only help. Talk to your friends, family, and partner about what you’re going through. Having an active social life plays an important role in combatting temporary depressive disorders, and talking about how you’re feeling can help you get through perimenopause symptoms.
6. Get Comfortable
Perimenopause symptoms such as hot flashes, severe headaches, and heavy or painful periods can lead to intense physical discomfort, which can make your depression feel even more dire. Wear soft, light clothing, use cool or warm compresses, take baths, and drink cooling drinks to stay as comfortable as possible and fend off related distress.
7. Limit Alcohol
Heavy drinking can make feelings of anxiety and depression worse. Alcohol can interfere with your body’s hormone system, as well as impact blood sugar levels, calcium metabolism, and bone structure. As you get older, it becomes harder for your body to metabolize alcohol, meaning it can stay in your system longer and you may feel its effects more strongly or for longer durations. Alcohol is a depressant itself, so although it may feel good to drink a glass of wine or two after a long day, it can cause you to feel even lower in the long run.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re going through perimenopause, make sure to keep an eye out for symptoms of depression. If you experience any signs of depression, whether mild or severe, it’s important to talk to your healthcare professional as soon as possible, especially if your symptoms are affecting your normal daily activities or relationships. Mood fluctuations and feelings of depression are treatable, so make sure to talk to your doctor about your options.
If you think you’re experiencing perimenopausal depression, make an appointment with your doctor and try these self-help strategies along with whatever they recommend!
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