Menopause Is A Scary Business

Anxiety may literally be the most unnerving of the emotional traumas visited upon menopausal women; certainly it’s one of the least recognized or discussed. Although I touched upon it in a previous blog entry "(Menopause Has Got Me Worried" Sept. 7, 2007), it seems like it is time to talk about it again. Just recently, I’ve encountered a number of goddesses struggling with this frightening symptom.

First and most important, anxiety that comes out of nowhere when you enter perimenopause and menopause is NORMAL! Not every woman will suffer it, but those who do can take heart that it is just another in the panoply of maladies that accompany our transition. Second, it is TEMPORARY! It will get better. Most women I know have anxiety issues that last 6 months to 2 years. (If you’ve just started having anxiety episodes, you may be screaming inside "Two years! I can’t take two more years of this!") Oh yes, you can. And you will. And there’s help.

The biggest help we found was the discovery that we were not alone. Other midlife women, who previously had never suffered from anxiety and fear, found them selves terrified driving on the freeway or over bridges, petrified for no reason on a daily basis, even experiencing full-blown panic attics in the absence of any recognizable threat.

The Venuses don’t really know of any ingestable remedies that decrease the anxiety of menopause per se. Sure there are some herbal anti-anxiety supplements but we felt we just didn’t know enough about them. Kava kava, for example, relieves anxiety but may damage our liver. (Although that may be dose related – Fijians have been using it for decades on a daily basis – they seem to have a decent life span.) As always, when trying something like this, let your health care partner/practitioner know and monitor your symptoms and dosage carefully. If your MD is not acting as a partner, but as a parent or ultimate authority, find one who will. I can tell you as a health care practitioner myself that the amount we DO NOT KNOW about menopause and many of the complementary therapies would fill a library. Or two.

While you may consult your health care practitioner/partner about your anxiety, be wary of pharmaceutical intervention as a first answer. Tranquilizers and other drugs such as Prozac may be helpful, but may cause other problems or adverse effects. Remember, we’re women. We can handle a lot. We do every day. As long as we know it’s NORMAL and TEMPORARY.

As a group, the Venuses’ fretting was rarely overwhelming, but it was scary and disturbing. If it had been worse, we likely would have seen therapists. (Differentiation note: If you are frightened and jittery, that’s normal. If you cannot leave the house because of fear, or are unable to conduct activities of daily living, that’s not normal and professional help is needed.)

We did practice giving ourselves and each other little "reality checks" when our worrying was excessively annoying. We practiced asking, "What is happening right now, this moment?" (Usually the answer was "Nothing.") "Am I safe, alive, comfortable, etc?" Then we took deep breaths and decided not to panic until we had something to actually panic about, rather than a mental litany of "what ifs". This actually helped ease our jitters quite a bit, although some days our practice worked better than others.

Above all, be gentle with yourself. Give your fear a name. Invite it in for tea. Recognize it as another part of this roller coaster ride we call Menopause – remember right after the scary climb up, anticipating the drop, comes the thrill of a great ride. Let’s do it together – it’s easier to share both the fear and the fun.

(Stay tuned for a future blog entry regarding the Night Terrors, a nocturnal flavor of anxiety.)

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8 Responses to Menopause Is A Scary Business

  1. Lynette Sheppard September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    Outstanding and heartfelt comment – I was wondering how to bring up the issue of neurotransmitters and anxiety/depression – especially how it MAY be the best answer for some. You've said it all, better than I ever could have.

    My younger brother had a "breakdown" a couple years ago – they found he had almost zilch serotonin and another neurotransmitter. His therapist wisely prescribed one of the drugs to boost them and he felt like he "came alive again." Another nurse friend struggled for years with depression before she took what she has come to call Vitamin P – Prozac. She no longer needs it, but feels it was life-saving. Bottom line: while pharmaceutical help is not the first answer, it may very well be the optimal one after the others have been tried.

    Thanks for sharing your personal experience with us – at the risk of sounding like a broken record (CD?) that's how we get through this – learning from and connecting with one another.

    Thanks again Anne,

    Lynette

  2. Betty Zahler September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    To know that we are not alone during our menapausal time is both reassuring and important. It is fortunately, temporary and will pass ultimately. I urge you goddesses to consult your health care partner and do research as well.Those who help, like Lynette are our salvation. You are great, Lynette!

  3. Rae Young September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    Annie and Lynette, thanks for touching on such personal expriences and giving all of us that need the hope to keep trying and not give up to make our lives better, going thru the big m can be so mind and soul boggleing that you just want to open a bottle of wine and never close it.

  4. Anne Wheeler September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    I feel very qualified to comment on this subject. I come from a family w/ history of depression and alcoholism on both sides. I work as a nurse practitioner in an internal medicine practice, and I estimate that 1/3 of our patients have mood disorders!

    I have struggled w/ a mood disorder since my teens, and always figured it was chronic/intermittent low grade depression. It definitely intensified during menopause.

    To cope, I tried therapy w/ an excellent therapist. My husband went w/ me for couples counseling. I tried at least 3 different anti-depressants and couldn't tolerate any of them. Several months ago, I felt I was going over the edge when I faced surgery for a big skin cancer on the tip of my nose (a potentially life altering and disfiguring process). So I tried another antidepressant, and it was like a light going on. My anxiety level dropped from 10 to 1 in 4 hours!! I was also able to stop one of my 3 high blood pressure meds! The biggest surprise for me was the realization that all these years, the source of my mood disorder (and high blood pressure) was chronic anxiety, not depression!! That said, these disorders are governed by the same neurotransmitters: serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.

    I am taking the lowest dose of Cymbalta and am so much improved, I think I'll never go off it. I still occasionally (for brief moments) get bitchy, sarcastic and dark ,but my quality of life (and my husband's) is hugely improved and I'm so much more positive. I found out that the "darkness", worry, negativity & even part of my hypertension, were the product of my anxiety. Bottom line, keep trying to find the right tools. Thanks for you great blog, Lynette !

    Your much less anxious friend,

    Anne

  5. Maureen Senn September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    Thank you for addressing this area of concern. I recently encountered a woman having this problem and am happy to pass on the information. You are awesome!

  6. Geri September 23, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    As someone who has had panic attacks on and off since I was a child, it has worsened so much more while passing through menopause. Sometimes I cannot leave the house without a xanax. I am hoping the panic will lesson after menopause. In any case, I still get up, go to work (I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home), go to the gym, see my daughter and grandkids and try to live a "normal" life. It's tough sometimes, but we must hang in. This too shall pass!

    Thank you for this website. I know I'm not alone.

  7. Lance Chambers March 1, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    Anxiety may be a scary business but menopause is not. But many women are afraid of it thinking that it is the end of womanhood but it doesn’t have to. You may feel some discomfort but it doesn’t always have to be that way because if you maintain a healthy lifestyle with lots of light exercise and essential vitamins then you will free yourself from the dreaded symptoms. There are also alternative treatments and therapy you can ask your doctor about.

  8. Karen Schwartz April 18, 2010 at 8:07 am #

    After realizing that I’m going thru menopause at the age of 46 and trying to find any and all information on or about the craziness that I’m feeling. This website has been a godsend. I have been having anxiety attacks over what I would consider trival issues. Along with everything else my body is going thru, its nice to have a place I can relate to. Thanks Karen

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