Cactus Whirl © lynette sheppard

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. A number of goddesses struggling with this frightening symptom have written me recently, so let’s address and demystify it.

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 ingestible remedies that decrease the anxiety of menopause per se. (OK, maybe wine, but it can also make it worse sometimes.) Yes, 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 work with you. 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.)