In addition to night sweats and hot flashes, menopause can cause or be accompanied by mood swings as well as bouts of depression. Indeed, multiple studies indicate that the rate of depression rises significantly for both perimenopausal and menopausal women, even those without a history of depression.
Sometimes these changes of moods can be a byproduct of other menopausal symptoms. For example, night sweats can cause sleepless nights, which can cause irritability and depression. And feelings of depression can be a natural response to typical life stressors that come with reaching the age of menopause (such as caring for an aging parent, children departing for college, or the blues about growing older).
The hormonal changes that occur during menopause can also impact mood directly. As production of estrogen and progesterone (both of which play a role in regulating mood and emotions) in your body decreases, you may experience emotional lability, ranging from feeling irritable to severe depression. If you have a history of depression, menopause can reactivate or increase the problem.
What you can do
Mood fluctuations caused by hormonal changes generally taper off as your body goes through and exits menopause. But there’s no need to wait it out in discomfort.
A good first step is to schedule a visit with your doctor. Talking with him or her may help you tease out whether your mood changes are related to life events (such as a death in the family or a recent job loss), or more likely to be menopause related. If depression may be playing a role, your doctor may refer you to a therapist for psychotherapy, as well as discuss the pros and cons of prescription antidepressant medication.
You also may want to discuss with your doctor short-term use of hormone therapy (HT), especially if you are experiencing other uncomfortable symptoms of menopause such as severe night sweats and hot flashes. Increasing the amount of estrogen in your system can help stabilize your mood. While HT has been deemed safe for women under the age of 60, it’s best to take the smallest effective dose for the shortest possible period of time.
Whether on their own or in addition to formal therapies, lifestyle steps can make it easier to manage the emotional ups and downs that can accompany menopause. These include:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Eliminate or limit your consumption of alcohol
- Stay connected to your family and community
- Take up an activity that can help soothe your emotions and slow your mind, such as yoga or mindfulness meditation. You can find free guided meditations for download from the UC Berkeley Greater Good in Action center