The Perimenopause Stress Spiral

Our take on Stress Awareness Month

April is Stress Awareness Month in Canada. For over 25 years, these 30 days have been dedicated to educating the public on how to better manage stress throughout our lives. But post-pandemic, stress has unfortunately risen to levels that most of us are all too familiar with. The perimenopause stress spiral is real. We’ve been through it. And so we here to help you understand what’s happening so you can find your way through it too.

Statistics Canada reports that a shocking 23% of individuals over 15 experience high levels of stress each day. For women, over 25% of us reported feelings of anxiety or stress in 2021. Women are more likely to report feelings of stress than men, but we’re also more likely to normalize the mental health problems that we report.

Women experience stress differently

Can stress cause perimenopause symptoms? Not quite. But for those of us with a uterus or ovaries, it can affect our symptoms. Our hormonal changes and stages can contribute to and impact how we feel stress throughout our life. 

Anxiety and other mental health symptoms are common in perimenopause. But most of us would have guessed we’d only be dealing with hot flashes at this stage, not feelings of depression or chronic stress. It’s easy to feel like the recurrent feelings of stress, sadness, or loneliness are somehow your own fault. 

Too often we attribute despair or low energy to just living in a stressful world. We live as women, trans or non-binary individuals, mothers, or caregivers in a society made for cisgender, heterosexual men (which, let’s be real, is a challenge in and of itself). But menopause mental health declines are real symptoms of hormonal changes that too many of us are afraid to talk about.

In perimenopause alone, there are more than 30 signs and symptoms that you can experience. Mental health or stress-related symptoms make up a good chunk of them. 

From menstruation, to pregnancy and postpartum, to when we reach menopause and beyond, our hormones affect our stress. Our experiences of stress are impacted by our individual, unique hormonal fluctuations. Women in midlife who report stress generally have poorer overall health and are more likely to leave (or lose) their jobs.

In 2023, we think it’s time that perimenopause becomes a staple in our conversations about stress. Especially during Stress Awareness Month.

Stress and hormonal life stages

Stress can impact us differently as women as we go through different reproductive stages and milestones, like perimenopause and postmenopause.

During perimenopause and menopause, anxiety can occur due to fluctuating and declining levels of estrogen and progesterone. This hormonal imbalance often triggers symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability, and mood swings.

Due to the delicate hormonal system disruptions, anxiety symptoms can be more prevalent and can even lead to full on panic attacks in some cases. Also concerning are the statistical findings that indicate a considerable number of women (18% in early perimenopause and 38% in late perimenopause) will experience depression.

Awareness starts with conversations

The truth is, so many of us feel stressed out because of our hormones, but nobody talks about how quickly things can change or get worse when it comes to perimenopause.

Feelings we shouldn’t keep to ourselves

Between the physical and mental changes that come with perimenopause, it’s hard to find our footing. We carry feelings of fatigue, emotional overwhelm, guilt for not being able to ‘keep up’ with everything life throws at us — all while trying to stay afloat in a world where conversations about menopause are still few and far between.

Perimenopause mental health can feel like a never-ending stress spiral. A stressor in our day-to-day life can make feelings of depression or anxiety worse. Or our symptoms like lack of sleep or mood swings contribute to heightened stress. And nights of disrupted sleep can result in foggy thinking, irritability, and other characteristics associated with menopausal mood swings.

The stress spiral can make us feel tired, isolated, and alone. 

Changes worth talking about

Our bodies are working so hard to keep up with the changes and it can feel like we’re the only ones struggling. But that’s not true. Perimenopause depression is a reality for many and the struggles of menopause mental health can happen to any of us. 

We need to start talking about our experiences more openly and offer each other support as we navigate these new hormonal changes in our lives.

When we’re more aware of our feelings and more open to talking about them, things can get a little bit better. We can understand how stress impacts us and learn coping strategies to improve our mental health. So let’s start with that awareness, shall we?

Perimenopause and Stress Myths

Myth: Women start menopause at the same age and only get physical symptoms, like hot flashes.

Each woman’s body is different, and the time when perimenopause begins is different for everyone. Most Canadians reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, with an average age of 51. 

But perimenopause symptoms can (and often do) start in your mid-to-late 30’s. And while it usually lasts four to eight years, there’s no telling how long the menopause transition could last for you.

Managing perimenopause symptoms can be incredibly challenging, especially because no two journeys are the same — while some may only experience a few symptoms, others may encounter many. When it comes to symptoms and stress, you could experience hot flashes, and also night sweats, sleep disturbances, mood swings, anxiety, or other stressful symptoms.

The transition into menopause could make your mental health a bit of a roller coaster. It’s important to know your perimenopause experience will be unique to you, so you can make an informed decision about what treatments are best for your body.

Fact: Brain fog, mood swings, and other mental symptoms are real.

For many of us, menopause and perimenopause can bring poor memory, depression, or other mental health issues. Brain fog, a feeling of confusion, forgetfulness, and difficulty concentrating or focusing is surprisingly common, along with low energy levels and mood swings.

The cause? Our hormone levels. Declining progesterone in perimenopause can disrupt sleep, while fluctuating estrogen levels can contribute to memory issues. Of course, this can have us feeling a bit foggy! 

Fluctuating estrogen during perimenopause, can also cause mood swings, decreased energy, and stress. These hormonal changes put us at higher risk for anxiety and depression during perimenopause!

It’s essential that we start talking openly about perimenopausal mental health so we can advocate for ourselves on our journey to finding solutions.

Myth: You should just power through it.

We shouldn’t ignore stress in our lives, especially at pivotal points like perimenopause and menopause. Long-term stress in any human body can manifest itself in a variety of insidious ways — from headaches, to stomach disorders, even to serious risks of heart disease. But cortisol and perimenopause are closely interconnected, impacting our adrenal function. 

Ongoing stress levels in perimenopausal women, due to both hormonal imbalances and high stress levels in the body, is a huge contributor to adrenal fatigue. This can contribute to symptoms that are common in perimenopause, including memory problems, disturbed sleep, and weight gain. 

Mindful management of stress is essential and ultimately has the power to make or break our physical and mental well-being. Having support to manage your stress can make it that much easier.

Fact: Some solutions and strategies can make perimenopause easier.

Many women wait to talk with their healthcare provider until their symptoms are unbearable. Healthcare providers don’t want you to wait! As soon as you experience any discomfort, it’s valid to make an appointment with your doctor, just like you should for symptoms from a persistent injury or illness.

From doctors specializing in perimenopause to an OB/GYN, to other medical providers like a pharmacist, naturopath, or physiotherapist, there are people out there who can find the right solutions for your perimenopause depression. 

That’s right — even pelvic floor physiotherapy could have benefits to your mental health through relief and improvement to your physical well-being!

Call to Action

  • Practice self-care. You can express your feelings to yourself through art, connect with a loved one, or find more ways to get fresh air. Even little self-care habits can take the edge off of stress.
  • Be as healthy as you can be. Lifestyle changes can be so helpful when it comes to managing stress and even mood swings. Exercising in ways that feel good to you, eating healthy, and keeping a regular sleep schedule can help regulate your stress or even your cortisol levels.
  • Pause. Breathe. Reflect. Meditation encourages deep breathing to help silence an overly loud mind and take the pressure off. Breathwork is even proven to help with anxiety!
  • Visit your doctor! Healthcare professionals are really in the best position to get you started on the path to a stress-free lifestyle. Access specialists in any profession you feel could help with your stressful symptoms, and don’t forget to consider mental health support too.

Let’s talk about stress

Let’s use Stress Awareness Month to open up a dialogue about perimenopause mental health struggles and create a safe space for connection and understanding. Together, let’s challenge the stigma and raise awareness about the struggles we face during this transition period. Let’s normalize perimenopause mental health conversations, challenge the narrative that “it’s just part of getting older,” and find strength in shared experiences.

Because you don’t have to power through it alone. Take the time to contact your healthcare provider, practice self-care, and look into others who may be able to help you find relief and better manage your stress. Together, let’s make strides towards normalizing conversations about perimenopause depression and menopause mental health! 

Take care of yourselves—we see you!