Sunday, May 8, 2011

How to Cope With Mood Swings in Menopause?

Menopause and mood swings very often occur in conjunction with one another and both can have dramatic effects on a woman’s life. Understanding that both menopause and mood swings are a natural occurrence and are a basic part of life for most women will help you learn to deal with the problems they create. Mood swings that are directly related to menopause occur because of physical and hormonal changes that a woman cannot control. The best option for someone suffering from mood swings as part of menopause is to learn to understand when your mood changes and why it changes so rapidly, so that you can take appropriate steps to help relieve the discomfort they present.

Note that menopause, in general, is not associated with an increased risk of depression. In fact, while once considered a unique disorder, research has shown that depressive illness at menopause is no different than at other ages. The women more vulnerable to change-of-life depression are those with a history of past depressive episodes.

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What is mood swing?

Mood swing, also known as mood disorder, refers to a condition when a woman experiences and expresses a gamut of emotions within a span of a few hours. The moods range from happiness to anger, frustration, sadness to depressive psychosis, all within a very short period of time. However mood swings should not be construed as so severe or long lasting as other depressed and manic states of bipolar disorder or manic depression.

Women and mood swings

Mood swings seem to affect twice as many women as men. This two-to-one ratio exists; whatever is the racial and ethnic background or economic criteria. And about 50% of women experience similar emotional trauma during menopause. It is important to recognize that extreme changes in mood during menopause are a naturally occurring medical condition. It is not an illness and there is little that can be done to stop it. Understanding why mood swings occur will help you realize that they are not your fault, which can make you feel slightly better about them.

Symptoms of Mood Swings

Because each woman has her own individual way of managing her emotions, stress, and her environment, all women experience the symptoms of mood swings differently. However, many symptoms of mood swings are common for women going through menopause.

Common Symptoms of Mood Swings:
• Frequent mood changes
• Unexplainable emotions
• Depression
• Sadness
• Lack of motivation
• Extreme moods                                                                         
• Irritability
• Aggression
• Less patience
• Increased stress
• Anxiety
• Nervousness
• Melancholy

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Causes of Mood Swings

During menopause, the regular activities of a woman may create new emotional responses from her. Seemingly normal events or activities may provoke sudden feelings of sadness, depression, anger, anxiety, loss and annoyance. As frustrating as these sudden changes in mood can be for the patient, they can be equally as frustrating for family and friends, who may not understand their cause. The woman experiencing the mood swings may not even understand her symptoms. While the direct cause of mood swings is not 100% clear, a fluctuation of hormone levels caused by the lack of progesterone and estrogen is most likely the main culprit. These hormones are responsible for controlling serotonin, which is the brain chemical that controls moods.

However, there are other causes of mood swings. Other menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, physical changes, and fatigue can cause or intensify mood swings, but these symptoms are generally caused by hormonal imbalance as well.

Medical researchers have found that estrogen seems to play a large role in the brain's production of serotonin, also known as the mood regulating neurotransmitter.

Estrogen’s Effects on Serotonin:
• Increases serotonin receptor sensitivity
• Increases serotonin receptor levels
• Increases serotonin production

Because perimenopausal hormone imbalances temporarily disturb serotonin production in the brain, there is an increased chance of mood swings, depression, and other psychological disturbances during menopause.

While hormonal imbalance is thought to be a major underlying cause of mood swings during menopause, experts also point out that mood disturbances may be caused by other menopausal symptoms. Doctors believe that mood swings are often the result of other menopausal symptoms. Women in their 40s and 50s, often stretched already by work and home stresses, suffer fatigue, sleep problems, hot flashes, and other symptoms that can directly contribute to problems with mood and emotion.

Risk Factors for Mood Swings

Why are some women more prone to mood swings during menopause? The answer, though complicated, has much to do with a woman's chemistry, her environment, and other factors. In addition to the hormonal causes of mood swings, several psychological, behavioral, and health related factors can increase the likelihood that a woman will develop mood swings during menopause.

Psychological factors:
• Past mental illness
• Stress
• Past trauma
• Relationship issues
• Coping with change

Behavioral factors:
• Smoking
• Alcohol
• Poor diet
• Inadequate exercise
• Stimulant use

Health factors:
• Diabetes
• Early menopause
• Heart disease
• Sleep disorders
• Cancer
• Lupus
• Thyroid disease

Mood Swings Treatment Approaches

There are three levels of treatments of Mood Swings:
(1) Lifestyle Changes,
(2) Alternative Medicine and
(3) Drugs and Surgery.

You should always start with the least risky approach (lifestyle changes) and go on to riskier approaches (surgery/drugs) only if necessary.                                                                                                                                                                        

Lifestyle Changes

The first level involves no risk but may be the hardest way to go. You'll have to change many habits of your daily life. So if you are considering this approach, you will need a strong mind and a positive thinking for managing these changes.

Nonetheless, techniques for stress reduction (e.g. yoga), a diet rich in estrogenic food (soy, alfalfa, cherries, rice, wheat and yams) or even becoming more fit by doing regular exercises, will have positive effects on the treatment of Mood Swings.

Some practical advices:
·         Cut Back on Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that acts directly on the nervous system, adding to mood instability.
·         Eat more carbohydrates: Foods such as potato, bran, wheat, and other complex carbohydrates help to boost serotonin levels.
·         Eat more protein: Foods high in protein, such as meat, fish, dairy products, are amino acids rich and help cope mood swings.
·         Make time for friends and family: Spending time with loved ones boosts levels of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that counteracts mood imbalance.
·         Exercise regularly: Relaxing exercises such as yoga not only improve overall self image and health, but reduce stress levels.                     

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Psychotherapy might be a good way to learn on how to overcome and neutralize your mood swings efficiently and safely.  There are some therapeutic approaches you may consider:

  • Behavioral therapy teaches to handle troublesome situations weakening habitual reactions to them. Several common reactions such as fear, anxiety, anger and self damaging behavior patterns can be controlled. Behavioral therapy helps to calm the mind and body.
  • Cognitive therapy can draw a person to certain thinking patterns that cause anxiety, depression or anger for no apparent reason or those that provoke negative actions.
  • Talk therapy as its very name suggest is the idea of healing through communication. Talking frankly to friends, family members or a therapist can support handling of mood swings in many ways.

It's not easy to follow up this approach, that's why you might want to consider the next level of treatment, because alternative medicine is an excellent treatment for Mood Swings.

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Alternative Medicine

Alternative approaches involve little or no risk and can be considered as the safest way to treat Mood Swings. In this level of approach, Herbal remedies are the most effective option.

There are basically two types of herbs to treat Mood Swings during menopause: phytoestrogen and non-estrogenic herbs. Phytoestrogen herbs (e.g. Black Cohosh, Dong Quai) contain plant estrogens. Therefore, these herbs replace the missing estrogen; unfortunately, phytoestrogen herbs produce several side effects (like breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes) as a result from adding hormones from outside.

Unlike phytoestrogen herbs, non-estrogenic herbs don't contain any estrogen. Instead, non-estrogenic herbs nourish your hormonal glands for healthy production of your own natural hormones. This ultimately ends up in balancing overall hormones levels. Due to this, non-estrogenic herbs, like Macafem, can be considered as the safest way of natural treatment for Mood Swings.                                                                                    

A combination of approaches is a good route to take. Lifestyle changes combined with alternative medicine will probably take care of Mood Swings during menopause in a more efficiently way.

Drugs and Surgery                                                                                                                                                                     

Interventions at level 3 involve the highest risk and often the highest costs. The most common drug therapy for the treatment of Mood Swings in the US is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). There's no doubt that this is the quickest and strongest way to combat hormonal imbalance; unfortunately, it entails serious side effects and increases the risk of different cancer types among women.
If you still consider following this approach, take a visit to your physician, and get informed about what this treatment option involves.

Remember that these three levels of approaches are not mutually exclusive. You can use different approaches at different times or combine several at the same time. Nowadays more and more women think that the best treatment for Mood Swings during menopause is accomplished via a combination of healthy lifestyle and alternative treatments.     

Sources and Additional Information:

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