Sunday, September 23, 2012

25 Ways to Deal with your Anxiety at Menopause



Menopause and anxiety frequently occur together. It’s not uncommon for menopausal women to experience rushes of energy, exhaustion, panic attacks, body vibrations, burning chest, and other sensations both mental and physical.

“Last night I slept for eight hours but I still feel tired."

"I worry constantly; I'm so self-critical it's ridiculous."

"I get these headaches, my stomach hurts; right now I can feel something
weird in my lower back..."

"I was driving down the Edens and my heart started to race for no reason, and I thought, "Oh my god, I'm going to black out right here, I'm going to lose it."  But I was okay after a minute or two.  What in the world is wrong with me?"


Sound familiar? Exhaustion, the jitters, the inability to concentrate, a queasy stomach - most of women at this life stage feel some symptoms of anxiety in a world that grows more complex and unpredictable by the minute. For the most part, anxiety is situational. Your heart pounds before you give a speech. You're nauseous when your kids’ wedding plans go awry. You feel really bad in anticipation for the complex performance review.

But what if anxiety has overtaken so much of your life you can't remember the last time you weren't worried about one thing or another?  Is this something you have to live with?

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Causes

What causes anxiety during menopause? Menopausal women are more susceptible to anxiety due to the fact that their hormones are in a constant state of fluctuation as their body prepares to shut down its ability to reproduce. During this time, many women suffer from depression and high stress levels. It is believed that feelings of depression are a result of insufficient estrogen, and anxiety is often a symptom of depression.

In addition, research has found that the hormone progesterone, which also depletes during menopause, has been known to have a calming and relaxing effect on the body. Thus, the lack of hormones are unsettling and allow for emotions that were once overlooked or produced minor anxiety, to be blown out of proportion.

Symptoms

Anxiety can cause emotional and physical symptoms including:

  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Fast heartbeat.
  • Breathlessness.
  • Tight or full feeling in the chest and/or throat.
  • Profuse sweating, or cold and clammy hands.
  • Muscle tension and/or soreness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea.
  • Fatigue.
  • Constant worry and feeling sad.
  • Lack of concentration.
  • Irritable.
  • Restless sleep

The above symptoms may be felt independently during different times, or many of them can occur suddenly, last for a period of time, and then disappear. This sudden onslaught of anxiety is known as an anxiety attack or panic attack. Women who experience such attacks are likely suffering from an anxiety disorder.

The severity of anxiety women experience will vary, and is usually at its worst during perimenopause. Symptoms of anxiety tend to taper off after menopause is complete. However, despite how anxiety may affect you, it is important to seek treatment if the anxiety you feel is debilitating or interrupting your lifestyle.

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Types of Anxiety

Anxiety is a psychological state characterized by excessive and/or persistent worry, tension, and nervousness. There are several types of anxiety disorders, classified on the basis of symptoms, causes, and other central features.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by a persistent state of exaggerated worry and fear (at least six months), often when there is little or nothing to provoke it.
  • Panic Disorder (PD) is characterized by recurring acute episodes of sudden terror and overwhelming dread, which produce a variety of emotional and physical symptoms.
  • Social Phobia involves excessive worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, unrelated to hormonal changes in menopause, is an anxiety disorder triggered by a traumatic life event.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder, also infrequently associated with menopause, involves irrational preoccupations. Specific phobias, including agoraphobia, are unwarranted and extreme fears of particular stimuli.

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Anxiety Treatment Approaches

Generally speaking, there are three different ways to approach anxiety treatment: self care and lifestyle changes, natural therapies, and medical options. Most experts advise that women begin with the least aggressive and risky of these three approaches: lifestyle changes and self care, which can include increased exercises, dietary changes, relaxation techniques, and more.                                                  

Because these methods can be difficult to implement into a busy woman's schedule and because these measures do not address the root problem of hormone imbalance, doctors recommend that women combine lifestyle changes with natural remedies.

If this combination is not effective, medical options can be considered. It is also a good idea to speak with a counselor or other trained psychological professional who can offer anything from an open ear to effective psychotherapy for anxiety management.

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Dealing with Anxiety

The following are 5 ways in which you can help relieve the anxiety you feel:
  1. Identify and reduce the stressors in your life. Carefully analyze your life and think about what triggers your anxiety or causes you high stress. Is it your job, your home life, or the people you work with? Do you feel like you don't have enough time to get things done? Once you identify stress, you need to find ways to alleviate it. This may mean changing jobs, getting help at home, and finding ways to free up more of your time. It is easy to say, but it is hard to do. Make a mental inventory and arrange stressors by groups, starting from those, which is easier to remove or reduce. Be patient on your way and enjoy these “baby steps” on way to stress reduction and emotional wellness.
  2. Delay worrying. This is a simple technique to stop our worries. If you find yourself concerned over a situation in the future, you can try telling yourself, “let me worry about this tomorrow; there is no need to worry about it today because it won’t happen for quite a while anyway”. Whenever the problem comes to your mind, just try this technique – delay worrying for another day. The fact is that most worries never occur; delaying them is just a clever way of dealing with our negative mind. The nature of our mind is to create problems and things to worry about, but this is a way to forget about them. If you keep ignoring your worries you may later realize they are not going to occur anyway.
  3. Repeat your worry until you’re bored. If you had a fear of elevators, you’d get rid of it if you rode in one a thousand times in a row. At first, you would be very anxious, then less so, and eventually it would have no effect. So take the troublesome thought that’s nagging at you and say it over and over, silently, slowly, for 20 minutes. It’s hard to keep your mind on a worry if you repeat it that many times. It can be called the “boredom cure” for obvious reasons, but it sure beats feeling overwhelmed by anxiety.
  4. Distract yourself. No, you do not want to use distraction as your only coping mechanism against anxiety. However, it can be useful in moderation. It gets you out of your head and focused on something other than your worried thoughts. It could mean putting on some music or starting up a movie. If you're in a group it could mean paying extra close attention to the conversation, rather than focusing on what you're feeling in your body. You can also distract yourself by working on a mentally taxing project.
  5. Don’t overload yourself. If you work 12-14 hours every day and take no time off, your stress levels will inevitably rise. Know your limitations, take practical steps to reduce your workload, take time to relax and you will better manage your anxiety and stress.
  6. Take time to enjoy yourself. You need to make time to relax and do things you enjoy. Everyone needs a break. If you don't relax, your stress with catch up with you. Respect your own interests, hobbies, and desires, and not your family and your business organization. You deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, so start from yourself, and respect your own wishes.
  7. Positive self-talk. Practice daily affirmations and positive self-talk. Part of the way you may try to heal from negative emotional experiences is to process them inside your mind and body and replace negatives with positive. A great way to keep our minds off the worry track is to focus our thoughts on things that are good, beautiful, and positive. Allow yourself to dream, wish, and imagine the best that could happen.
  8. Smile! Smiling releases our body’s natural drugs: Serotonin and Endorphins. These hormones are natural pain killers and are also labeled as natural “feel-good” drugs. It will wash away all the tensions in your body, relaxes your muscles and take away pain. It will also instantly change the negative state that you are in into a positive one and this will in turn put you into a good mood. Smiling is also contagious and will boost your immune system.
  9. Turn your anxiety into a movie. You can let go of a worry by disconnecting yourself from it. One way is to imagine that your anxious thoughts are a show. Maybe they’re a little guy in a funny hat who tap dances and sings out your worry while you sit in the audience, eating popcorn, a calm observer.
  10. Stress release journal. The human mind is a fascinating thing. One of its most fascinating components is that when it's focusing too much on a negative topic, it causes stress and anxiety. A solution is to have a stress release journal. Keep this journal at your side or by your bed, and whenever you are having stressful thoughts, write them all down. Therapists have long extolled the virtues of cathartic writing, the process of keeping a journal and recording everything that brings you joy, scares you, makes you angry or sad. The reason this is so effective is that it tells your mind that it doesn't need to keep remembering the things you're worried about, because they are in a permanent place. Stress release journals are surprisingly effective, and are also a great tool for trying to improve your sleep.
  11. Eat well. Avoid crash diets, skipping meals and eating before bed. These eating programs are sure ways to increase your anxiety level and cause restless sleep. Make sure you stay well hydrated, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and stay clear of high fatty, processed foods. Be good to your body!
  12. Limit caffeine and sugar. Caffeine can increase anxiety, interfere with sleep, and even provoke panic attacks. Sugary snacks, foods, and drinks cause blood sugar to spike and then crash, leaving you feeling emotionally and physically drained.
  13. Avoid alcohol and nicotine. While it may seem that alcohol reduces anxiety and worry, this is only temporary, as alcohol actually causes anxiety symptoms as it wears off. The same thing goes for smoking; while it may seem like cigarettes are calming, nicotine is actually a powerful stimulant. Smoking, like alcohol, leads to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.
  14. Eliminate potential food allergens. Gluten, for example, is notoriously associated with anxiety. If you are experiencing anxiety-related gastrointestinal problems, an elimination diet may help you identify any sensitivity at play.
  15. Natural supplements. Herbs are frequently prescribed to help with both anxiety and panic attacks. Passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata) helps with anxiety but must not be used in conjunction with sedatives unless under medical supervision. Valerian is usually suggested for insomnia, and again shouldn’t be taken with many medications, especially those that depress the central nervous system, such as sedatives and antihistamines. Don’t combine it with alcohol, or use before or after surgery, or if you have liver disease. Other herbs that have been found useful are chamomile, hops, oats, borage and lavender. Bach Flower remedies for anxiety are also popular and perhaps the most useful is Rescue Remedy which can be applied directly to the tongue for immediate relief or put into a bottle of water to sip throughout the day. Other supplements have also proved useful; vitamin C and the B complex are often suggested for stress and anxiety.
  16. Exercise. Yoga, Tai Chi, walking, swimming, jogging or playing sports are all excellent ways to increase energy, clear your mind, boost your metabolism, strengthen your body and improve circulation.
  17. Breathe it out. You may notice that when your body is tense, you hold your breath. Focusing on breathing is a common but effective technique for calming the nerves. Where is your breath now, and where is your mind? Bring them together. Listen to the movement of your breath. Does your mind wander somewhere else? Call it back. Concentrate only on breathing in and out, beginning and ending, breath to breath, moment to moment. The awareness of your breathing alone can help you slow down your heart rate and get your body out of panic-mode. If you don’t have time for dedicated sitting, then try adding moments of mindfulness to your day by paying careful attention to what you’re doing in the moment, rather than letting your mind race ahead into an uncertain future. If you’re going for a walk, for example, concentrate on how the pavement feels under your feet. When you’re washing dishes, be conscious of the feel of the water and the smell of the soap, rather than thinking about your to-do list. It will all help to rein in your worried mind.
  18. Sex. Sex is one of the most wonderful and pleasant stress & anxiety management techniques. Large amount of endorphin, which is a feel-good hormone, is released during sex and this explains why all people are happy after having sex. Studies have proven that sex and orgasms boost mood and reduce stress levels. Even though most of us lead busy lives, you can always find time for sex.
  19. Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy using organic essential oils can be added to baths, massage oil, or infusers and the best for anxiety are: bergamot, cypress, geranium, jasmine, lavender, melissa, neroli, rose, sandalwood and ylang-ylang.
  20. Acupressure is an ancient Chinese technique that is believed to reduce stress, tension, and anxiety. Studies have shown that it has positive effect, similar or better than the traditional full-body massage.
  21. Relaxation techniques. There are several different relaxation techniques you can use. One of the most well-known is visualization. The basics of the technique involve closing your eyes and transporting yourself mentally into a place of pure relaxation, like a beach of park, and trying to imagine the sights and smells to the point of experiencing them. Another relaxation technique is progressive muscle relaxation. One muscle at a time, starting from your right foot, you squeeze and tense the muscle as hard as you can for 10 seconds, then release and move on to the next muscle. All of these relaxation exercises have shown success at providing a calmer mind and body.
  22. Connect with others. Spend more time with friends or family. Organized activities are great, but just hanging out works too. Doing things with those we feel close to deepens our bonds, allowing us to feel supported and secure. And the fun and sharing that go with it allow us to feel happier and less upset about things. If you feel worried or nervous about something, talking about it with someone who listens and cares can help you feel more understood and better able to cope. You'll be reminded that everyone has these feelings sometimes. You're not alone.
  23. Support groups. Women that experience more severe menopausal symptoms may actually experience anxiety because of the menopause. Some people fear the symptoms themselves. Others are experiencing anxiety simply because of the implications of going through menopause, and what it means for the rest of their lives. If that describes your current situation, you may want to consider joining (or creating) a support group for others that are going through the same symptoms. Sharing your experiences with others and discovering each other's coping strategies and activities can be a big help.
  24. Professional therapy. If you are experiencing physical symptoms that are incapacitating or seriously interfering with your daily and social life, you should seek medical assistance from a therapist or counselor that they can talk to when they're feeling anxious or stressed. Talking to a professional can and always will be the safest and easily one of the most effective ways to reduce your anxiety. Severe anxiety is a sign that what you are suffering from is a disorder. You may need antidepressants to help you cope with your situation, or you may find that what you are suffering from is not anxiety, but another condition.
  25. Medications. Based on your symptoms severity, your therapist might recommend certain medications to fight your anxiety, depending on the nature of your anxiety. For generalized anxiety disorder your doctor would probably prescribe a so-called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor such as Paxil. Such inhibitors take up to six weeks to begin working. But by putting your brain chemistry back into balance, they can get rid of the outward symptom--the anxiety. If your distress is a specific (though out-of-control) reaction to an outward stimulus like the current crisis, then Paxil and the others are not applicable. Episodic anxiety is best treated with an entirely different class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, including Valium, Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin. These work within minutes, not weeks--but they're potentially addictive, so they shouldn't be used for more than two weeks or so.

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