One of the thornier aspects of hormonal change during menopause, PMS, pregnancy, etc., is mood, the regulation thereof. In the course of researching this blog and talking to women heading into menopause, I came across story after story from women who found it difficult to “control” their anger.
In truth, I learned that it’s less about controlling anger and more about respecting why it’s there and channeling the truth behind it in more productive ways.
Time and again I heard women’s “confessionals” of how they felt trapped and helpless in the cycle of rage > regret > rage. The middle-aged woman’s mantra has become “I snapped, I shouted, I apologized.”
Let’s define terms from the get-go. Many women experience what they call “irritability” – a fully understandable reaction to being wide awake at 3 am, soaked in sweat and buzzing with anxiety, while your partner is sound asleep next to you, deep in blissful oblivion.
But irritability, as grindingly awful as it can be, isn’t the subject for today: I’m talking about the towering, frothing fury many women feel around menopause. Today, we’re all about red-hot rage: why you feel it, and what you can do with it.
Estrogen and serotonin – the wily wizards of mood management
Let’s start with the “what the hell is happening here?” stuff. Estrogen and serotonin may sound like characters straight out of The Lord of the Rings, but they’re definitely the good fairies of mood regulation.
So, where does this anger come from?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps control mood and impulse control. Because the hormone estrogen plays a part in the production of serotonin, when estrogen levels decline (with PMS, menopause, etc.)…yep, you guessed it: serotonin levels can tank too, taking mood control with it.
Lack of serotonin makes it far more difficult to cope with the insomnia, hot flashes, short attention span, and all the other symptoms that can make menopause a challenge. So what do you do when you’re bubbling hotter than the fires of Mount Doom?
Understanding, owning, and channeling your truth
- Understand the reasons for the rage. Absence of serotonin itself doesn’t necessarily make you angry; it may make it harder for you to manage (translation: hide, swallow, underplay) your anger. This is a biggie, because to every bro who says, “Women can’t be leaders because their hormones make them nuts,” we need to respond, “I understand hearing the undiluted truth from a woman makes you uncomfortable. Maybe you should look into why that is.” There are times when we’re fully entitled not just to the anger but also to the expression of that anger…provided we wield it effectively, proportionately, and at the right recipient. All those years of holding in the truths you wanted to speak? Let ‘em out, and feel the rush of being honest, open, and real in ways you’ve never known.
- Give up the guilt. Yes, you’re probably going to fly off the handle from time to time, but now more than ever you need to give yourself a little slack. Be as open as possible with family and friends about what you’re going through, and limit collateral damage as much as you can. Be ready to apologize when apology is clearly called for, then forgive yourself and move on.
- Channel the energy. Anger is a big, powerful emotion, and you can use that energy to drive solutions. The great thing about being 40+ is you’ve spent at least 40 years developing nerves of steel, marshaling your arguments, and building a history that demands respect. Use them. Remember the movie Liar Liar? Imagine you’ve taken that truth serum, and use it for good. Take as many deep breaths as you need, open your mouth, and speak your truth.
- Nurture yourself. Yeah, when you’re feeling ragey, the last thing you want to do is head out for a jog, but exercise can boost serotonin levels, helping you regain your cool. When going all Xena Warrior Princess is uncalled for or unwise, a few laps around the track or rounds with a non-sentient punching bag can bring you back to earth. And eat, for crying out loud. If you’re going to go all truth-teller, you’re going to need good fuel to do it right.
- Meditate. If you’re just not the loud-mouth, get-it-all-out type, meditation, visualization, and practicing thankfulness can be effective. I do a sort of bio-feedback that was suggested to me by a friend – I explain to myself why I’m angry as if I were telling my mom. Lots of details, and no “f-bombs” that keep me in the anger loop.
- Get creative. You’ve got all this adrenaline bouncing around your body; give it something constructive to do. Invent a new dance, grab your journal and start scribbling, cook up some chili spicy enough to be its own revenge. You are humming with energy, and you will feel better when that energy’s released, especially if you have something positive to show for it rather than another apology to make.
Please understand that I am not a doctor prescribing treatments, nor am I endorsing any sort of impetuous action you’ll regret later. But after reading article after article on “how women can quash anger,” or how to suppress or avoid it in the first place, I found myself seeking out solutions that started with understanding the anger and finding value in it…and what that could mean for my newly confident self.
“You should be angry…. use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it.
You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.”
— Maya Angelou, Iconoclasts, 2006
You are entitled to your emotions, hormone-heightened or not. Suppression, guilt, and avoidance prevent you from expressing your emotions…and getting the relief of letting them go.
I’d love to know how you deal with the emotional roller coaster of menopause or any time hormones make it harder. Please share with me and with our community in the comments or on Facebook.