“Mood swings” is just the wrong term for it, isn’t it? For many women, mood shifts at menopause are less like the slow, lazy, back-and-forth of a swing and more like the chaos of being a small ship on hurricane seas.

Like so many menopause effects, the reasons for shifting moods are a tangle of internal and external factors, making it difficult to pinpoint precise causes … or provide cures.

So first, let’s untangle what might be contributing to your hurricane.

What causes menopause mood swings?

The biggie: estrogen. As your estrogen level drops, it takes with it a number of protective qualities which can directly and indirectly contribute to mood. Less estrogen can result in…

  1. Decreased mood-boosting hormones. Estrogen helps regulate some of our feel-good hormones, like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. As estrogen levels decline in perimenopause, we may get a drop in those hormones as well.
  2. Fuzzy-brain syndrome. Some women report feeling a little less sharp during the menopause transition: they’re forgetting things, struggling to find the right words, having difficulty concentrating. With fuzziness can come frustration, anger, anxiety, and depression.
  3. Physical changes. Declining estrogen can bring a bunch of unwelcome bodily changes: vaginal dryness, erratic periods, sore breasts, hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, interrupted sleep. We’ve all been there: when our bodies don’t feel their best, our emotions suffer.

Given all the things woman experience during perimenopause and menopause, it’s hardly surprising our moods can be a little erratic. External stressors weigh in, too: caring for aging parents, dealing with a newly empty nest, problems in our relationships, financial worries as retirement approaches – all are common in midlife, none are easy.

Healing through mindfulness meditation

There are lifestyle changes you can make to even out the peaks and troughs of menopausal mood swings. Engaging in regular self-care is huge. Eating properly is critical, for all sorts of reasons. Blowing off steam with exercise – great plan! Endorphins are terrific mood lifters.

“Menopause is like a wild puppy.
It runs around jumping, biting, snapping, and then goes to sleep.
Meditation is like training the puppy: ‘Stay. Breathe. Stay. It’s OK. Breathe.’ “

Another route to consider is engaging in mindfulness meditation. As Dr. Patricia Van Santen told us, “Menopause is like a wild puppy. It runs around jumping, biting, snapping, and then goes to sleep. Meditation is like training the puppy: ‘Stay. Breathe. Stay. It’s OK. Breathe.’ ”

So how do you train the puppy?

Mindfulness meditation is great for teaching us to calm our inner turmoil. Simply being still, concentrating on the in and out of our breath, and allowing our thoughts to settle helps us feel calmer and more in control.

This practice of meditation doesn’t require emptying your mind – a state most of us find nearly impossible to achieve or maintain. Instead, mindfulness meditation is about paying attention to what’s happening now.

There are several approaches to mindfulness: concentrating on the breath, scanning your body with your senses to be truly attuned to every sensation, mindful eating (yes, you’ll have to turn off your devices), and walking meditation, or, as Dr. Van Santen calls it, “being in the lovely moment.”

Does it help?

It does! According to results from a 2011 randomized trial, mindfulness gave women significant relief from hot flashes and night sweats, and secondarily from quality of life issues, insomnia, anxiety, and perceived stress. And many women we talk to tell us how helpful it is to have a tool like mindfulness handy any time their emotions start to escalate out of their control.

Ready to mindfully meditate?

David Gelles of the New York Times authored a helpful introduction to mindfulness meditation, including some timed meditations to help you start your practice. Read these five tips from holistic health coach Amanda Giralmo on how to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life to reap the health benefits.

If you find that your mind simply wanders too much when you’re on your own, consider finding a coach or class that can help you stay focused and open.

As Dr. Van Santen says, “Menopause is a process. What works at one stage may not work at the next, so I am going to add ‘mind-fullness’ to the process with meditation. Mind-fullness means accepting, WITHOUT judgment, what IS ..what is happening in the present.” Being able, even for just a moment, to acknowledge and accept what is gives us some distance and perspective and peace and calms the hurricanes in our heads and hearts.


Shannon Perry

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