During your perimenopause, the hormonal changes can aggravate your emotions. Instead of responding calmly and in a considered way to situations, you may find yourself reacting immediately with emotions that can range from tearfulness and exasperation, to irritability and rage. This is menorage. The psychological symptoms of the menopause are less spoken about than physical symptoms. Mood changes are extremely common during perimenopause to menopause. You may feel quick to anger one moment and tearful the next. These feelings can be distressing, confusing and have a huge effect on your self-confidence and relationships at home and at work. It is a major reason why women leave their jobs.
Why do we have these feelings?
Oestrogen helps to regulate serotonin, a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that carries signals between nerve cells and the brain. It is known as the feel good chemical because of its positive effects on mood, emotion, energy and sleep. In perimenopause to menopause, oestrogen levels in the ovaries peak and trough until they deplete. This can cause emotions such as:
- Anger or aggression
- Low self esteem
- Loss of motivation
- Loss of joy
The surge of anger is so common, there is now a new term coined for the sudden rush of angry outbursts. Women call it ‘Menorage.’
If you have experienced PMS or post-natal depression in the past, your body may be more sensitive to the hormonal changes and this can lead to you feeling more mood changes in perimenopause. However, these mood swings should not be confused with depression. If you have not previously been treated for depression, it is likely that these feelings are hormone related.
These feelings are also exacerbated by your lifestyle. What you bring to this stage in life will be amplified in the menopause. The stresses of modern life mean women are expected to work, some of us raise children, support a partner, care for friends and family and somehow meet social expectations of feminine beauty, health and wellbeing. That’s a lot of pressure.
Perimenopause is exhausting
I describe this phase as like having a pot of soup that represents the nurturing and nourishment you give to others throughout your life. You reach perimenopause and there really isn’t anything left to give – you are scraping the bottom – and there is nothing left for yourself. Unless you rest and put something back into that pot, there will be nothing left to nourish you, and certainly nothing left for the people you care for.
So what can you do to manage these symptoms?
Firstly, you need to take time out to reflect on your life and lifestyle. What is making you angry, and why? If you are already feeling depleted, then you need to do less while you make the menopause transition. How can you reduce stress? Can you increase rest? What can bring back joy and laughter? Your body needs time to rest. You need to feel supported and looked after. Make time for yourself. You need a meno-PAUSE.
Getting work on your side
To create this space and time, you may need to speak to your work colleagues to take some of the load off your shoulders. You may need to talk to your family. If you have a partner or children, tell them how you are feeling, and explain that your emotional outbursts are not a reflection of how much you love them – it’s your hormones – but you do need to rest and relax more.
What relaxes you?
Relaxing may be taking exercise, lying in bed reading, taking a walk in nature, or socialising with friends. Or whatever makes you feel better. Women are often reluctant to have these conversations because we’ve grown up believing that we should always put the needs of others before our own. But in my experience, your family loves you just as much as you love them. They want to help. They just need to understand what is happening and what they can do.
The power of nutrition
Secondly, reduce substances that are going to aggravate your emotions or prevent you from sleeping. That means reducing caffeine and alcohol. Not forever, just for now. This will also help you to sleep, which will also improve your mental wellbeing.
Nourish yourself with foods that support your hormone balance. Eat regular meals that are low in sugar, and avoid getting hungry. This can cause a trough in your blood sugar levels that may intensify your hormone fluctuations. Eating a diet rich in phytoestrogens from plants (soya, green vegetables, nuts, seeds) will not replace your lost oestrogen, but is thought to soften the edges of your symptoms.
Learn to ‘befriend your feelings.’
Women in countries like the UK have a complicated relationship with anger, many have been raised to believe it is culturally unacceptable for a woman to express anger and aggression. The stereotypical image of a woman is someone who is calm, caring, nurturing and the pacemaker in arguments or conflict. That is a very difficult image to maintain, especially if your hormones are fluctuating wildly, you’re lacking sleep, your muscles and joints hurt, you have spontaneous hot flushes that feel out of your control, and we are expected to juggle the competing needs of EVERYONE!
Viewed in this light, Menorage is completely understandable, but nobody likes to be spoken to in anger and these outbursts can leave us feeling guilty, shocked and exhausted. Perimenopause is a hormonal transformation – fact. These hormonal changes affect your body, brain and emotions – fact. However, nobody wants to live in a state of anger and it damages your relationships with yourself and others. Learning to accept these emotions as an expression of yourself means you are taking a step closer towards self-kindness and compassion. Compassion is very powerful. It isn’t a weakness, it is a courageous ability to step into the centre of conflicting thoughts or emotions, and embrace them all. Can you embrace yourself, including these emotions?
Approaches from across the world
In Ayurveda, anger and aggression are imbalances of heat in the body (pitta) that are aggravated by Ama. This is a kind of toxic sticky substance that causes physical and emotional block or stagnant energy. In some it will cause depression, but in others it will lead to flare ups, like a blocked dam that overflows. In Traditional Chinese Medicine these are liver and gallbladder imbalances. This liver qi causes irregular emotions, chronic anger and explosive impulsivity. These symptoms are also associated with the liver releasing toxins, flushing them out of the body.
How can yoga help?
The Menopause Yoga class for Menorage includes the hip and thigh stretches to release hot emotions and physical heat, but it adds in more yang yin yoga poses that stimulate a balance in liver chi energy. Hip opening stretches with external rotation are helpful and internally rotated hip stretches such as ‘eye of the needle pose’, cow-face-pose (gomukhasana), or Shoelace pose, and pigeon pose are all supportive.
Jaw clenching indicates emotional tension and may be the result of unspoken thoughts. So to release that tension, we practice ‘gurning’ by making circles around the jaw.
There are also more forward folding poses to ‘cool and calm a hot head,’ Gentle pressure on the crown of the head and forehead calms the mind and releases emotional tension.
Try reclined cobbler’s pose and front lying savasana is also calming and soothing.
After Savasana deep relaxation, we come to a comfortable seated position for meditation and repeating a mantra or positive affirmation.
Mantra and Mudra: Sa, Ta, Na, Ma
This mantra develops our recognition of the cycle of life and the natural aging process helping is to accept the menopause changes and our emotions.
It roughly translates as Birth, Life, Death and Rebirth.
How can you Befriend your Emotions by embracing yourself? Can you accept the menopause as a natural part of change? Can you forgive yourself and anyone else who has hurt you in the past?