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Anxiety and the menopause

The not-so-secret diary of a perimenopausal woman

4 September 2023 – anxiety and the menopause


Hello. I’m writing to you from a place of near calm today. I can still feel a tightness in my jaw and a knot of anxiety in my gut but on a scale of 1 to 10 my anxiety level is at 4 today. For a couple of weeks in the middle of August it was stuck at 9 or 10. That was really hard. The worst I’ve had deal with during perimenopause I think, or perhaps equal with winter 2021 just before I made the decision to leave my job.


Blog author sitting in the garden

As you can see, I’m in the garden working today. A chance to get some much-needed vitamin D, enjoy the last of the summer sun and surround myself by nature. It is peaceful and calm and I’m grateful I’m able to enjoy this. A week ago, I would have hidden in the house.


What do I want to talk to you about today?

I wrote about mental health and the menopause back in January. At the time I was feeling low, I had a heaviness in my heart and a desire to crawl back under the duvet. It was short term - exercise and nature sorted me out quite quickly. I get low periods from time to time, I can usually pull myself out of them.


I wrote about anxiety and the menopause back in March and told you about my first panic attack several years ago and how my work life was seriously impacted. My focus in March was on testosterone and how that really helped to reduce my anxiety.


The last few weeks have been different. The anxiety kicked in on 1 August. I can remember the exact moment. I sat down to work after an overnight stay in London. Nothing different, nothing new. I often get moments of anxiety and I use the breath to help calm me. I go for a walk, do yoga or meditate. This time nothing seemed to work. Every day I would wake up and the anxiety would be there, worse than the day before. I couldn’t work out what I was anxious about – that was probably the hardest thing because that meant that I couldn’t address the problem. I think it is probably just the impact of fluctuating hormones.


I stopped going out as much and found it really hard to work. I was going to bed early and getting up late to avoid the ever-present symptoms of anxiety – tight jaw, tongue that felt too big for my mouth, headache, tense shoulders, butterflies in my tummy, tight chest. I closed in on myself and couldn’t communicate. I was irritable and not much fun to be around. I could recognise all of that but I couldn’t do anything about it. I also felt really low. Lower than I’ve ever felt I think.


Seeking help for anxiety

Eventually I knew that I needed to talk to a professional so I reached out to the GP. I was called by a wonderful out of hours female doctor who listened (very important), took me back to basics with anxiety and helped me to understand what was going on physiologically. She told me that my anxiety may have become ‘locked on’, that I was no longer anxious about anything in particular. My brain was just feeling an ever-present sense of danger. I needed a fire break to try and turn of the symptoms so that I could relax and hopefully the anxiety would dissipate. I agreed to some medication (reluctantly) and a self-referral for talking therapy (I have an assessment call next week).


Anxiety, menopause and meditation

Medication was a short-term fix, and if I’m honest, wasn’t really working. I needed something more effective and more sustainable.


My meditation practice has previously been somewhat erratic and reactive and relied on me using the meditation techniques I had learned such as mantra and loving kindness. I found a You Tube channel called The Mindful Movement which has an extensive library of guided meditations and deep sleep hypnosis.


Someone sitting cross legged on a sofa meditating

This has unlocked meditation for me. I now have a go to place with many guided meditations on anxiety, decluttering the mind, being calm and dealing with stress. I am meditating twice a day. I’m sleeping better and I’m beginning to relax. The anxiety is not the first and only thing on my mind every day.



Anxiety, menopause and the vagus nerve

I first heard of the vagus nerve about a year ago. I discovered that there is a gut /mind connection and that the vagus nerve is probably responsible for this. The conclusion – a healthy gut means a healthy mind.

Diagram showing the path of the vagus nerve through the body

What I didn’t realise is that the vagus nerve is part of the autonomic nervous system and is responsible for your parasympathetic response of rest and digest. Your sympathetic response is fight or flight. It would appear that it is my sympathetic response that has been locked on. I needed to engage my parasympathetic response. How to do that? Well, apparently you can manipulate your vagus nerve to induce a response. Vagus is Latin for wandering. The vagus nerve wends its way throughout your body from your head to gut.



Last week I was manipulating my vagus nerve via my belly button. Slightly disconcerting, a little uncomfortable, but very effective. I felt calm within minutes and it lasted for the rest of the day. This morning, I was humming and using the yoga technique of pranayama breathing. Again, both very effective and easier and quicker to do than massaging your belly button. Although, personally I think the belly button had a deeper and longer lasting effect.


And finally, shaking….

Now I’ve got you wondering. In a recent ‘trauma informed coaching’ workshop, I learned that animals deal better with stress than we do. When the ‘fight or flight’ moment has gone, they shake it out. They do it to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. If it’s good for my cat, then it’s good for me! So now I get up in the morning and have a good old shake. Starting with my arms, then my legs and then my entire body. You just have to let go of all inhibitions and go for it. It feels great 😊


You’re not alone

As you know I talk about perimenopause and menopause all the time. So, I hear a lot from other women about what’s going on for them. It would seem that anxiety is one of the most prevalent perimenopause symptoms going amongst my community. If you’re reading this blog and it feels familiar, then check out my recommendations. They’re not sponsored links, just things that I’ve found that help me. There are lots of other people out there doing amazing things to help.


Please share this blog with anyone you think might benefit from reading it.


And finally, talk to someone. If you’re going through anxiety, it is really easy to shut yourself off. Talking really helps. I found that using a scoring system of 1-10 each day helped me explain how I was feeling to others.


Enjoyed reading this?

If you'd like to read more of 'the not-so-secret diary of a menopausal woman', check out the rest of my posts here. Sign up and you'll receive each post direct to your inbox when they're published. I'd love to hear what you think and find out about your experiences, so please feel free to leave me a comment.


Kirsten

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