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Anger, Menopause and You
Jan. 26, 2022
If you’re angry for no great reason at times…or, let’s be honest, what seems like all the time, there’s a scientific reason for it. There's also help.
Valerie, 48, an advertising account manager in Chicago, was always the chill person at work, deadline pressure be damned. “My office nickname was Valium; that’s how calm I was,” she says with a laugh.
Until she suddenly found herself “freaking out over really small things. I got so upset at my assistant over a minor file glitch that I made her cry. That is not easy to admit or live with,” she says.
What’s happening here? To a large extent, perimenopause—the period leading up to menopause before menstruation actually stops.
Do hormones cause anger and rage?
This is a time when hormones are shifting—which can create an array of symptoms. Almost 70% of women report irritability during the early stages of perimenopause, says Donna Klassen, LCSW, Co-Founder, Let’s Talk Menopause, a nonprofit that demystifies menopause anger.
“Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and impulse control, drops as estrogen declines, resulting in increased anxiety and decreased ability to curb your compulsions. Progesterone, the calming hormone, also begins to dissipate in perimenopause,” she says. “Add to this the fact that more than 50% of perimenopausal women experience significant sleep issues. It’s the perfect storm of feeling at one’s wit's end.”
That lack of sleep doesn’t help. “Declining or fluctuating estrogen can cause sleep disturbance, which definitely leads to irritability,” explains Sheryl A. Kingsberg, PhD, a psychologist, professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and chief of the OBGYN Division of Behavioral Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.
"You’re losing the natural hormonal filter that you normally have. Some things you may say in conversation at work, or at home to people that you really care about, come out a little bit quicker than you might of anticipated— and that is part of this transition, says Kourtney Sims, M.D., a board-certified integrative gynecologist based in Houston, TX, certified member of the North American Menopause Society, and Phenology’s Chief Medical Advisor.
That’s something Lekeisha, 49, of West Palm Beach, can relate to. “Since the change started, I have been that person who is up in the middle of the night for a while. I have given up trying to go back to sleep. I put on Netflix and go with it,” she explains. “But my patience is just not there anymore. I flare at my family, coworkers, and complete strangers over minor things. Like my Starbucks order taking too long. It’s like, ‘Who even am I anymore?’”
What other menopause symptoms contribute to anger?
Insomnia is, as perimenopause issues go, a biggie, but other issues add to the situation. Vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes and night sweats) and mild cognitive changes (temporary brain fog, short term memory/word recall) also cause impatience and annoyance,” explains Dr. Kingsberg, PhD.
When you are dealing with these symptoms, you may be quick to anger, feel easily overwhelmed, or weepy. “It can be extremely frustrating to not be able to control your emotions,” says Klassen. “Making a tough time worse, is that women also feel ashamed and guilty, compounding the distress. And we so often hear that women feel alone during the menopause transition, that they did not feel adequately informed or prepared (unlike with pregnancy when women are amply supplied with books and resources to know what to expect at every step).”
"When you notice that it’s kind of getting a little out of control, it’s gone too far, usually if you do a self-temperature check and ask yourself, ‘How am I doing in those arenas? Am I taking enough time for myself? Am I getting enough rest? Have I gone to my doctor to talk about what’s going on? Have I tried to avail myself of solutions? Am I making space for this transition in my life?’" says Dr. Kourtney. "If you’re not checking those boxes, often times you’ll notice that symptoms are worse."
What to do if you feel your menopause anger mounting
Acknowledge and short-circuit your anger. It helps to tell others when you’re feeling irritable, says Klassen, as this can foster communication and understanding–and remove some guilt. Also, she adds, “recognizing that you’re feeling irritable is important, as maybe in that moment you need to leave the room, go for a walk, or splash cold water on your face instead of staying in the situation you’re in.”
Reframe it. “I am not happy with the focus on perimenopausal ‘rage’ as a concept,” says Dr. Kingsberg. “I think this puts women and perimenopausal women in a bad light and reinforces stereotypes that women go crazy or become a bitch or lose control due to their hormones. Women do not lose themselves and need to stand their ground and hold onto their self-esteem.” Which brings us to….
Be kind to yourself. Self-compassion, says Klassen, plays an important role. Recognize that physiological and biological changes are going on. It may be hard to manage these in the middle of your workplace without privacy, but don’t apologize. You are weathering very real shifts that will pass in good time.
Don’t “tough it out.” If your menopause anger is interfering with daily life, get professional support. “For those struggling with these symptoms, I certainly want to validate that this is not ‘all in your heads,’” says Dr. Kingsberg. “Seek out a healthcare professional who can help with symptoms and depression, anxiety, or other mood disturbance that may be at work” (more on that below).
Make time for yourself. Lifestyle changes—healthier diet, watching alcohol intake, exercising regularly and generally putting yourself first—are a good place to start to manage menopause mood swings. "Think of your perimenopausal journey as your opportunity to really try to come into yourself and do things for yourself, do things that you want to do, not things that other people want you to do, and really just have some time to yourself to journal, to nurture yourself, to exercise, to eat well, and just enjoy life," Dr. K says. To support yourself, consider a daily supplement regimen with ingredients clinically shown to reduce stress and anxiety to support a positive mood, like Phenology Morning+Evening Gummies.
If you need a bit more guidance, consider talking to a Phenology Coach. You can chat one-on-one with a Registered Dietitian trained in menopause-related topics by downloading the Phenology app. This gives you the chance to ask an empathetic professional about how your nutrition, wellness, hydration and lifestyle can affect your symptoms, and get real answers via text-based chat.
Understand your treatment options. Dr. Kingsberg notes that lifestyle changes can help with menopause anger, but sometimes, more is needed. She says this can take the form of psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavior therapy to address depression and anxiety, CBTi (cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia), or learning tools to improve impulse control (e.g. to reduce “lashing out”), or stress management strategies. One note: Klassen stresses the importance of finding a healthcare professional who is trained in matters relating to menopause so you get the most informed viewpoint possible.
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