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Eat Well, Live Well, Be Well!

A healthy dose of my diet, nutrition and lifestyle hacks to improve your health. Every bite counts!

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All tangled up: Midlife stress and menopause

When I speak with clients and friends, and when I consider the ups and downs in my own midlife, this question keeps popping up:


"do I feel this way because I'm stressed, or do I feel this way because of peri-menopause?"


The answer is as clear as mud.


By mid-life, we have so many balls in the air, balancing work, life, family, finances, relationships and so on. This is tough, even when it all runs smoothly. By our 40s, most of us have been juggling so much for so long we don't even realise the stress burden.


I've heard many women in their 40s describe health concerns like weight gain, poor sleep and emotional instability - all with established links to chronic stress - who never considered stress as a factor. They're busy, sure. But not stressed.


So when peri-menopause becomes obvious (or we finally admit we're of the age!), it's a great scapegoat. We can pin all the awful stuff on that donkey.


But can we?


There's so much crossover between the symptoms of peri-menopause and the impact of stress that once you understand both, they're hard to disentangle.

Here are some symptoms that stress shares with peri-menopause:

  • Sleeplessness or insomnia

  • Tiredness and fatigue

  • Low energy

  • Poor mood or irritability

  • Headaches

  • Brain fog or difficulty thinking clearly

  • Possible anxiety or depressive symptoms

  • Weight gain, particularly around the abdomen

  • Changes to periods, including skipped periods

  • Loss of libido

If you look at that list in your 40s, you might ascribe every one of these to changing hormones and you'd be right. Fluctuating oestrogen and progesterone (and their gradual decline) play a contributory role to each and every one of these symptoms.


But so does stress.


The hormones associated with long term stress are known to disrupt the healthy activity of reproductive hormones. Skipped periods are common in high stress, even in your 20s, and that's very unlikely to be menopause!


Chronic stress can change the function of other hormones too, including those that regulate sleep, mood, hunger and blood sugar balance. All of these can result in poor energy, low mood, weight gain, tiredness, headaches and so on.


So is it stress or is it menopause?


Given the prevalence of stress in modern life, it's likely a combination of both. Especially at midlife and particularly if you've lived with difficult circumstances for a long time. And while stress may not cause menopause, it will certainly exacerbate symptoms.


So what do we do with this information? We learn to recognise stress in our lives and give ourselves the tools and time to manage it better.


This becomes significantly more important as we get closer to menopause, because outside the symptoms noted, unresolved chronic stress contributes to more serious health risks.


We can't always remove the source of our stress, so strategies that manage and improve our stress response are essential. And it's never too early to start!


Managing stress requires a multi-method approach and will be different for each person.


The suggestions below are excellent and well-researched tools to start with:

  • A healthy diet with supportive nutrients (as per my menopause program)

  • Nutrient supplements can help, but should be personalised according to need

  • Exercise is vital, but nothing that causes further stress

  • Counseling and other types of therapy

  • Yoga, breath work and meditation

  • Strategies to support sleep

  • Planned rest and down time

  • Having a safe support network or community

The good news is these same strategies are extremely supportive of your perimenopause symptoms too.


This is a tiny glimpse of a much bigger conversation, but hopefully you can see the links between stress and menopause, and understand why recognising and managing stress in or before your 40s is so important. And now you have some ways to start.

 

If you'd like help to assess and address stress in your life, make an appointment or book a free exploration session with me, here.


If you want to have a red-hot shot at the menopause program, you can get started here.




REFERENCES FOR THIS ARTICLE:

Briden, L. (2021) Hormone Repair Manual: Every Woman's Guide to healthy hormones after 40. Strawberry Hills,, NSW: ReadHowYouWant.


Brinton, R.D. et al. (2015) “Perimenopause as a neurological transition state,” Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 11(7), pp. 393–405. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/nrendo.2015.82.


Fouad, S. et al. (2021) “Menopause anxiety and depression; how food can help?,” Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, 9(B), pp. 64–71. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3889/oamjms.2021.5555.


How stress affects your body and behavior (2021) Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987 (Accessed: April 2, 2023).


Kravitz, H.M., Kazlauskaite, R. and Joffe, H. (2018) “Sleep, health, and metabolism in midlife women and Menopause,” Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 45(4), pp. 679–694. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ogc.2018.07.008.


Marlatt, K.L. et al. (2021) “Body composition and Cardiometabolic Health across the menopause transition,” Obesity, 30(1), pp. 14–27. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.23289.


Rutters, F. et al. (2012) “The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, obesity, and chronic stress exposure: Foods and hpa axis,” Current Obesity Reports, 1(4), pp. 199–207. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-012-0024-9.


Sai Sailesh, K. and B, S. (2019) “An update on physiological effects of stress,” MOJ Anatomy & Physiology, 6(2). Available at: https://doi.org/10.15406/mojap.2019.06.00243


Smyth, J., Zawadzki, M. and Gerin, W. (2013) “Stress and disease: A structural and functional analysis,” Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(4), pp. 217–227. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12020.


Stress symptoms: Physical effects of stress on the body (no date) WebMD. WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-symptoms-effects_of-stress-on-the-body (Accessed: April 2, 2023).


Zafar, M.S. et al. (2021) “Impact of stress on Human body: A review,” European Journal of Medical and Health Sciences, 3(3), pp. 1–7. Available at: https://doi.org/10.24018/ejmed.2021.3.3.821.


















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