Depression and menopause. Two words that we have not strung together in one sentence since we launched this blog, but words that are often used in conjunction with just the thought of menopause. It’s reality—unpredictable hormone fluctuations plus stress, body image, sexuality, infertility, or aging—any one or a combination of these causes emotional distress that may result in mood swings. Or, in more severe cases, depression. Determining the cause and extent of your “menopause blues” is very important.
I personally have experienced “the blues” off and on throughout my life. Mostly just associated with my mood, short-term and not requiring any type of formal treatment—but, I’ve have a couple of bouts with extreme anxiety related to professional stress that prompted me to seek out counseling. I’m a big believer that depression is real and not something to brush off, even if it’s experienced in a short-term time period. Depression is something to monitor and seek to understand as it relates to you, no matter what stage of life you are in.
I also keep in mind that I am my best advocate when it comes to my mind and body. What do I mean by this? My primary physician diagnosed me with depression a few years ago during a routine check-up. And, honestly I didn’t feel depressed. It was the week before my period and it was fairly common for me to be moody, down and prone to wanting to sleep more than usual. But, this doctor was sure I was clinically depressed and kept insisting that I needed to be medicated. That made me cry. And, he used my tears as even more evidence of his diagnosis.
If I would have been stronger in my opinion that this was all related to PMS, I would have fought the diagnosis. But, I did not and spent a couple of years on anti-anxiety medication. I even switched doctors during these two years and she just went along with the first doctor’s diagnosis and didn’t ask the questions I now know are essential to ask. I didn’t realize there was an issue until I started digging into the affects of hormones on our physical and mental health. My suspicions/intuitions were correct. I was not depressed. I was hormonal.
Bottom-line—I’m not advocating that anyone to stop taking or refuse to take depression and anxiety medications. I am advocating for deciding if your moods and feelings are related to other issues, such as hormones. I am advocating for seeking out ways to treat these issues without medication if possible. Again—I’m not against medication. But, I do think it should be the last resort once you’ve exhausted other more natural treatments. I did and I’ve been off the anti-anxiety medication for over a year. Here is what I do when I feel depressed that without fail, gets me through the week before my period:
- Remind yourself—I send myself a calendar reminder that says, “This is the week.” This helps me realize that this is the week my hormones are whacky and I simply need to be more aware. It sounds weird, but the reminder says to me – “Hey, Steph. You are NOT crazy. You can deal with this and have many times before. It’s TEMPORARY!”
- Move—I exercise, outside if I can. This is a hard one because these are the weeks that I don’t want to get up out of my big comfy bed, let alone get dressed and head out for a long walk. For many reasons, getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine lifts my mood. But, it doesn’t really matter where you go. Just get up and move. There’s nothing better for your mood.
- Limit sugar—This one is really, really hard with my insulin-resistance and pure love of sugar. I want sugar during this week even more than usual, but I’ve seen first-hand how crappy I feel if I give in. If I have to, I use Splenda in a few glasses of ice tea or a steel-cut bowl of oatmeal.
- Baths—You can’t be a reader of this blog without knowing about my love of baths, especially when it comes to mental health. If I feel like I have to lye down, I do it in the bathtub. This truly does wash away the blues for me (with the help of some relaxing, yummy smelling bath salts). I feel proud that I didn’t give into sleep and it makes me feel like I beat my mood.
- Small tasks—I try to break large tasks into small ones, set some priorities and do what I can as I can. And, I don’t give into the panic that seems to accompany this week.
- Give it time—I expect my mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Feeling better takes time.
- No big decisions—I postpone important decisions until the depression has lifted. That eliminates some of the pressure in itself.
My next post will dig deeper into the topic of depression. I’ll overview the three typical types of depression, especially as they relate to perimenopause and menopause. So, far this past year I’ve been able to manage my depression. But, at any given time that could change. And, there are millions of women who are suffering from some for of depression. We are not alone.