Menopause Symptoms- Anxiety and Sleeplessness
By Emma Reynolds
So there you are, lying in bed, unable to sleep. It’s 3am and you’ve not really slept at all. Instead you are worrying about.. what? The mortgage, your life choices, that thing you have to do tomorrow, that thing that happened yesterday? All of the above?
All you want to do is sleep, but you can’t. And now you feel even more anxious because tomorrow you’ll have to cope without having had enough shut-eye. What is the mind doing?
Well, when we aren’t totally focused on the task in hand, the mind naturally wanders – it’s called the default mode network. The mind looks for problems, so it can ”fix” them, or it looks for potential problems like; “What did they mean when they said that? Should I be worried?” so you have a game plan. In small doses this is ok and makes sense, but when it goes into over-drive it can be terribly stressful. As you may have discovered, when you settle down to sleep, sometimes the mind decides that that’s the perfect moment to hit you with all the worries of the day. It hadn’t managed to bother you with it earlier because you’ve been so busy. But now……
What is anxiety and stress?
When we feel threatened, or there is a potential threat (like a thought about a future experience) the body goes into the Fight and Flight (and Freeze) response. It pumps adrenalin and cortisol around the body, making the heart rate go up and muscles tense, so we are ready to literally attack, or to run. And although this would be useful if you were actually under threat, it’s not much use at 3am, when you desperately want to sleep.
When we enter menopause our hormones change and the buffer we had between stress lessens. Oestrogen kept us sweet to a certain point, but now, boy oh boy! The “Fight” aspect explains the anger and irritability you might be feeling. If you feel really threatened you might find yourself in the “Freeze” response; literally feeling immobile. This turns up as depression, not wanting to socialise or indeed do anything. We can then enter into a loop as having menopausal symptoms can be stressful, and stress makes symptoms worse. With time, this can feel like a downward spiral.
So what can you do?
Well, knowing that the mind has a tendency to wander, and that it often falls into negativity we can either carry on as normal and hope it fixes itself, or we can do something about it and train that wandering mind.
Mindfulness training is just that practice. Simply put, it’s a way to keep coming back to the present moment, allowing negative, stressful thoughts to come and go, without buying into them, nor judging them.
It’s also a practice of noticing how the body is reacting (tension etc) and rather than ignoring it, or trying to fix it, finding a third way- allowing it to be just as it is. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the act of relaxing around body tension often allows that very tension to slowly release.
And finally mindfulness is a practice of being present with your emotions. Menopause can be a time of overwhelming feelings and I know very well from personal experience before I began practicing mindfulness, I didn’t know what to do with myself when they hit. Mindfulness gave me the tools to look after myself and to be more self-compassionate.
Once you lower your body's tendency to go into Fight and Flight, the less adrenaline and cortisol you have in your body and less you'll feel anxiety. If you then bring in practices to allow the body to relax at night, then sleep is a much more likely possibility. Ultimately you get good at what you practice, so if you bring mindfulness practices into your daily routine, you will be setting yourself up for an upward spiral.
If you’d like to find out how you can navigate these challenging times then you may be interested in my online self-paced course for women in menopause. Just click here.
And if you’d like to practice a short calming meditation right now click here.
And finally, if you’d like to work 1-2-1 with me (MBSR course) click here.
Mindfulness is not a quick fix, it takes time to practice something different But if you’re sick of this looping story of anxiety, perhaps this the perfect moment to practice something new?