Mood swings are some of the least-understood aspects of menopause — and the most misrepresented. While pop culture representations of menopause tend to center specifically on mood, they typically treat menopausal women as a caricature of irrationality and hysteria rather than capturing the variability and complexity of menopause-related mood disturbances. Not only does this trivialize the very real suffering many women experience during this pivotal phase of life, but it may also leave you feeling ashamed and immobilized.
In reality, menopause-related mood swings happen due to a variety of physiological and psychological phenomena and the interplay between them. Critically, mood swings can be a direct result of the hormonal changes that women undergo in the years leading up to and after menopause, including falling levels of estrogen and progesterone. In other words, mood swings are far from irrational; they are a symptom of physical transformation.
Unfortunately, the cavalier treatment of menopause-related mood swings in our culture (pop and otherwise) keeps many women from seeing these mood swings as a symptom that can be—and, sometimes, should be—treated medically. But mood changes can have a dangerous impact on both mental and physical health. They can interfere with your confidence and functionality, your relationships, and your overall quality of life. In other words, mood swings can be far from trivial features.
Not all women have mood swings during menopause and the level of intensity can vary significantly amongst women who do. But one thing remains certain: you deserve to be happy, and you have the right to treat mood swings during menopause in the healthiest and most effective way possible.
The Causes of Mood Swings During Menopause
“Mood swings” is a phrase that everyone says but which has no strict definition.
Typically, however, mood swings are understood to include the following:
- Unexplained sadness
- Crying/weeping episodes
Critically, there is no one single cause for these symptoms; they can be affected by a broad range of factors and can vary for each person.
Menopause can be an emotional time. It is the end of your reproductive years, which can deeply affect how you see yourself and experience the world around you. It is a time that many use –fairly or unfairly– to mark the passage toward being “old”, which can spark fear, sadness, anxiety, and even mourning in a culture that valorizes youth, particularly in women. It may also be a time of reflection, of evaluating your life thus far and contemplating what the future will hold. These can be hard things to grapple with, and the psychosocial aspects of menopause can have a profound impact on your emotional state.
But of course, menopause also comes with significant hormonal shifts that can impact mood on a physiological level.
Researchers have also found that perimenopausal and menopausal women have higher levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), an enzyme linked to mood disorders like depression, than younger women.
In short, menopause can affect mood in complex ways. The physical, psychological, and cultural are not separate. Rather, they are intimately intertwined and their impact on emotional and behavioral health can be powerful—and deeply personal.
How to Treat Mood Swings During Menopause
There is no universal silver bullet for mood swings during menopause. Every woman’s experience is unique, and what works for one woman may not be relevant for another.
However, many women find that a personalized combination of the following helps to support greater psychological well-being:
- Mind-Body Practices
- Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy
- Psychotropic Medications
- Sleep Disorder Treatment
Getting the Help You Deserve
If you are approaching or have gone through menopause and are experiencing mood disturbances, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Today, there are more resources available to help you address the impact of hormonal changes than ever before.