Coping With Depression During Perimenopause
Afra Willmore and counselor Eric Patterson discuss the prevalence of depression in perimenopause and how to manage it.
Afra’s Advice for Depression During Perimenopause
Depression at any time of life can be difficult, but if it hits during the early stages of menopause (perimenopause) it can be devastating, especially to women who may already be anxious about what the future holds.
General advice for depression often focuses on getting out and about, eating healthily, increasing exercise levels and maintaining good relationships with friends and family who can support you. But the hormone fluctuations during perimenopause often cause a loss of confidence, physical changes and psychological symptoms which can affect your ability to manage these simple lifestyle changes.
Take exercise for instance. The onset of the menopause can cause sleep issues, feelings of exhaustion, mental and physical fatigue. Motivating yourself to go to an evening fitness class or an early morning gym session might be almost impossible.
It’s a good idea to firstly get checked out by a doctor to make absolutely sure that your extreme tiredness is not being caused by an undiagnosed health condition or vitamin or mineral deficiency.
Some clinics offer a “well woman” check, which is basically a check of your overall health and fitness. They usually focus on preventative measures to avoid future health issues, but the doctors and nurses carrying out the checks should be able to listen to concerns about any current issues and advise you how to proceed further.
Increase Energy to Prevent Depression
If you get the all clear health-wise, try some simple changes to increase energy. Make sure you eat healthily, cut down on caffeinated drinks and avoid altogether at least an hour before bed and aim to get between seven and nine hours sleep each night.
Getting a Better Sleep
Make sure your bedroom is not too hot or cold, wear nightclothes made from natural fabrics to cut down on night sweats if they are waking you up, and try to leave your stresses at the bedroom door — some people find writing them down before bedtime helps!
It might be tempting to have a glass or two of something alcoholic to help you relax, cheer up or get to sleep, but be wary of becoming reliant on this. If you have concerns that you cannot cope without drinking alcohol, speak to your doctor.
Talk It Out
Now you might have heard the saying “a problem shared is a problem halved.”
Sharing feelings and worries is often extremely beneficial to people suffering from anxiety, stress and depression no matter what stage of life it strikes.
Although a professional counselor is your best recourse, it may be that talking over your problems and feelings with the people in your circle might also have a positive effect.
Think about who you trust — maybe your partner or a close relative. Maybe you have a religious or spiritual leader who you could chat with, a neighbor or a close friend.
Usually what helps is an empathetic ear from someone who won’t judge or even necessarily give advice.
Even just a coffee with a friend talking about anything but your stress can help — lifting your mood and distracting you from your depression. It might only work briefly, but at least it will demonstrate that you can feel happy.
Talking to friends is fine if you find it relieves some of the stress or lifts your mood. However, if you feel at any time that you want to harm yourself or that you don’t want to carry on living, seek emergency professional help immediately.
Mental Health and Exercise
What about exercising with menopause? It’s common knowledge that exercise produces “feel good” chemicals in the body. Once again, it might be worth calling on your friends and/or family to help motivate you when you just feel like hibernating at home.
Even planning and enjoying a brisk daily walk will help, and if you can combine that with a nice chat with a pal, you might soon feel brighter.
Challenge yourself to improve your time or distance walked or run. Many women find that, freed from many of the responsibilities of a very young family, they have more time for themselves and end up enjoying exercise instead of feeling it’s a chore to be squeezed in around grocery shopping and taxiing kids about.
Join a class and you might even make some new friends! You don’t have to go high-impact — activities like Tai Chi or yoga may help with your mental and physical wellbeing.
Delve Into a Hobby
If exercise really isn’t your thing, think about taking up a new hobby or rediscovering a past love. No, not the guy from high school — something like art, or music or crafts.
All of these things can prove stress busting, and the joy and satisfaction you gain from them might be enough to get you through perimenopausal depression.
What If All This Isn’t Enough?
The key to happiness is often as simple as making time for yourself and things you enjoy — whether that’s rock-climbing or eating rocky road ice cream occasionally with friends.
Sometimes, though, there isn’t enough yoga, chats or ice cream in the world to lift the darkness. Depression can be caused by a chemical or hormonal imbalance, and it’s absolutely not a sign of failure to accept chemical help to fix it.
Speak to your doctor about medication — they might be able to offer help with sleeping, mood or anxiety. Used alongside non-drug techniques and under close supervision you could soon be back to feeling like yourself.
You might even find your personal and professional relationships improve too, as the people around you realize the person they love and respect is still there for them.
Counselor Eric’s Advice for Menopause and Depression
Menopause is not usually a happy time in a woman’s life. Often, it is a time met with dread, caution, and pessimism.
Through perimenopause (the time with more variability in your hormones and less consistency in your menstruation) you will face new challenges. You will feel uncomfortable physically. Unfortunately, this unease will try to spread into your mental health as well.
People experiencing symptoms of perimenopause regularly report increased mental health signs and symptoms related to anxiety and depression. This does not mean you must succumb to these conditions, though.
This is your chance to learn about the connections between your physical health and your mental health. This is your chance to practice prevention to maintain your mood.