Stress and Menopause - Your Complete Guide | Stella
Long-term health
7 mins

Stress and menopause

byDr. Lucy Wilkinson

How many times have you said the words “I’m so stressed!” in the past week? Stress is normal but the ups and downs of everyday life – family, work, other responsibilities – can feel extra pressured when your hormones are in flux too. Read on to find out how stress can affect menopause, and what you can do about it.

What is stress?

Stress is the uncomfortable feeling caused by a challenging situation. You may feel worried or tense, or you might experience a knotted feeling in your stomach. It can be different for everyone.

When you are stressed you might notice that you have less patience than usual, or feel more tearful. You might rely on a glass of wine at the end of the day or soothe yourself with sugary treats such as chocolate. You may find it harder to sleep, focus at work and get your thoughts in order. This can build up until you feel like you are struggling under a mountain of pressure.

In some cases stress can be helpful. For example, feeling a bit stressed about an interview or presentation can help motivate you to prepare well.

But at other times stress can be harmful and affect your wellbeing. This could be especially true if you’re in stressful situations for long periods without support and managing menopause at the same time.

See your doctor for advice if you are struggling. Sometimes extreme stress can cause thoughts of suicide or self-harm. If this happens to you, seek urgent help or attend A&E if you’re unable to keep yourself safe.

What does stress do to your body?

Your body activates its fight-or-flight response when you are exposed to a stressful situation. This involves:

  • A release of adrenaline
  • Increased heart rate
  • Faster breathing
  • Muscle tension
  • Increased release of sugar in your bloodstream

These changes have evolved over millions of years and helped our prehistoric ancestors deal with threats from predators. And while sabre-toothed tigers are not a threat today, there are modern versions! You may know all too well the sensation of an adrenaline rush if you are suddenly called to a challenging meeting or receive a difficult email.

The hormone cortisol is released when you are under stress. High levels of cortisol over long periods of time can cause problems with your immune system, memory and metabolism.

Can menopause cause stress?

Interestingly, oestrogen is known to lower the impact of stress on your body by reducing the amount of cortisol produced to manage stressful situations. 

This may explain why it can feel more difficult to cope with stress during and after menopause, when you have lower oestrogen levels.

Menopause can also be a stressful experience in itself. Disruptive physical symptoms can impact your work, home and social life. This can have a knock-on effect on your mental health, which in turn makes it more difficult to deal with stress. Common symptoms include low mood, depression, anxiety and mood swings. These make everyday stress feel impossible. Check out our symptom library for more information.

Talk to your doctor if you’re struggling with stress because of your physical or mental health. They can help and show you where you can get additional support.

How does stress affect menopause symptoms?

Stress will affect your menopause experience – people who are more stressed have a more negative overall experience and even an earlier menopause.

Stress can also worsen any menopause symptoms you already have:

Can HRT help with stress?

Hormone therapy replacement (HRT) is the most effective way to treat many menopause symptoms. It is commonly prescribed for issues with sleep, hot flushes and mood symptoms among others. 

Improvements in these areas could of course help ease day-to-do stress. However, HRT is not currently prescribed for stress alone as we don’t have enough evidence that it helps.

Read more about HRT and its risks and benefits.

Five tips to help improve your stress levels at menopause

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for stress. Stress has a wide range of causes, and what works well for one person might be of little value to another.

Here are five things to consider:

  1. Identify your stress triggers. Is there a situation, task or activity that is contributing to your stress? If so, could you tackle it in a different way? Can you get help from anywhere or anyone?
  2. Check in with your physical health. Stress is much more difficult to regulate if you are feeling physically unwell. Speak to your doctor for advice about treatment options if you’re struggling because of menopause symptoms
  3. Consider lifestyle changes. A nutritious diet, moving more and avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine will really help
  4. Try mindfulness. Reduce your stress levels with meditation, yoga, tai chi or an enjoyable hobby, such as crafting
  5. Counselling or talking therapies might also help. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can help you to re-evaluate the way you respond to stressful situations

Read our blog on how to create a healthier lifestyle one step at a time.

Final word

Stress can feel overwhelming. It’s worth paying close attention to how you feel during menopause and exploring any simple lifestyle changes you could make. 

Find out more about menopause on our blog or in our symptoms library

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