Between the hot flashes making you feel like an alien in your own body and the constant tossing and turning at night, you may be feeling more than a bit irritable as you navigate menopause. And rest assured, you’re not alone: A study in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience showed that irritability is the top mood complaint for 70% of women in perimenopause and beyond. That makes perfect sense because this transition marks a major upheaval both physically and emotionally.
How menopause affects mood
“The body is completely changing during this time,” confirms endocrinologist Florence Comite, MD, who founded and directed Women’s Health at Yale. She explains that shifting levels of neurotransmitters — estrogen, progesterone and testosterone — impact everything from our sleep patterns to our appetite, triggering symptoms like anxiety, brain fog and mood swings. Such changes can be head-spinning: “Since puberty, we learned to adapt to our period and knew what to expect — but now all of a sudden there’s a whole new set of rules that can make it hard to cope.”
Indeed, we have no manual for menopause, which only fuels our anger and irritation, adds clinical psychologist Beth Kurland, PhD, author of Dancing on the Tightrope: Transcending the Habits of Your Mind & Awakening to Your Fullest Life and the forthcoming book, You Don’t Have to Change to Change Everything. “And because the changes we’re going through are largely invisible, it can feel like there’s a lack of understanding or empathy from society about what our inner experience is like.” In short, who wouldn’t be irritable? (Menopause can also trigger head pain. Click through to see the best migraine self-care remedies.)
The good news: It’s easy to soothe our mind, body and spirit — and settle our frazzled nerves. What’s more, this menopausal irritability is temporary. In fact, Certified Menopause Practitioner Barbara DePree, MD, a gynecologist in private practice and director of Women’s Midlife Services at Michigan’s Holland Hospital and founder of MiddlesexMD.com, an educational resource for women’s sexual health in perimenopause and beyond, promises, “Once your hormone levels stabilize after menopause, your moods should too.” (Click through to learn more ways menopause can impact your mood — and to find out how dietary fiber can work better than an antidepressant.)
In the meantime, keep scrolling for 9 must-try strategies to calm your body and mind and eliminate menopausal irritability.
How to calm your mind
While the emotional and physical experiences of menopause are intertwined, it’s helpful to first address your emotions by bringing awareness to why you feel as you do.
1. Acknowledge that it’s hard
The first step to feeling calmer is simply to accept our complex, conflicting emotions, notes Kurland. “When there are changes in our body during perimenopause and menopause, there can be a sense of loss or grief over how things used to feel in our body — and whenever things are unpredictable or unfamiliar, the threat response in our nervous system is triggered, leading to irritability.” She says just telling yourself, “Yes, this is a difficult moment,” rather than trying to ignore it, is key to releasing tension.
And take advantage of your support network, encourages Kurland. “Menopause is often so private, we suffer silently — but one thing I’ve found so helpful is connecting with other women. Just knowing what my body is going through is not uncommon makes me feel so much better.”
2. Discover hidden patterns
While fluctuating hormones may bring our aggravation to the fore, its roots often run deeper, and just pinpointing our triggers can help us defuse them.
For example, if getting interrupted is an especially big annoyance for you, maybe that’s because growing up, you felt like you lacked privacy, or your kid sister was always barging into your room. “Just tell yourself, ‘That was then, and this is now — I have so much more control over my actions as an adult,’ and do something calming like take a few deep breaths,” suggests clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, PhD, author of Prescriptions Without Pills: For Relief from Depression, Anger, Anxiety, and More. Also smart: Name your feelings. “You might say to yourself, that’s the voice of ‘Irritated Iris’ — I’m glad I caught it early.’” This simple trick creates psychological distance, allowing you to let it go more easily.
3. ‘Offload’ tensions with a pen
Even in the best of times, it’s easy to become irritated by everything we have on our plate — and that goes double during menopause, thanks to our see-sawing emotions, says clinical social worker Nixaly Leonardo, LCSW, author of The CBT Workbook for Anger Management. “Just take a few minutes to sit in silence and jot down anything on your mind, from to-dos to worries,” she suggests. “When we keep things bottled up or in our heads, they tend to snowball and become sources of annoyance. But just offloading them onto a piece of paper gives you specific action plan, like, ‘Tomorrow at 2 p.m., I’ll do X task for 30 minutes.’ This helps prevent responsibilities from piling up and frustrating you.” (Click through for 30 journal prompts for better mental health.)
4. Get out your ‘flashlight’
Anger or irritability often mask deeper feelings like a sense of overwhelm, which is why Kurland suggests bringing awareness to what’s really going on by picturing a flashlight. “In your mind’s eye, turn that ‘flashlight’ toward four specific signals of irritability: physical reactions, emotions, thoughts and actions. For example, you may feel a tightness in your chest or a rush of blood to your face — that physical reaction is an early warning that something needs your attention, which you might not yet be able to put into words. “Next, ask yourself what you’re feeling, such as exhaustion, because anger and irritation are often triggered by a thwarted need, like lack of sleep.”
Then turn your “flashlight” on your thoughts. “You may be thinking, ‘I have too much to do.’’” Lastly, focus on the “actions” your irritability is triggering. For example, maybe you find that you’re snapping at your husband. Once you pinpoint these signs, you’ll be able to discern what your emotions want from you in the moment — from taking a break to venting to a friend to pouring yourself a cup of tea. (Click through to discover the stress-busting benefits of jasmine tea.)
5. Embrace your next chapter
This stage of life often coincides with larger life changes, from facing an empty nest to reconsidering career choices. Facing these unknowns, in addition to what our bodies are going through, can fuel irritability. “I see this a lot in my practice — women start questioning what they want from their second half of life,” says Kurland. “For me, in my first 50 years, I had a clear roadmap – career, kids — but then suddenly there was a sense of not having a map. Where do I go? What do I do?” She says ditching the idea of a road map altogether, and instead visualizing a labyrinth, with its winding paths and many possibilities, helped shift her perspective and spark optimism.
“In a labyrinth, wherever you go, you’re always circling around its center — you’re always kind of coming home back home, and that ‘home’ is your value system.” She explains that this is a metaphor for finding your center during this life transition. “Ask yourself, ‘What are a few opportunities for growth?’ or ‘What do I want to learn more about or connect with more deeply?’” Such curiosity instantly widens your perspective, dialing down frustrations and fear of the unknown, and sparking excitement for the future.
6. Look beyond yourself
A great long-term strategy to dial down anger and annoyance — whether menopause-induced or just life-induced — is by learning to zoom out to observe your surroundings, says Kurland, who recently found herself irritated when her flight’s disembarking was delayed. “I started to look around and saw other passengers joking with each other — all of a sudden my whole energy started to shift.” She says she experienced a similar soothing effect when she was stuck behind a school bus, and her annoyance subsided when she stopped to focus on a little boy being greeted at his house by his dog. “It was a warm, touching moment I would have missed if let myself get stuck in my frustration. Just stopping to take in the positives in your environment can soften the grip of irritability and foster peace of mind.”
How to calm your body
It’s easier than you may think to melt the physical manifestations of “meno-anger” and diffuse frustration from head to toe.
1. Take a breather
“Breathing deeply — with a prolonged exhale — calms your entire system,” says Dr. Comite. When anger hits, try 4-7-8 breathing, which activates your parasympathetic nervous system to slow heart rate and promote calm. In fact, research in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that the technique calmed rage in minutes. To do: Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, then exhale for a count of eight; repeat three times. (Click through to discover how taking a long exhale on it’s own — called cyclic sighing — can relax body and mind.)
2. Consider taking *this* relaxing herb
Ashwagandha is central to the Ayurvedic tradition, an ancient form of holistic Indian medicine — and it boasts an unusual superpower, in that it’s an adaptogen, able to, well, adapt, to our body’s needs. (Click through to see how ashwagandha eases mitochondrial dysfunction.) In other words, when we’re tense, it calms us, and when we need an energy boost, it helps lift us up. This is especially important during menopause when our hormones are in such flux, and we need to restore balance. “Ashwagandha works like GABA, a calming neurotransmitter,” explains Dr. Comite, who can personally attest to its soothing effects. “When I try it, I wake up in a much better mood.” To reap the benefits, take 240mg of Ashwagandha a day. One option: Vthrive KSM-66 Ashwagandha (Buy at VitaminShoppe.com, $19 for 120 capsules).
3. Soak away stress in a bath
Trouble falling asleep at night because of disruptive hot flashes or racing thoughts? Simply enjoying a warm bath helps trigger the release of soothing serotonin, reveals Dr. Comite, who recommends soaking away the day’s aggravations 1-2 hours before bed. Indeed, a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed taking a warm bath before hitting the pillow significantly sped the time it took to fall asleep and enhanced sleep quality. Boost the benefit by sprinkling little Epsom salt in your tub, suggests Dr. Comite. “Calming magnesium in the salt is linked with fewer depressive symptoms and less irritability.” (Click through to discover the best magnesium for sleep.)
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.