How are you feeling these days? I don’t know about you, but I’m MOODY. I’m irritated when people in front of me are walking too slowly, exasperated when people don’t complete a task on my timeline, it drives me up the wall when my boyfriend can’t make up his mind about what he wants for dinner… the list goes on, maybe you can relate.
It’s ironic because I see so many patients in the same boat. Feeling mood swings is one of the top 10 perimenopause symptoms people report when they come to see us. So…what would I tell myself if I was my patient?
First, I’d assure myself that feelings are a natural part of being human and not something to pathologize. Women are often dismissed for expressing their full range of emotions and can feel pressured to ignore reactions that seem “too intense” or “overly emotional”. However, when your responses are causing problems in your life and feel out of proportion to the events that are happening, it can call for a deeper look at the root causes.
There are various factors that can set the stage for moodiness in perimenopause. Biochemical aspects of nutrition such as blood sugar balance, caffeine and alcohol intake, as well as fluctuations in adrenal, thyroid, and sex hormones have a big influence. Lifestyle factors also play a role – stress and how you manage it, living out of alignment with your values, your overall outlook on life, and your feelings about living in your changing body.
Blood Sugar and Mood Swings
One of the top biochemical factors to look at is blood sugar. Blood sugar highs and lows can be a major contributor to mood issues. This can be relevant at any point in your life, but if you haven’t addressed it by the time you’re in perimenopause, IT’S TIME.
Do you feel fatigued, spacey, anxious, irritable or impatient? Too tired to exercise, having trouble focusing at work, or lacking motivation? If you resonate with these symptoms, ask yourself the following questions. If any of your answers are no, then blood sugar balancing is the first place to start.
- Am I getting protein, 20-30 grams with each meal?
- Am I eating at least 2 servings of veggies with each meal and focusing on whole foods such as root vegetables, whole grains or beans for my carb sources rather than flour-based foods?
- Am I eating regular, balanced meals throughout the day?
- Am I avoiding refined sugar?
Caffeine and Alcohol Influence Mood
I love my morning coffee buzz! But when I start chasing that feeling of hyper-productivity and drink more than 1 cup a day, I get fidgety, easily distracted, irritable and snappy. It can be easy to forget these kinds of feelings usually do have a root cause and are NOT your identity. If you’re feeling edgy, ask yourself – how much caffeine did I have today? Try switching to green tea, or taking out caffeine entirely for 2 weeks, and observe how your mood changes. Caffeine can also have an impact on blood sugar because it increases cortisol release, which in turn increases blood sugar.
Alcohol can also have a very destabilizing effect on mood and blood sugar too. We know that alcohol impacts the most important mood messengers in our brain (otherwise known as neurotransmitters) including dopamine, serotonin, GABA and glutamate. These neurotransmitters bring about feelings of joy, happiness, energy and motivation, connection to others and restful sleep. When we drink alcohol, we release more of these neurotransmitters. If that evening glass of wine (or 2 or 3…) becomes a habit, neurotransmitters can become depleted and our receptors become less sensitive from overuse. You can end up worsening emotional imbalance, depression and anxiety in the long-run.
If you’re experiencing mood swings, irrational anger, irritability or depression, I strongly recommend you consider reducing or eliminating alcohol intake. It’s not that you necessarily have to completely avoid alcohol 100% of the time, but when alcohol becomes a daily routine, or something you RELY on to relax or feel good, that is when it becomes a potential problem.
The other major biochemical factor in perimenopausal mood swings is hormones! We’ve already discussed cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, at length in our previous blog post
High cortisol contributes to anxiety, irritability, short-tempered outbursts, feelings of overwhelm. Low cortisol is more often related to burn-out and low mood or depression.
Midlife is also a time that thyroid issues can surface. The most common imbalance is a sluggish or low functioning thyroid (hypothyroidism) which results in emotional symptoms such as low moods, fatigue and lack of motivation, as well as a variety of physical symptoms.
Hormones: Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone
The other major biochemical players in moods during perimenopause are our sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Estrogen has a synergistic effect with serotonin and dopamine. If you’re feeling low mood, anxious, extra emotionally sensitive (anyone else crying at commercials?), not as able to tolerate family members and not as interested in sex, you might want to track those emotions in relation to your menstrual cycle, if you are still cycling. Times in your cycle when estrogen is low – ie before your period or after ovulation for some – can be times your unsettling moods are most noticeable.
Progesterone also plays an important part. It’s produced by the ovary after ovulation occurs and it helps calm us down, reduce anxiety and support sleep. In perimenopause, as ovulation becomes less reliable or perhaps doesn’t occur, we produce less progesterone, and can also notice more anxiety and insomnia, irritability and moodiness, especially in the 1-2 weeks before our period.
For some women, testosterone (and its balance with estrogen and progesterone) can be a huge factor in mood. When too high, you can more easily feel irritable and angry, overwhelmed by rage, and just downright pissed off. When too low, you can feel depressed and might struggle with low self esteem, low confidence, low libido or a lack of interest in connecting with others.
Getting back into your groove again
The good news is, there is a lot we can do to help with blood sugar stability, finding energy without lots of caffeine and relaxation sans alcohol, as well as balancing cortisol, thyroid, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels.
Beyond the biochemical, the way we choose to move through life can have a direct impact on our mood. When was the last time you took a step back and considered if your day-to-day routines are in alignment with your true priorities and values? We can become so busy that we forget that we CAN choose how we live. Everyone deals with stressors, they’re a part of life! But how you choose to respond to those stressors is the key.
While you can’t always decide what happens in life, you CAN decide the impact.
How much is on your plate right now? Sit down and make a list of the things that are part of your day to day life. Notice how just thinking about each thing feels. Is there anything that you can let go of, deprioritize or delegate to someone else? Have you heard the saying – “not my genius, not my job”? How does it feel to think about lightening your load?
Mindset: Embracing this phase of life
How do you feel about being in perimenopause? It is a huge transition. Are you glad to be leaving your periods and hormone fluctuations behind….or is part of you mourning the loss of your fertile years? It is healthy to acknowledge these feelings as we look for ways to help ourselves love and accept, and maybe even delight in, our changing bodies.
As some women enter menopause, they really embrace and revel in the feeling of not caring about what other people think. There is less tolerance for disrespect, and pleasing others is no longer the primary goal. As we age, we have the opportunity to focus on our own projects, our own well-being and our own personal growth instead of caring for everyone around us all the time. This is something to look forward to and embody as well.
Here at The Women’s Vitality Center, we help you to create the biochemical balance you need to reduce your mood swings and feel better fast while also supporting you in the lifestyle and mindset shifts that will help you to actually improve your health as you go through perimenopause and move into the years and decades ahead.
It all starts with a complimentary Vitality Discovery Call so sign up today and we look forward to connecting with you soon.