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Keeping Your Cool: Menopausal Irritability & Rage

In my conversations with women struggling with menopause, many share stories of not being able to control their tempers. These women describe a cycle of snap, yell, and apologize. Feeling cranky is pretty normal when you're tossing and turning at 3 a.m. while your partner is snoozing without a care, but what I'm talking about here is that intense, red-hot fury that many menopausal women experience. One moment, you're feeling fine, and the next, you’re seeing red. And these explosive episodes can pass as quickly as they come. After a few minutes of fury, it’s not unusual for rage to spontaneously resolve itself and feelings of calm to return. Besides causing conflict in our relationships and at work, it makes us feel like we are losing our minds!

Where's all this anger coming from? Part of it is due to changes in hormones like estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen helps regulate serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels in the brain, which are neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation. When estrogen levels decline during menopause, it can disrupt the balance of these neurotransmitters. Progesterone also works as a GABA receptor agonist, but in menopause, when progesterone is low, the anti-anxiety effect can be reduced. Another contributor to menopausal anger is sleep disturbances. Hot flashes and night sweats lead to fatigue and exacerbate irritability during the day. Chronic sleep deprivation can make it even more challenging to cope with stressors and regulate emotions effectively. Life changes such as children leaving home, career transitions, and caring for aging parents often coincide with menopause and can contribute further to heightened irritability and emotional sensitivity.

But here's the thing: it's not about slamming the brakes on that anger. It's more about finding healthier ways to deal with it. Managing this kind of anger isn't a walk in the park, especially when our serotonin levels are in the gutter. That's why it's crucial to find ways to let it out in a healthy way instead of bottling it up.

It's okay to be ticked off sometimes. And it's okay to let people know how you're feeling – just try to do it without blowing your top. Being honest with your loved ones about what you're going through can help them understand why you're feeling so on edge. Finding ways to burn off anger can also do wonders. Whether it's going for a brisk walk, scribbling your thoughts in a journal, screaming into a pillow, taking a boxing class, or belting out your favorite tunes, find an outlet for that pent-up energy. Exercise has been shown to naturally increase serotonin levels, which can ameliorate some of the decreased effects on serotonin activity caused by low estrogen. Experts agree that prioritizing sleep hygiene and getting treatment for your hot flashes can have a significant impact on mood. Meditation or other mindfulness practices also can be useful to keep anger under wraps. In some cases, irritability during menopause may be severe or persistent enough to warrant professional intervention. Mental health professionals, such as therapists or counselors, can provide support and guidance in managing mood disturbances during menopause. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to decrease anxiety, improve mood, and reduce hot flashes. In addition, menopause hormone therapy (MHT) and drugs that increase serotonin, norepinephrine, and/or dopamine levels in the brain can be helpful.

Remember, you're not alone in this. Every woman's journey through menopause is different, so it's essential to find what works for you. Instead of trying to stuff your feelings down, try embracing them, and finding healthy ways to work through them – it might just lead to a happier, calmer you.

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