Research shows that perimenopause and stress due to life circumstances often coincide in one’s late 30’s and early 40’s. As hormones begin to fluctuate and progesterone levels decline, women may be secreting increase cortisol, which further interrupts their body’s production of progesterone and can put them onto a merry-go-round of stress.
When Perimenopause and Stress Combine: A Vicious Cycle
It can actually begin as early as a woman’s late 30’s even though her menstrual cycle stays consistent. This often coincides with some of the most stressful years in a woman’s life. At this age many woman are hitting new highs (or lows) in their careers, but also raising teenagers, and perhaps caring for aging parents. Rates of divorce are shown to be particularly high for women in their late 30’s and early 40’s, increasing an already stressful time of life.
What many women may not realize is that the production of progesterone begins to decline as early as the 30’s and continues to do so well into the late 40’s. On the flip side, estrogen levels can begin to escalate, throwing the female body out of balance. Too little progesterone and an excess of estrogen is made worse by the demands of modern living.
To make matters worse, when we are stressed we tend produce more of the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol, which further inhibits the production of progesterone and can lead to what’s known as estrogen-dominance and even more stress!
When progesterone and estrogen are balanced, a woman’s mood and menstrual cycle are usually consistent. However, when progesterone begins to decline, the excess of estrogen can lead to the following:
- Increased anxiety
- Breast tenderness
- Digestive issues
- Heart palpitations
- Food cravings
- Water retention and bloating
- Weight gain
- Decreased ability to focus
Often these symptoms are dismissed as PMS, but may very well be a result of perimenopause and a progesterone deficit. This is most likely the case if these symptoms tend to pop up throughout a woman’s cycle, instead of just a few days before her period starts, which is consistent with pre-menstrual syndrome.
Related: A Guide to Bioidentical Hormones
The Role of Progesterone in the Body
Progesterone is the ying to estrogen’s yang. When in harmony these two hormones keep a woman’s cycle consistent and prepare her body for childbirth. When progesterone levels drop and estrogen levels rise, ailments like those listed above can begin to make a woman doubt herself and often her sanity. She may experience more bouts of crying over things she would not normally be so bothered by. Many women report feeling more depressed even though their life is going well and nothing significant has changed for them. They may also be confused as to why they can’t seem to concentrate on the task at hand and feel more anxious than normal.
These perimenopause and stress symptoms are because the tranquilizing effects of progesterone have begun to fade with the decline in production of this crucial hormone. It’s well documented by the medical community that progesterone has a calming, sedating effect on the brain and can even be an anesthetic when taken in high doses.
Take the Progesterone Quiz
Well, the first step is to determine if you are experiencing regular ol’ PMS or in actual perimenopause and lacking adequate progesterone.
- Are you in your late 30’s to mid-40’s?
- Do you get more headaches than you used to through out the month, not just right before your period starts?
- Are you having difficulty concentrating or remembering things lately?
- Are your breasts tender more than usual, not just a day or two before your period starts?
- Do you feel anxious or worried about things you never stressed over before?
- Do you feel irritated or angry more often than you used to?
- Have you been feeling unhappy or sad but unable to pinpoint why?
- Do you frequently feel overwhelmed and stressed out as you go about your normal daily activities?
If you answered yes to more than three of these questions you are probably in the early stages of perimenopause. There are a lot of other reasons you are experiencing the symptoms in this quiz and they are not the most obvious symptoms of perimenopause and actual menopause like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and a decreased interest in sex, so you may have not considered that you have started “going through the change.”
Perimenopause and Stress Management
Perimenopause and stress are normal life circumstances for nearly every woman around the globe. Once you have identified why you are more anxious than usual there are several things you can do to boost low progesterone levels and manage the stress and anxiety that it is causing.
- Talk to you doctor to determine if something else could be responsible for your symptoms.
- Exercise regularly. Brisk walks, yoga and swimming, are all low-key activities that can promote relaxation and relieve stress. More vigorous exercise like Zumba classes, running or tennis can also help you manage stress, weight gain (which is stressful) and keep cortisol levels in check.
- Make time to relax and unwind. Try meditation, Tai Chi or just clear a few minutes in your schedule every day to take some deep breaths and relax.
- Watch what you eat. As progesterone levels decrease, weight can increase so be mindful of portion sizes. Opt for fresh fruit and vegetables as much possible. Enjoy soy products with isoflavones, tart cherries with melatonin and antioxidants, and chamomile tea to promote relaxation. Limit your consumption of highly processed foods, sugary treats and fried entrees, which can worsen symptoms. Also, limit the amount of alcohol and caffeine you consume, which can increase stress levels.
- Consider supplements to help you restore hormonal levels in your body. Black cohosh, flaxseed and wild yam have been shown to help relieve the unpleasant symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.
It’s NOT All In Your Head
If you feel like you are going crazy some days, overwhelmed on others and just good old-fashioned mad for no reason, there is a reason! It’s not all in your head. Once you realize your connection between perimenopause and stress you can take action. With a new awareness, some lifestyle changes and supplements you can balance your hormones for smoother sailing through perimenopause, and ultimately menopause.