The way stress affects us can change during menopause. On top of the usual everyday demands of family, life, and work, our fluctuating hormones risk leaving us more exhausted and frazzled than ever. We may not be able to completely escape stress in the menopause, but there are tips and techniques we can use to manage it.
Why is stress an issue in menopause?
During perimenopause (the months and years leading up to menopause) our levels of oestrogen and progesterone begin to fluctuate. These hormones have a complex, interactive relationship with the nervous system. Oestrogen supports brain energy while progesterone has a calming effect in the brain. This effect is so profound that progesterone is considered to be a biological marker of resilience during perimenopause.
When these hormones start to fall the brain struggles to adapt and we can find it hard to cope with stress. We might also experience some of the cognitive symptoms of perimenopause such as depression and anxiety, brain fog, and low concentration.
While the nervous system is learning to adjust to this dip in progesterone and oestrogen, the adrenal glands are busy releasing extra cortisol to help us deal with ongoing stress. Long-term elevated levels of cortisol are associated with more frequent menopausal hot flushes and greater risk of heart, bone, and cognitive problems post-menopause.
What does stress do to your body during menopause?
Falling oestrogen and higher cortisol have a knock-on effect on melatonin – the sleep hormone.
Cortisol levels are usually at their highest in the morning and then gradually decline over the day. In the evening the brain produces melatonin to help us fall asleep. During menopause, the combination of low oestrogen and high cortisol disrupts melatonin production, and we can have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
Stress can also aggravate hot flushes and night sweats, which are a common cause of broken sleep during menopause.
Weight gain and belly fat
Oestrogen plays a key role in regulating metabolic health. As oestrogen levels fall, our metabolism shifts and we gain weight more easily. Cortisol adds to the problem by prioritising weight gain around the tummy area, leading to the infamous ‘meno-belly’.
Menopausal hormone changes combined with stress can trigger acid reflux, bloating, constipation, and other digestive issues. Ongoing stress makes the gut lining more permeable than normal which can lead to food sensitivities and intolerances.
Mood swings, anxiety, and depression
The mood-balancing actions of oestrogen and progesterone are diminished during menopause. High levels of cortisol make matters worse by:
- Affecting the balance of mood chemicals like serotonin
- Increasing forgetfulness and poor concentration
- Altering mood regulation and triggering anxiety and depression
Finding ways to effectively manage stress during menopause helps us to cope with any immediate symptoms while building resilience for the next phase of life after menopause. And the best place to start is with your diet and lifestyle.
What to eat to manage menopausal stress
Including plenty of protein-rich foods in each meal is essential. Protein helps to balance blood sugar levels and keep us energised for longer between meals and is used to build mood-balancing chemicals like serotonin in the brain.
As a general rule-of-thumb, you need to include around 1g of protein per kg of body weight each day to maintain bone and muscle health and normal bodily protein turnover. Good sources of protein include poultry, red meat, fish, nuts, seeds, lentils and pulses, eggs, cheese, and yoghurt.
Pura’s balance formula is an easy and convenient option for supporting protein intake. Balance contains 5000mg of FORTIBONE® Bioactive Collagen Peptides® in each serving, which is 4.5g of nutritional protein, alongside vitamins, minerals, and the powerful botanicals maca root and KSM-66® Ashwagandha – both proven to help the body cope with physical and emotional stress.
Balance blends easily with water for a refreshing raspberry and mint flavoured drink. It can be taken on its own or used as a bolt-on product to any of the Pura range, including Flex+ and Glow+ which each provide 10,000mg protein per serving.
Colourful fruits and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables get their distinctive colours from compounds like carotenoids, anthocyanins, and chlorophyll. As well as providing colour pigments, these compounds give antioxidant, anti-ageing protection to cells throughout the body. Stress increases our demand for antioxidants, so it is important to aim for a rainbow selection of fruits and vegetables each day.
Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, watercress, Savoy cabbage, and rocket are especially helpful for managing menopausal stress. Anything dark green and leafy is naturally high in magnesium, the anti-stress mineral. Magnesium supports energy levels during times of stress, aids hormone formation and function, and helps to ease muscle tension. You can find 50mg of magnesium citrate in each serving of balance.
Many plants contain phytoestrogens or ‘plant oestrogens’. These molecules are structurally similar to human oestrogen and have a weak oestrogenic effect in the body. Phytoestrogens are helpful for managing menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and vaginal dryness and have been shown to support bone and heart health post-menopause.
Soy, flaxseed, sesame seeds, broccoli, chickpeas, and alfalfa sprouts are excellent sources of phytoestrogens. Pura’s balance formula contains soy isoflavones for phytoestrogen support.
Oily fish, nuts, and seeds
A healthy nervous system relies on a good supply of omega-3 fats from nuts, seeds, and oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, and anchovy. These fats help brain cells to communicate properly. Without them, we become vulnerable to mood swings, anxiety, and depression.
Don’t suffer in silence – speak up about stress!
Ongoing stress is physically and mentally exhausting and can make you feel isolated and alone. We may be used to battling on regardless of how we feel, but there really is no need to suffer in silence. Find a friend or relative to confide in or reach out to one of the many menopause support groups and chat forums that are available now:
- Women’s Health Concern is the patient arm of the British Menopause Society and provides confidential support and information to women about any aspect of their reproductive health.
- The Daisy Network offer support and advice for women experiencing premature ovarian insufficiency and early menopause.
- Menopause Cafés began in Scotland in 2017 as a way to provide safe, confidential space to anyone who wants to discuss menopause. Events are now held all over the UK – see the website for a café local to you.
Check out our article Can Menopause Affect Mental Health? for more tips and advice on managing midlife mental health. You can find balance, our menopause support formula, in the shop alongside all the other Pura favourites like Flex+ to ease joint pain and discomfort sleep to help you get a good night’s rest, and Glow+, our award-winning formula that provides visible results for hair, skin, and nails in just 4 weeks.