The Impact of Menopause on Mental Health & Wellbeing
By Pauline, 'My Menopausal Skin Stories'
How It Started...
It’s true that my blog primarily shares stories about my ‘hormonal skin madness’ which struck in my late forties with the onset of perimenopause. At the time, I had no idea what was going on, and I certainly didn’t link it to the menopause. It was very distressing, and it really sapped my confidence.
However, I quickly realised that the story is much broader than just one symptom. Many women going through perimenopause/menopause have multiple symptoms and the combined effect is particularly upsetting and demoralising. In my experience, it’s this that can impact upon our mental health and wellbeing. It can derail us.
Guarding mental health and wellbeing in menopause is an important issue. Nevertheless, it still remains under the radar compared with the more obvious physical symptoms.
Earlier this year (March 2022), in an interview on ITV’s This Morning, menopause expert Dr. Louise Newson spoke about rates of suicide amongst women in their 40’s and 50’s. According to recent research, suicide rates for women aged 45 to 54 (the age when perimenopause and menopause are most common) has risen by 6% over 20 years. Food for thought.
Certainly, I found that each of my worst menopause symptoms combined to contribute to low resilience, low mood and plummeting confidence, both at work and socially.
My BIG 3 were hot flushes, poor sleep and my ‘hormonally mad’ skin.
One of my worst symptoms was the hot flushes. They were ferocious and relentless and came upon me like a Tsunami – day and night. I didn’t glow I dripped. Quite literally. My hair became damp and matted to my forehead and my clothes were wet.
There was no disguising them. I often had to leave a room to deal with the aftermath. It had a huge impact on my confidence at work, and socially.During the worst years it affected my personality and approach to life. Without doubt, I shrank and chose to make myself less visible.
This is the second of the symptoms which had a big impact on my mental health and wellbeing. There is an abundance of information available which confirms the importance of sleep to mental health and wellbeing. Equally, there are many sources for suggestions on how to improve sleep (through behaviour changes and/or products and supplements).
Of course, poor sleep can occur at many points in life, not only at perimenopause/menopause. But this period delivers a perfect storm – hormonal fluctuations, hot sweats, low mood, and increased anxiety – all combine to interfere with sleep patterns.
The impact of poor sleep for me was low mood and low resilience. I was uncharacteristically feeble and weepy. I can honestly say I have never felt so depressed and pessimistic about life.
Sadly, I’ve haven’t really managed to get my sleep cycle back on track, although things have improved a little as other symptoms diminished (hot flushes, for example).
'Hormonally Mad' Skin
For me, an unexpected symptom of perimenopause was that my skin went absolutely (hormonally) mad – in a debilitating and (it has transpired) irreversible way.
It became very sensitive and very dry. Suddenly, it rebelled against all the products I used – skin care, makeup, fragrance. Nothing I tried seemed to help.
In the big scheme of things, intolerance to all things skincare/makeup/beauty might not seem a big deal. But, in reality, as a woman going through menopause, it was a huge assault on my work confidence, femininity and social confidence.
I felt I couldn’t look groomed. I couldn’t make the most of my best features. Nor could I lift my mood with a pop of lip/eye colour. It was another way in which I couldn’t be my (best) self, and it really got me down.
And I know I’m not alone in feeling this.
Recently, I watched Look Fabulous Forever’s June Makeup Magic Event: ‘Makeup and the Menopause’ which was presented by Tricia, alongside Sally Deung, LFF makeup artist.
In it, Tricia and Sally share their personal experiences of the menopause, speaking about broader physical and psychological symptoms as well as skincare and makeup concerns. Parts of Sally’s presentation resonated with me, particularly. For example, how makeup can lift your spirits during this time and how she values the calming ritual of applying makeup.
Coping Strategies and Lessons Learned...
At the time, I didn’t speak to anyone or seek professional help. In hindsight, I would do things differently. Thanks to high profile presenters like Davina McCall, Louise Minchin, and others, the discussion about menopause is becoming far more open. Consequently, women are more comfortable seeking help. But there is much more progress still to be made.
Exercise is my most important method for coping with low mood and depression. There are many different types of exercise that can be beneficial. My favourite is anything involving dance moves to uplifting music. Zumba became my ‘go to’ mood lifter – sharing fun and laughter with a group of shimmying friends.
During that period, I gained a greater awareness of how low mood and depression can become a catalyst for more serious, health threatening, behaviour. For me, ‘slimness’ has always been one of my defining (attractive) characteristics. There was a time, at my lowest ebb, when I began to limit my food intake to reduce my weight further. Though I could ill afford to lose extra pounds, it felt like the only factor I could still control during the menopausal mayhem. Now, I have a greater understanding of how coping mechanisms might spiral out of control.
I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the excellent online forums that are available to support women as they reach perimenopause and beyond. Generally, they are informative, sympathetic and reassuring.