Female hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, influence your mood throughout your life. In fact, women are twice as likely as men to develop depression, and between 50-75% of new mothers experience “baby blues” — and 15% of those women develop postpartum depression. Although medical researchers haven’t identified the specific connections between hormones and mental health, we do know there is a relationship.
It’s no surprise that as you approach menopause and your hormones fluctuate and decline, you might experience mood and mental health symptoms. At Apple Hill Gynecology, in York, Pennsylvania, Marsha D. Bornt, MD, and Donna Lamson, CRNP, MSN, WHNP-BC, and our all-women team, provide comprehensive menopause care to help you stay mentally, emotionally, and physically well while you navigate this change of life.
Estrogen in your brain
Estrogen doesn’t just regulate your menstrual cycle and control your female-sex characteristics. It contributes to several other processes throughout your body, including nervous system function. For example, estrogen helps regulate the production and uptake of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
Estrogen also stimulates mood-related activity in your hippocampus — the part of your brain involved with learning, memory, and emotions. Your amygdala — the part of your brain that processes and gives meaning to emotions — is also sensitive to fluctuations in your estrogen levels.
Mood swings and increased irritability are well-known menopause symptoms. You might feel like you’re in a constant state of PMS. Maybe you’re on the verge of tears or snapping at your partner or children over inconsequential issues — “I see you incorrectly loaded the dishwasher.”
Though everyone is moody occasionally, prolonged, unpredictable, or severe mood swings can disrupt your overall wellness, making things tense at home or work or contributing to feelings of isolation and sadness.
Unlike the sadness and grief that everyone experiences at certain points during their lives, depression is persistent and pervasive. It causes feelings of intense sadness, despair, and worthlessness, as well as reduced concentration, fatigue, and lost interest in hobbies and other activities.
Many factors contribute to depression, including hormonal fluctuations and lifestyle factors.
Many women also develop anxiety as they approach and reach menopause. The combination of hormonal changes with other lifestyle stressors contributes to increased fears and worries, which can become persistent and uncontrollable over time.
Again, everyone feels anxious occasionally; it’s a normal human emotion that helps you avoid danger. However, when your anxious thoughts and feelings interfere with your ability to function in your day-to-day life, it’s a sign of a problem.
When to talk to your doctor
Here at Apple Hill Gynecology, we aim to help our patients enhance their health at every stage of life. During your annual well-woman visits, we ask about your mental and emotional health while also screening for physical health issues. You can talk to us about your mental health at any time.
We know that menopause can be challenging, so we offer personalized care to help you feel your best, including hormone replacement therapy, antidepressant prescriptions, counseling referrals, and lifestyle advice.
If you’re concerned about menopause and your mental health, call us or make an appointment online today. You don’t need to accept these feelings as a normal part of aging.