The first signs of menopause occur in a stage known as perimenopause, and women can begin feeling the first symptoms of perimenopause as early as age 35. During perimenopause, the ovaries begin to decrease their production of estrogen and testosterone levels begin to diminish as well. As a result, menopausal symptoms such as insomnia, mood swings, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and decreased libido can occur. As time passes and you move into the menopausal stage, these symptoms will intensify.
Along with the physical frustrations of menopause (including night sweats and a loss of interest in sex), you may also face emotional frustrations. Not only will your mood be impacted by these fluctuating hormone levels, but you will also have to suddenly grapple with feelings of insecurity. You might feel like you aren’t a woman anymore if you don’t get your period, or you might feel like your weight gain (a typical side effect of menopause) has suddenly made you unattractive. Struggling with these self-esteem issues is all part of the menopause process, but luckily, most women find that they actually become more comfortable and secure in themselves as they age, so this will be a minor hiccup on your journey. If you do find yourself struggling and unable to cope with these feelings, then a therapist might be useful in helping you to adjust to these new life changes.
Hence it is no surprise that a study out of Harvard Medical School found that women approaching menopause were nearly twice as likely to develop depression as those not approaching menopause. Another study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that women with a history of premenstrual syndrome were more vulnerable to developing depression at menopause.
The toll that depression can take only adds to the other challenges of menopause. It's important to have a good support system as you go through these changes; try talking to friends or family who are also experiencing or who have already been through menopause. The bottom line is that emotional and physical symptoms, such as a depressed mood, poor sleep, changes in appetite, and irritability, should not be brushed off as an inevitable part of menopause.
For the treatment of this and other menopausal symptoms, there is a wide array of options, ranging from the medical to the behavioral. Hormone replacement therapy (also known as HRT) can help to adjust your hormone levels and decrease symptoms; however, a recent study from the World Health Organization linked HRT to an increased risk of cancer. Talk to your doctor about these and other treatments. Many women also swear by herbal remedies like black cohosh and damiana leaf, but these have not been approved by the FDA and there are no clinical studies that back up these statements.
Eating a healthy diet and upping your exercise can help to keep weight gain at bay, and sex aids like lubrication, erotica, and sex toys can help to increase your arousal and keep your sexual desire functioning at a high level. Communicating with your partner is also important, as is getting enough sleep and keeping stress to a minimum.