Angelina Jolie candidly revealed her choice to undergo a bilateral mastectomy over a year ago as a preventative measure for breast cancer. Recently, she spoke of the results of experiencing "surgical menopause" after having an oophorectomy (removal of ovaries). Surgical menopause results when the ovaries (which produce the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone) are removed. Angelina's recent comment stating that emotions are also involved in menopause (whether surgical or natural) has garnered attention, especially from women who are menopausal, or post-menopausal.
Although hormones don't govern our feelings or behaviors entirely, they do wield considerable clout when it comes to our emotions. That's important to remember when/if you experience a shift in mood that takes over without any rhyme or reason--you're not suddenly becoming unable to cope. There's plenty you can do to prevent these disconcerting mood shifts or minimize their disruptiveness. First, take this short quiz to identify which aspects of your mood changes have been the most bothersome to you in the last three to six months.
Which statements reflect your feelings?
1. In menopause, I have recaptured my youth. I feel like I am revisiting my toddler years, that is, because even a slight irritation can make me feel like I want to fling myself to the floor, drum my heels, and wail.
2. I alternate between wondering, What's wrong with me? And asking myself, What's wrong with all these people who persist in annoying the hell out of me?
3. If anxiety were an Olympic sport, I would go for the gold medal in fretting about past events, worrying about my current circumstances, and getting myself into a tailspin about things that might happen.
4. Menopause has brought about a distinct failure in other people's ability to drive the way I expect them to. While this is intensely irritating, I have built up my arm and jaw muscles by gripping the steering wheel and clenching my teeth.
5. I swing between feeling deeply justified in roaring at a family member or snapping at a co-worker, and later feeling horrified and remorseful about the anger I displayed.
6. I sometimes feel that my best days are behind me.
7. I sometimes feel that my behind's best days are behind me.
8. If out-sized tissues for crying jags were available, say somewhere between the size of a hand towel and a bath towel, I would buy several boxes to keep on hand.
While this quiz can bring some levity to the relationship between menopause and our emotions, experiencing mood swings is no laughing matter. Recognizing the intricate interplay between your hormones and how you feel is imperative. It's helpful to decide what you want to change, internally and externally. The old bromides about eating well and exercise still apply. No one is going to feel well with a diet high in sugar, refined carbs and caffeine. And, even a minimal amount of exercise does help. However, it is also imperative to listen to our bodies' subtle messages, which give us the best guidance and the clearest messages when we need more rest, less pressure, more joy and fewer tasks.
While some simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference, real relief will come when you understand that you have the power to bring balance and calm into your life. Mood swings may be hard for you to sort out--but there aren't any pat, "off the shelf," "one size fits all" answers to mood issues, any more than there is a standard prescription for medication that works for everyone. In all likelihood, you won't find any "outside" solution that will entirely take care of your feelings. No herb, no medication, no lifestyle improvement has as much power as that which you hold within yourself. Yet by no means do you have to resign yourself to mood swings as if they are an inevitable part of menopause.
It's important to keep the big picture in focus as you look not only for the cause but for the best solution to these issues. That's not to say you must call on your own reserves to 'snap out' of what you legitimately feel--you don't have to do it alone. Angelina Jolie credited her husband, Brad Pitt, for being supportive and loving. Having an understanding partner does make a difference. If you have a partner, explain your concerns and enlist their support. If you don't have a partner, or if you have a partner who isn't helpful, remember that support can come from other women.
The idea of women holding on to each other for strength is a deeply resonant one for us in menopause. You may find strength and inspiration by listening to the wisdom of an older woman who has gone through this transition, asking her what it was like for her and what she learned. It can help simply to talk to someone who has been through the transition, gotten to the other side, and has not only survived but in all probability is better and stronger for it.
Founder of Full Circle Women's Health in Colorado, Stephanie Bender has significantly contributed to a much larger understanding of women's health through her books, lectures and television appearances. Her most recent book is, "End Your Menopause Misery, " which she co-authorized with Treacy Colbert. You can post a comment or read more about Stephanie on her website, by clicking here. You can also follow her on Facebook by clicking here.