Irritability is a normal and common feeling. But thanks to the menopause, you may find that you get far more irritated, far more often – and, oh boy, a hell of a lot faster.
Now, instead of releasing a loud sigh when someone you live with leaves a dirty mug by the dishwasher instead of in it, or eye-rolling the person taking forever at the cashpoint, you want to blow your top.
Around 7 in 10 women experiencing the perimenopause or menopause say irritability is their main emotional symptom, especially during the earlier phases of the change.
This is because levels of the hormone oestrogen are dropping. Less oestrogen can cause some fairly unpleasant side-effects, including irritability, stress, anxiety and forgetfulness.
In fact, this fall in hormones can actually loosen your control over how you display your emotions (which may explain why you’re wearing your sass pants over your trousers these days).
Unlike some of the more physical symptoms of the menopause, there’s no magic cream for this one. If you want to treat and overcome irritability, lifestyle changes will have the biggest impact.
You probably know you should be doing most of this stuff but believe us – doing it and doing it consistently will make a difference.
GO FOR A WALK
‘Walk more’ is peddled as the solution for just about every kind of mood swing. Angry? Go for a walk. Sad? Go for a walk? Irritated? Go for a walk.
But a bit of fresh air and light exercise really can make a difference. And removing yourself from the situation gives you the space to calm down and reassess.
It also releases endorphins – your brain’s own-brand pick-me-up, which not only improves your mood, but helps with a whole host of other menopausal symptoms, including low mood and weight gain.
PRACTICE BREATHING EXERCISES
We know there’s nothing more annoying than being told to just breathe. But don’t underestimate the power of slow, deep breaths – they initiate the parasympathetic nervous system, actually calming you down.
Yoga and meditation are both great for focusing on and improving breathing, and there are loads of 'how to videos' and mindfulness apps which mean you can practice from the comfort of your living room.
CUT OUT SUGARY, PROCESSED FOODS
If your response to stress is eating 10 custard creams, you may be speeding up the emotional rollercoaster, rather getting off. What goes up, must come down, so after an initial rush your blood sugars will level out, bringing you back down with a thump.
Avoid foods containing high fructose corn syrup, refined carbs and lots of salt. Eat plenty of veg, oily fish high in Omega-3 and swap sweet treats for high protein yoghurts and antioxidant-packed berries.
If you are not sure where to start to calm down your diet – seek advice from a registered dietician.
REDUCE YOUR CAFFEINE INTAKE
What caffeine does is give us a little adrenaline rush which, temporarily, makes us feel pretty bloody good. But then it wears off, leaving us knackered and grumpy. It also increases cortisol levels – better known as the ‘stress hormone’ – which can cause and you guessed it, irritability.
Reduce your intake steadily, switching to decaf alternatives and fruit teas. Drink plenty of water too to banish withdrawal headaches.
TAKE STEPS TO A BETTER NIGHT’S SLEEP
Again, this is another where you might be thinking ‘easier said than done, GenM.' We get it. But there is a simple trick you can try and in doing so, reduce menopause irritability and mood swings.
Using your phone or watching TV right before bed can wreak havoc on sleep. The blue light emitted by screens can make our brains think it’s daytime, disrupting our natural sleep-wake cycles. Turn everything off around two hours before and try reading instead.
Suffering from night sweats or difficulty sleeping? Click for more information and advice.
TALK TO YOUR GP IF IT PERSISTS
If you feel like you tried everything to combat irritability and it’s still interfering too much with your life, then it’s time to talk to your doctor or a trusted healthcare professional.
They may recommend medication, including HRT – hormone replacement therapy.
HINTS AND TIPS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO SUPPORT SOMEONE THEY THINK MAY BE ENTERING OR IN MENOPAUSE
Living under the same roof as someone going through the menopause can put strain on what are normally happy, healthy relationships.
If someone you live with is experiencing irritability and mood swings, there are some simple things you can do to help keep the harmony in your home.
OUR ADVICE TO THEM
In terms of self-care, we’ve recommended that they eat well – avoiding caffeine and sugary foods as they will pump them up and then leave them prickly and flat.
They could also work on their sleep routine, exercise and practice breathing exercises to soothe their nervous system.
RESIST THE URGE TO SNAP BACK
It’s not always easy when you’re on the receiving end but try your best to stay calm when tensions flair. It will pass and contrary to how it feels right now, it’s not all your fault.
Neuro-receptors in her brain are being affected by fluctuating oestrogen levels which can result in a quick temper and sharp tongue.
GO WITH THE FLOW
You might notice their mood swings often strike at times when you’ve got plans. The truth is going to social events may be more stressful than usual, as the pressure of keeping up appearances when you’re not feeling like yourself is hard work.
Be prepared for plans to change at short notice and try not to put them under any pressure, even if it means you are missing out as well.
TALK ABOUT IT
Okay, not in the heat of an argument about the state of the kitchen. Then it’s best to calm down and move on first.
But if your relationship is feeling the effects of the menopause too, it IS okay to talk about it. Giving them a safe space to open up about what they are going through will strengthen your understanding of the emotional and physical changes they are dealing with and enable you to overcome some of those challenges together.
ENCOURAGE HER TO SPEAK TO A DOCTOR
If mood swings are putting serious strain on your relationship, they’ve been going on a while or seem to be getting worse, gently encourage them to speak to a GP. Offer to go to the appointment with them to show your support.
If you'd like more information, we have put some further references below for you: