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Menopause Health Center

Your Brain on Menopause

Hormone surges and dips throughout menopause affect your brain as well as the rest of your body. Here's what happens and why, and how to cope.
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Menopause Hormones Affect the Brain, Too continued...

What does happen? A disruption in an entire chain of biochemical activity, which in turn affects the production of mood-regulating chemicals, including serotonin and endorphins.

The end result: Mood swings, temper tantrums, depression, surprising highs followed by equally unexpected lows -- and none of it seems to make any sense.

"Your ovaries are failing and trying to keep up estrogen production. Some days they overshoot it, other days they can't produce enough," says Darlene Lockwood, MD, assistant professor at the University of California in San Francisco.

Each time your hormones do a little dance, your brain chemistry has to compensate. When the change is small, that compensation occurs quickly, and you hardly notice any symptoms.

But when it's more dramatic, an entire range of unexpected behaviors can come alive: You burst into tears when the bakery is out of rye bread. You weep uncontrollably during a greeting card commercial. You find that one minute you're loving your son's new girlfriend and the next you have an overwhelming urge to push her face into a cream pie. And nothing seems to make any sense.

Menopausal Mood Swings: What to Do

The very first thing you must realize is that no, you're not losing your mind. You may be acting crazy, feeling crazy, thinking crazy thoughts -- but basically, you're OK. And no, you don't have to force yourself to sit on the "naughty stool" until perimenopause is over.

But there are a few key things you can try that might make a huge difference. Among the most important: Reduce stress in your life.

How can this help? According to Harvard University stress expert Alice Domar, PhD, the effect of stress on hormone activity can be so profound that it is capable of inducing symptoms. Reducing stress can have the opposite effect.

In studies she conducted, Domar reports that women who participated in organized relaxation saw a 30% decrease in their hot flashes, plus a significant drop in tension, anxiety, even depression. They also reported fewer mood swings and more stable emotions overall.

The good news: Reducing even small stresses in your life -- or simply setting aside some time every day to relax and unwind -- can not only affect hormone balance but have a dramatic effect on your mood swings.

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