Anxiety is a common symptom that women can experience when going through the menopause and can appear well before other more well-known menopausal symptoms like hot-flushes or night sweats. Overall, women are twice as likely than men to have anxiety difficulties, but the changes in female sexual hormones during the perimenopause and menopause, can initiate or worsen symptoms of anxiety if they were already present. Alongside the hormonal shifts, the impact of other physical and emotional menopause symptoms and everyday stresses can all contribute to anxiety during menopause.
Everyone who struggle with stress and anxiety, it’s important to look in the first instance into lifestyle modifications such as eating a well-balanced diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine, providing self-care and taking time for yourself. Beside these changes, there are a number of psychological strategies that can help manage or reduce anxiety in the long term.
Try these three CBT for menopause exercises when anxiety starts to take hold on you.
- Practice controlled breathing – Numerous studies have shown that controlled breathing can reduce stress and anxiety symptoms, increase alertness and boost the immune system. When we slow down our breathing, the brain gets the message that all is well and reduces the body’s stress response.
Try the following for 2-3 minutes. Breathe slowly and deeply (into your belly), breathing in through your nose, and out through your mouth in a steady rhythm. Try to make your out-breath roughly twice as long as the in-breath. To do this you may find helpful to count slowly “one, two” as you breathe in, and “one, two, three, four” as you breathe out. As you get used to this type of breathing, you may try breathing in for 4 and breathing out for 7 (known as the 4/7 breathing technique). Practice this every day until you can do it routinely in any stressful situation.
- Reconnect with the present – Worry and anxiety are future-oriented states of mind so instead of thinking about what might happen, bring yourself back to the present moment. You can ask yourself: What’s happening right now? Am I safe? What is it that I can do?
One simple way to ground ourselves in the present moment when our minds are racing is using the 3/3/3 Rule. This exercise invites us to look around our environment and name three things we see, then name three sounds you hear and finally, move three parts of our body. This mental trick can help centre our mind, bringing us back to the present moment. Focusing on the present moment helps us stop living in our head, but this does not mean we must stop thinking about the past or the future as these are essential cognitive processes that help us learn from the past and plan for the future.
- Practice mindfulness – this is a skill that all of us can acquire with a bit of practice. A definition of mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. Although it sounds simple, becoming mindful can take some time to develop due to the fact that our minds often take flight, we lose touch with our bodies and we get engrossed in thoughts about the past or the future which can make us anxious.
A simple way to become mindful is by focusing our attention on mundane tasks. Often when we are doing day-to-day house chores, we are on automatic pilot and our minds are wondering and getting caught with other thoughts or memories. The mindfulness of mundane task aims to gradually practice keeping our attention focused on the task at hand. The exercise requires us to change the way we pay attention to what we do, soaking up whatever experience we are engaged with though all our senses, like sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. When our attention starts to wonder, we need to gently bringing back our attention to what we are doing, and non-judgmentally repeat the whole routine. The benefit of this way of practicing mindfulness is that we don’t need to create time for doing something extra in our busy days.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been proven to be effective in treating a range of anxiety difficulties. If you want to learn more about how to use CBT for menopause to manage the emotional impact of the hormonal changes you are going through, please give me a call. In our CBT for menopause sessions I will guide you through a process of learning strategies to increase awareness of the links between thoughts, feelings and behaviours and how to effect change in these areas to improve the way you respond to situations that trigger an emotional response in you.
Menopause CBT Clinic
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