Have you found yourself falling out with even your oldest friends, or find yourself becoming increasingly irritated by certain friends? Little niggles and jibes you would once have let slide – and quite possibly not even have registered – suddenly seem like the most insensitive personal insult and could well be turning you into a 'grumpy old woman'.
The simplest social arrangement turns into an organisational nightmare, with everyone else making suggestions and demands that somehow seem totally unreasonable – to the extent that you convince yourself it's probably not worth bothering. And when you do finally manage to get together, you come away feeling overlooked or misunderstood instead of happy and reinvigorated.
Sound familiar? Of course, it's always possible that your friends have suddenly turned into narcissistic nightmares. But what's far more likely is that the hormonal upheaval of the menopause is taking its toll on your once-solid relationships. Simply understanding and acknowledging what's really happening can make you far better equipped to cope with it.
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Why does menopause make us grumpy?
Around three-quarters of menopausal women suffer from mood swings, according to research by Healthspan. More than half say they've lost their self-confidence, too. The main reason behind this, of course, lies in those fluctuating hormones. The gradual drop in oestrogen also results in a dip in serotonin and oxytocin levels – both of which directly affect our emotional wellbeing.
When it comes to putting pressure on our friendships, it's the drop in oxytocin that plays a particularly key role. Known as a 'bonding hormone', oxytocin is responsible for strengthening and maintaining our relationships. It's there in abundance during our child-bearing years – and encourages us to be caring, nurturing and selfless.
But when levels of oxytocin start to drop as menopause approaches, the urge to bond with other people and tend to their needs naturally begins to flounder. We become less inclined to indulge the moans and groans of those around us, and more concerned with looking after our own needs.
Other menopause symptoms – such as lack of sleep – can also make us more irritable than usual.
What's more, this stage in our lives may present many new challenges that conspire to make us less physically and emotionally available to our friends: perhaps we're experiencing 'empty nest syndrome' or trying to care for ageing parents, for example.
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How to maintain your friendships
So now you know why your friendships may seem more like hard work nowadays. But before you delete the main offenders from your contacts book, it's worth remembering that maintaining emotional closeness with friends is one of the most important ways to tackle the mood swings and anxieties of the menopause.
In fact, close bonds between women help boost levels of the stress-busting hormone progesterone, according to a study at the University of Michigan. And, say the researchers, this increase in progesterone also makes us more willing to help and support others. So the more effort you make to stick by your friends and see them as often as possible, the more this closeness will come as second nature.
Remember, there's a good chance your friends are experiencing the same emotions and issues as you – so if you can compare notes, swap tips and hopefully even laugh about it, you'll all find the menopause much easier to handle.
It can also help to tweak the social setting. Instead of meeting up for a drink or wine-fuelled meal – which, let's face it, is when things are more likely to become heated – suggest going for a mood-lifting walk or doing an exercise class together. The endorphins released during physical activity can help counter menopausal mood swings and ease depression, a recent Finnish study has found.
But while communication and honesty are vital here, so is self-awareness. If you notice yourself taking offence at something a friend has said or done, try to take a step back and ask yourself a few questions, rather than confronting her about it straight away.
Be honest. Are you blowing things out of proportion? Will this still matter in a week's time? Is it really worth the emotional upheaval of having an argument and possibly losing that friend for good? Every strong relationship has misunderstandings and mishaps along the way. Sometimes it's just better to let it go.
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