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Mood swings in women: how menopause affects your mind

Lesley Dobson / 16 March 2021

If your moods fluctuate for no reason, find out why and how to put it right. We look at the common causes of mood swings in older women.

Relaxing yoga exercises
Gentle relaxation exercise should help to un-knot your muscles.

Have you noticed that your moods have become unpredictable, and you are swinging from normal to upset or angry for no reason?

If you’ve started having bad mood swings it’s important to find the cause before you start feeling out of control.

Pinpointing the reasons why you race from normal to tearful to angry will help you discover what’s going wrong, and help you put things right and go back to being you again. We look at what could be causing mood swings in women for seemingly no reason.

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The Menopause and mood swings

Mood swings are one of the symptoms of menopause that happens to women once they are 50 and over. (This is the average age of the menopause, but it can happen from your 30s to your 60s.)

Mood swings, along with hot flushes and night sweats, are triggered by the drop in the levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone once women reach the menopause.

Other symptoms include thinning skin, headaches, a reduced sex drive, and an increased risk of osteoporosis (weak bones).

How to ease the symptoms of the menopause

You don’t have to just put up with menopausal symptoms. Talk to your doctor about treatments that might help for your particular problems. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can help with a range of symptoms, including mood swings, night sweats and hot flushes. However it may not be suitable if you are at high risk of breast cancer.

There are other approaches that might help with your mood swings, including exercise, such as walking and swimming, and alternative therapies such as yoga, tai chi and acupuncture.

Talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can be useful, and you can also talk to your GP about antidepressants.

Need more time to talk to a doctor? Saga's GP phone service offers unlimited access 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Find out more about our GP phone service.

Depression and mood swings

Anyone can suffer with depression, even though it may seem as though they have a good life.

While later life can be full of pleasure, it can also bring with it changes that can affect how you feel, such as having concerns about money, and friends and family having more health problems.

There are quite a few symptoms that can point to depression, such as losing interest in the things you used to do, and losing confidence in yourself.

Mood swings related to depression can take the form of feeling irritable, and snapping at people around you. You may also find that you actively avoid people when you’re feeling down, and worry more than normal.

If you are feeling worse, and your symptoms have gone on for more than a couple of weeks, see your GP. Your doctor will be used to talking to people with depression and will be able to suggest ways to help you feel better.

These are likely to include talking treatments, such as psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. They may also suggest antidepressant medicines, which help around 60% of people who take them.

There are also things you can do to help yourself. You may not always feel like it, but it’s important to stay in touch with your family and friends, and to stay active, if you can, even if it’s just gentle walking.

Try to eat properly and regularly, eating a balanced diet of healthy food. A poor diet can actually contribute to mood swings (see below).

Read more about non-drug treatments for depression

Food and your mood

What you eat can make a difference to how you feel. There’s growing evidence that diet is linked to mental health, and plays a part in the development and prevention of mental health conditions such as depression.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, to help keep your mood well balanced, you should eat a healthy diet, and eat regular meals through the day, so that your blood sugar levels stay steady. If your blood sugar levels drop, it can make you feel depressed and irritable.

Rather than choosing sugary foods, chose those that release their energy more slowly, to help your mood stay steady.

These foods include:

  • Fresh fruit, vegetables and salad – choose a variety of different coloured foods, to give you a broad range of vitamins and minerals, and fibre.
  • wholegrain cereals, rice and pasta, and potatoes (preferably not chips, which tend to be higher in fat).
  • Fish, lean meat, eggs, peas and beans, soya based foods and nuts all contain protein. Protein is important because the amino acids they contain help control your blood sugar levels, and regulate your feelings.

10 ways to feed your brain

Feel-good winter root veg

Change your food, change your mood

Breakfast, lunch and dinner

When you eat makes a difference too. If you miss meals your blood sugar levels can drop, and can leave you feeling irritable, tired and grumpy. Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can make you out of sorts for the rest of the day.

As the British Dietetic Association explains, feeling good involves eating a diet that gives you healthy carbohydrates at regular times, for stable blood sugar levels. And to keep yourself in good health, and good mood, you also need to eat foods containing a wide range of proteins, and nutrients.

The best healthy breakfasts

Want to talk to a GP today? With Saga Health Insurance, you have unlimited access to a qualified GP 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Find out more about our GP phone service.

Steer clear of sugar

Because you absorb sugar into your blood stream really quickly, you get a quick reaction – a sugar high, making you feel like the life and soul of the party, followed fairly quickly by a sugar low making you feel suddenly rather down in the dumps.

The recommended maximum amount of sugars we should eat each day is about 60 grams a day – about 10% of our total calories. If you can’t resist sweet foods, try these swaps, recommended by the British Dietetic Association, that will help you cut back on the amount of sugar you eat.

Replace cakes, biscuits and sweets with fresh fruit, plain biscuits, malt loaf and whole meal scones. Instead of sweet puddings have baked apple, summer pudding or fromage frais. And instead of sugary drinks try pure juice diluted with fizzy water, milk or water.

10 ways to eat less sugar

Alcohol and your mood

Drinking alcohol is such an every-day part of life for many of us, that we don’t always realise how it affects us.

Alcohol can depress your central nervous system, with the result that you may become more uninhibited than usual. This means that it can affect your judgement, as well as your mood. The result can be that your behaviour changes - you are more likely to have arguments, make risky choices, have accidents, and upset family and friends.

If you realise that you are drinking too much, either because of the after-effects, or because someone close to you has told you, do something about it straight away. The longer you leave it, the harder it will be to cut back on your drinking.

Keep a diary of how much you drink, talk about your problem with someone close to you, and if you feel you need more help, talk to your GP. Self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous can be helpful when you’re trying to cut back – everyone else there will be trying to cut back too.

Sleep and mood swings

Most of us need seven to eight hours sleep at night, to function well and feel good. Some people manage well on less, and we tend to need less sleep as we get older. What’s important is that you know how much sleep you need to feel well and function well.

We can usually catch up after the occasional restless or sleep-deprived night.

However, if sleep deprivation goes on for too long, you’ll start to feel the effects. You won’t just feel very tired, your ability to think clearly will be affected, and you’re likely to go from feeling irritable, to feeling low, and then may feel anxious and depressed, with mood swings that can affect you and those nearest to you.

10 healthy reasons to get more sleep

Too little sleep can affect your physical as well as mental health if it goes on for too long, so it’s important to try to get the right amount of sleep for you.

Develop a bedtime ritual, and stick with it – it can take a little while for your brain and your body to get used to it, but once your internal timer is set, it should become easier.

Try to go to bed at the same time each night, and let yourself wake naturally the next day – don’t use an alarm clock unless you have to.

Wind down before you go to bed. Do some gentle relaxation exercises, such as stretches, which should help to un-knot your muscles. If you have things on your mind, write them down, so you don’t worry about forgetting them.

Try reading a book, or listening to the radio to help you relax in bed. Don’t watch flat-screen televisions or look at a computer or phone screen, because the blue light that they give off can stop you getting to sleep.

While mood swings may be a problem, there are ways for you to help yourself, as well as people and organizations that can provide support and treatment.

How to get a better night’s sleep

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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