For many women, mood swings come with the territory during menopause. They can show up as anxiety that may feel random, out of place, or unexpected. If you’re experiencing heightened anxiety, you’re not alone. But you can quiet your mind in as little as five minutes a day with meditation.
Meditation has many benefits:
- It gets you out of your head and into your body.
- It teaches you to observe your thoughts and emotions without getting swept up in them.
- It reprograms neural pathways in the brain and reduces the fight-or-flight response.
How to Meditate
Meditation is an ancient method for practicing presence. In other words, it’s using a mantra or specific point of focus to help you keep your mind in the present moment instead of racing around all over place, playing out what-ifs, and imagining worst-case scenarios.
If you’ve never meditated before, that’s fine. Here’s how to get started:
- Set a timer for five minutes (or a preferred time of your choice).
- Find a comfortable, quiet location, where you won’t be interrupted. You can sit cross-legged on the floor, with your hips propped on a blanket. If that doesn’t feel good in your body, then sit on a chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. You can also lie down with a bolster under your knees. There’s no right or wrong way. Just get comfortable.
- Close your eyes. If you’re sitting upright, place your hands in your lap or on your upper legs.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel free to make a lot of noise as you sigh to release all the emotions and tension you may be holding onto. Do that two more times.
- Return to breathing normally and focus your attention on your breath until the timer runs out. When your attention wanders — and it will! — bring it back to your breath.
There you go! You’re meditating.
Why Meditation Helps Ease Anxiety
Backed by science, meditation has been shown to reprogram neural pathways in the brain and shrink the size of the amygdala — the part of the brain that’s responsible for stress and fight-or-flight reactions. This means that even lifelong, chronic worriers can learn to reduce anxiety-related thoughts through simple a meditation practice.
Meditating isn’t easy. But as you practice, it becomes easier. It will then begin to impact your everyday life by allowing you to remain calm in the face of fear and let anxious thoughts pass right by. This is known as “presence,” or being fully in the present moment.
A great way to understand presence is to pay attention the next time you’re washing the dishes. Instead of thinking about what you’re going to do next, notice what the water feels like on your hands. Notice the sound of the sponge as it brushes against the pots and pans. Notice how the soap smells. You cannot do those things and worry at the same time — it’s impossible!
Where Does Menopausal Anxiety Come From?
Menopausal anxiety can result from a variety of factors:
- Hormone changes and dysregulation
- A stress response to physical symptoms associated with menopause
- Fear over entering a new life stage
On a neurological and biological level, changes in sex hormones estrogen and progesterone during perimenopause can affect serotonin levels. They can also activate the nervous system and overstimulate the adrenal glands. These symptoms may go away during the postmenopausal period as hormones even out, but not always.
Many women also experience anxiety as a stress response to the physical symptoms associated with menopause. Still, others can feel fear over the unknown when entering a new life stage and the changes that accompany it — like having an empty nest for the first time, adjusting to retirement, or caring for aging parents.
Minutes Can Make a Difference
Five minutes is enough to make a difference, but once you start meditating, you may want to increase that time to 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, or more. Meditate as much as feels good for you.
If you find yourself unable to mediate, there’s an app. Try Insight Timer, Calm, or Headspace. Many yoga studios and community centers offer meditation sessions, as well, where you can meet like-minded people who are also learning to practice mindfulness techniques.
If your anxiety increases, talk to your doctor.