Why Anger is Common During Menopause

What Really Happens to Your Brain During “the Change”

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Menopause

There is a common stereotype of women becoming “crazy” at menopause. It’s our culture’s well-entrenched way of writing off women who, at menopause, often go through the process of reclaiming their lives. For many women this reclamation process includes getting in touch with anger that arises from unmet and unacknowledged needs. When a woman begins to express her anger, especially if she has held her tongue for most of her life, it can seem to come from “out of the blue”. 

What’s really happening during perimenopause (the 10 years or so before a woman has her last period) is that a woman’s brain actually begins to change. This is because the hormonal changes that are typical during this time—namely fluctuations in the relative levels of estrogen and progesterone—signal changes in the temporal lobe (associated with intuition) and limbic area of the brain. This is why many women find themselves feeling irritable, anxious, and emotionally volatile.

But while our culture has led women to believe that these emotions are simply due to raging hormones, hormone instability is only part of the picture. There is solid evidence that repeated episodes of stress—whether due to relationships, children, or jobs we feel angry about or powerless over—are actually behind many of the hormonal changes in the brain and body. And stress of any kind, when prolonged, can exacerbate hormone imbalance. This is especially true when we have unresolved or “stuck” emotions as we begin the menopausal transition.

The Connection Between Emotions and Hormones During Menopause

Your thoughts, emotions, desires and dreams are your inner guidance system. The autonomic nervous system is the system that translates your thoughts, emotions and beliefs into the physical environment that, over time, becomes your actual physical body. The “language” your autonomic nervous system uses to translate your thoughts and emotions to the rest of your body is your hormones.

The primary messengers of the sympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that revs up your metabolism to deal with challenges) are hormones called norepinephrine and epinephrine, which are often referred to together as adrenaline, which are produced in the brain and in the adrenal glands. Every time adrenaline levels go up, cortisol (another adrenal hormone) also goes up.

Our state of health depends more on our perception of life events than on the events themselves. When your perception that the events and demands in your life are stressful and uncontrollable, you are adopting a mindset that continually whips your adrenals into producing more and more cortisol. Over time, your adrenals become exhausted. Insomnia is a very common result in this situation, as is immune system incompetence, which increases susceptibility not only to infectious diseases, but also autoimmune disorders and cancer.

The overstimulated sympathetic nervous system also causes and imbalance in eicosanoids, resulting in impaired fatty acid metabolism by cells. This is associated with weight gain as the body breaks down muscle and replacing it with stored fat and excess fluid. An imbalance in eicosanoids is also associated with inflammation, which is now known to be the cause of nearly all chronic degenerative diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Plus, inflammation increases the discomfort felt in a host of chronic diseases such as Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system also causes decreased production of progesterone, your body’s natural calming agent. I have written extensively about the connection between your emotions, your hormones and your health in my book, The Wisdom of Menopause.

How Anger at Menopause Prompts You to Heal Your Past

Certain areas of the brain, such as the amygdala and the hippocampus are important for encoding and retrieving memories. They are also rich in estrogen, progesterone, and GnRH receptors, the hormones that fluctuate the most during perimenopause. This is why menopausal hormonal changes bring a woman’s anger to conscious awareness. The heightened activity of these hormones often brings back the memories of hurts and losses women have managed to forget or minimize. And this makes menopause the perfect biologically supported opportunity to clean up unfinished business from the past. How this ultimately affects you depends to a large degree on how willing you are to make the changes you are being urged to make.

Many women become frightened when they feel anger arising.  Or, they say they are “just” irritable, grouchy, aggravated, envious, overwhelmed, even depressed, or that they “just” have high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Believe me, all of these emotions and physical conditions are associated with anger. And anger always arises from a genuine need that isn’t being met. Learning to recognize the situations from which your anger arises is the first step toward understanding the messages behind your anger and ultimately healing.

Here are some situations from which anger arises and the corresponding messages behind the anger:

Anger Stemming from  Message        
Being unable to count of promise/commitment.          Need for honesty, reassurance in relationship.  
Losing power, status, respect.                      Need for respect/recognition.
Being insulated, undermined, diminished.Need for respect/recognition.
Being threatened with physical or emotional pain.Need for comfort, safety, intimacy, healing touch.
Having important pleasurable event postponed or cancelled to suit others.Need for support, integrity, fun, joy, pleasure, or grieving.
Not obtaining something you feel legitimately should be yours.Need for fairness/recognition.

5 Practices to Resolve Menopausal Anger

  1. Practice releasing toxic emotions. If you have persistent, unresolved emotions, such as grief, the only way to heal is to release them. You can do this as they arise or even create a daily ritual where you work through the unresolved emotion and the event that cause it. If you are unable to work through and release toxic emotions fully on your own, seek help from a professional or support group. This can also provide validation of your emotions, which many women need.
  1. Focus on the “silver lining”. Releasing old patterns of the first half of your life may mean that your relationships change or dissolve. The good news is many women attract their “soul tribe” at midlife. Resist the urge to fall back into your old ways. Allow yourself to continually move toward success and joy. You’ll be astounded at the new friends and circumstances that present themselves.
  1. Trust your brain and your body. Tune into your emotions and any physical symptoms. Trust that your brain and your body give you the information you need to resolve past trauma at the exact time you are prepared to handle it.
  1. Resist categorizing your feelings. Emotions are neither “good” nor “bad”. When you feel angry, sad, anxious, or depressed, think of these feelings as guidance, use them to steer yourself toward health.
  1. Forgive yourself. In order to heal your past and to fully be able to release anger and other emotions that are attached to it, you must forgive yourself and those involved in your pain. Remember forgiveness does not mean that what happened to you was acceptable. It simply means you are no longer willing to allow the past to keep you from living fully and healthfully in the present.

Have you dealt with anger or other emotions during perimenopause? Share your thoughts with others in the comments.

Last Updated: April 20, 2021

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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  1. Gail
    5 months ago

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and inspiration. I’m a 58 year old woman who has been feeling like I’m losing my mind and everything else for that matter. I’m working on the hormones and stress management. Not easy in my world.Reading this brought me too tears. I’m not crazy! Thank you , thank you. I will never give up. I will be me again!
    Gail

  2. jo
    5 months ago

    Thank you, Dr. Northrup. Please continue to provide us with valuable information, as you have been at the forefront of women’s medicine for my entire adult life. You have been my guiding light when I couldn’t find a single doctor who would listen to my concerns or offer any real help other than one ‘pill RX’ after another, year after year. I was disheartened to read your latest email and know that you have been ‘battling the dark forces’ of medical misinformation which continues to dismiss and even demean women’s health concerns.

  3. Mac
    5 months ago

    Today I found a video of your speech at a rally and it was the best explanation of what happens when you take the vaccine for Covid19. I wanted to send it to others and then could not find it again. I have grown children about to take the vaccine and need this, please help.

  4. Patti S.
    5 months ago

    This is an awesome blog to read.I often feel as though I am dealing with old traumas that I was unable to feel all of my feelings fully.
    I am now 58 and dealing with autoimmne issues after a career of nursing and pushing no matter the fatigue.Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatige,Lyme Disease that was a late diagnosis that was misssed on lab result by Dr.I am thinking knowing all this I can work on healing with this information.
    Thank You Dr Northrup.

  5. RachaelM
    5 months ago

    At my new doctor appointment (to a clinic I thought was more Functional than it really is…), I asked about ‘sudden aging’ over the last year (anger, weight gain, skin changes, off-thinking) my male GP actually patted me on the shoulder and said, “It’s alright, this is just what happens”. I have never felt so blatantly patronized by a practitioner. I am sure I am perimenopausal with an added dash of chronic Lyme (with Epstein-Barr), C-PTSD from childhood trauma, and a lifetime of depression, all incurring adrenal fatigue. I have a good small supportive family that bring me joy and I seek all the places to find more but I feel like I’m walking backwards. Not to mention my absolute fear/anger over having my COVID/vaccination questions dismissed by almost all of the people I know. I want to thank you for being a voice in the wilderness – for having the courage to say what needs to be said and ask the questions that should be asked. I want to also say to all of the souls reading this blog/this post/this comment – thank you for listening and being further voices in your communities. We are not alone.

    1. jo
      5 months ago

      Oh my goodness! I read your post TWICE! My female gyno stood at the doorway, hand on the doorknob (after spending less than 5 min with me on my speculum exam where I expressed the same concerns: sudden weight gain after a lifetime of running/surfing, dry ‘down there,’ heart palps, etc.) and all she had to offer was, word for word, “menopause is a bitch.”
      I was stunned and she left the room. I am so happy I found Dr. N on Hay House so many years ago. She is a lifeline for us women!

  6. Jane Wright
    5 months ago

    I feel all the suppressed anger and trauma and repeated patterns since have been rising and sometimes manifest as sorrow or anger. I allow myself to feel it all now and scream but not always possible with neighbours! I do sob alot to release to the point of exhaustion and always feel better afterwards but my moods fluctuate so much and that’s difficult to deal with. EFT has been such a boon and connection to nature, singing and music plus writing poetry which has helped me to express so freely and incredibly healing and releasing! I know that it’s a very empowering time for women but not always easy to be who you truly are in society when they don’t value that X
    I do care less than I did what people think of me (as I cared too much) and wether they get me or not so that’s liberating X thankyou for your wisdom over the years Christiane and your truth which has been wonderful guidance to me and many others ✨️

  7. Carolanne
    5 months ago

    Thanks for your awesome illumination of this part of our lives Christiane. I’m at the ‘silver linings’ stage where I’ve stepped out of my safe circle of Facebook friends and I am making new and engaging connections. I realised I had a lot of unresolved anger around the process of perimenopause. This was because the doctors I approached for help actually made me feel like I was unwell, I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma in situ, had 3 colposcopies (one where the male doctor left a speculum in me and told me I could go now!!!) , 2 cone biopsies, 2 D&Cs, had an ovary removed, they wanted to do a hysterectomy. I had shocking memory problems, probably due to the fact that I was bleeding so heavily my brain wasn’t functioning. It wasn’t until I actually hit menopause that things calmed down. We really need way more conversations around these topics!

  8. Maureen Briglio
    5 months ago

    I am 61 and dealing with anger arising. Unmet needs of safety, recognition are here. I’m allowing them to surface as I truly don’t wish to be held back. I’ve got a new tribe of wise women and a husband who wants the best for me. Practicing forgiveness towards myself and others is top priority. Allowing myself to receive all good things is my prayer. Thank you for posting, we are not crazy we are processing sending love to the tribe ❣️

  9. Melissa
    5 months ago

    Wow! Great blog Doctor! We are often taught to be ladylike and not show our emotions with being the caregiver of everyone but ourselves. We need to give ourselves permission to “clean the abscess” and let the healing begin. Like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon! Just love you in your mission to help others! Signed, a faithful Warrior

  10. Laura Rader
    5 months ago

    Thank you thank you! This was so helpful to me as I care for my menopausal clients! I love your work. Your first book- just READING it- stopped my cramps when I was 26 years old! (26 years ago!)
    Thankful for your strength!
    -Laura

  11. Cecy
    5 months ago

    My mom died and when I was 16 and my dad when I was 12. At 42 when Perimenopause started, all the grief of their deaths returned. I cried for months. I forgave my dad who had abandoned us and even myself for things I did in the past. When anger arises now at 44, I’m no longer afraid. I speak up and stand up for myself. Even surprised myself when I curse . Still learning to listen to that voice that’s guiding me.

  12. Paula Donnelly
    5 months ago

    Loved this article Christiane. I’m past menopause but I’m going through some anger issues. This is very helpful thank you. I’ve been following you since lat April/May. Glad to see you’re one of God’s 12 apostles. I love the pieces you share. You help keep me sane in this crazy world. May God bless you always Paula Ireland

  13. Dielle
    5 months ago

    This is such a powerful piece; I’ve bookmarked it. I will be 54 this year, and I’m definitely feeling it…have been for about five years now. What is very clear is that major stressors and ongoing traumas ignite the powder keg, but you give a very clear road out which is to first recognize and acknowledge unmet needs. The most important thing I learned a few years ago was that anger meant “this is important to me!”. Until then, I just thought I was irrationally angry, and I hated myself for it. I’m kinder to myself now but this article reminds me that I still have more healing to do. Love your work and appreciate your ongoing courage to speak.

    1. Patti
      5 months ago

      I really like what you wrote here.That you are being kinder to yourself.

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