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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.