Are you experiencing stress, anxiety, or overwhelm during midlife?
In this episode, we explore the physiological and emotional impact of perimenopause and menopause on our mental health. We are going to understand the role of the nervous system in stress response, and how to work with it rather than against it.
I discuss the importance of completing stress cycles, why this is more difficult in midlife, and provide practical techniques for managing stress in a way that serves us.
Midlife can be a time of great change and growth, but it is also accompanied by unique challenges. In this episode, I discuss the concept of stress cycles and how they impact our mental health during perimenopause and menopause.
Additionally, I address the societal stigma surrounding mental health in midlife and advocate for accessible support and treatment options.
If you’re a woman navigating this transformative stage of life, join me as we uncover the secrets to reclaiming our authentic confidence and courage.
Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Dr Emily Nagoski
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Get full show notes and more info here: https://meegancare.co.nz/meegan-cares-the-podcast/53/
Full Episode Transcript
The mental health aspects of perimenopause, menopause and midlife are overlooked and actually somewhat stigmatized. And I think it’s just super important that we bring the challenges of this time out into the light. Look at it from a non shaming, non guilt inducing perspective, and understand what is going on for us in terms of our nervous system, our brain, and how that impacts stress, anxiety and overwhelm.
And this is a… really important part of the Midlife Upgrade course. There’s one particular module that is dedicated to this, to managing stress, anxiety and overwhelm during midlife, because we understand that stress is a part of life. As we go through perimenopause, menopause, our resilience to stress and our tolerance to stress is for some women, significantly lowered.
And what I see for women, and certainly the process that I went through, is there is a lot of self blame, wondering what we’re doing wrong, that accompanies this, and when that happens, we’ve got internal stress that has been layered onto
the physiological stress that is being caused by the hormonal changes of menopause. All this to say, stress, anxiety, overwhelmed depression are a big part of perimenopause and menopause and I want to help you
understand what is going on and how to manage it for yourself in a way that really really serves you. And so what I’m going to be talking about is stress cycles, reframes and stress responses. What I won’t talk about as much are how hormone replacement therapy can help, how other medications can help, how natural therapies can help.
They all have their place and they all can be incredibly helpful.
So we want to understand the role of our nervous system within the stress response, generally speaking. And how to work with it rather than against it, so we want to look at stress cycles. I want to go through how we can support ourselves in our nervous system to slow down, for want of a better word.
And I think it’s important to consider Through this time, what are the biggest or the most frequent circumstances that trigger stress in my system? Now if you’re right in the thick of perimenopause, you might be thinking at this point, well it’s all stress. I’ve got this consistently high peak of stress, anxiety, low mood going on.
If that is the case for you, then it is a really good time to talk to your health professional. And if you’re going through perimenopause or menopause,
Please don’t be fobbed off with just being given anti anxiety and anti depressants. This is my. Personal opinion, but it is backed up by many conversations and articles and research from mental health experts that we’re still seeing for women in perimenopause. We go to our doctor and the perimenopause part of it is not considered.
And so then we’re just given anti anxiety antidepressant medication. Well, if you’re going through perimenopause and you’ve got the hormonal fluctuations or your anxiety, depression is caused by lowering estrogen, then you may well be much better off with menopause hormone treatment or therapy or body identical HRT.
For some women, That works amazingly well for other women. It doesn’t work so well, or they might have challenges that come up with the body identical HRT. For some women, they find that they take the body identical HRT, but they are still needing some support from anti anxiety, anti depressant type medication.
Absolutely, if that’s what you need, don’t suffer and struggle alone with it. Go and get that support that you need.
What we don’t want to be, I think, as women, is fobbed off with
Just to sort of shut down, oh, this is anxiety and depression and we’re giving those anti anxiety depression medications without taking into account that this is caused primarily by the lowering estrogen, the hormonal fluctuations of perimenopause. Because in that case, very often,
body identical hormone treatment Is going to be really helpful for you. And there was a report done Overseas last week That recommended cognitive behavioural therapy for Symptoms of menopause, so physical symptoms of menopause, hot flushes, night sweats And I think the report suggested that this should be front line for women.
And, I had a little bit of a laugh to myself because, have you tried to get psychologists that can offer CBT in New Zealand? The report wasn’t referring to New Zealand and it wasn’t for the New Zealand population. But it’s… Nearly impossible to get an appointment in a small amount of time with a psychologist.
And it’s generally psychologists that offer CBT in New Zealand. It’s, to my knowledge, not funded, so it’s going to cost you 200 and something or other dollars for your session. You will need multiple sessions of CBT. And I come from a therapy and counselling background. So I’m all over it. I’m not disparaging in any way therapeutic interventions, talk therapy, CBT.
I’m not disparaging that. What I’m saying is that The cost is borne by us as women, it is a very high cost. The availability is low, and so the help we’re getting will not be available in the way that we want it. I would far rather see a world where we could have…
Body Identical HRT, if that’s what we chose, and that’s what worked for us, and access to even partially funded CBT psychological support would be really helpful. But I know as a consumer of mental health how very difficult it is to find the right person, get the appointment, pay for that appointment and for a period of time.
That is more than what the majority of women have access to. And in any case, if every single woman wanted to do a course of CBT, we just don’t have the psychologists trained in that to offer it to us. It was just a super interesting piece that came out in the last few weeks and really seeing both sides of that story, both sides of the opinion around that For me, I felt like I was in the middle ground with it, so I can absolutely see the benefits of CBT,
it’s really, really helpful. But we don’t want to say, I don’t want to see a world where that is all that is available to us. I want us as women to be able to get the support that we need. And whether that’s body identical HRT or whether that’s natural therapies or a combination of both and CBT in some kind of ideal world that isn’t available to us.
I think we need to be really practical about, well, where are the resources for us and what is funded, what is not funded. Not everybody can afford more than 200 a week for therapy.
So I want to look at stress responses. In our nervous system. And we are talking fight and flight. So you’ve heard of that. Everybody has one of these responses, one or more of these responses, when we’re in a stress cycle. So we have stress cycles, and we have our response within that stress cycle. So let’s just talk about stress cycles for a moment or two.
Stress cycles are a really normal part of everyday life and we know that stress actually helps us to grow. So if you think about when you go to the gym and you lift weights, you’re actually causing physical stress to the muscles. That is how they grow and strengthen over time. In an everyday stress cycle, we also want to keep in mind that we grow from stress.
So we’re just going to look at the structure of a stress cycle, right? So we have the beginning of a stress cycle, so the threat arises. The email arises. The exam is looming. The interview…
The conflict that you have with a business partner is here. It’s on the horizon. So the threat arises. And then we have the middle of the stress cycle where the stress response comes in. And that stress response will be fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. And I’ll go into those a little more in a moment. And then we have the end of the stress cycle, in an ideal scenario.
And we have the completion of that stress cycle, where the body calms, settles, we come into this rest and digest
within the nervous system.
So we want to note that even when the external stressor goes away, so the conflict with the business partner is resolved, the stress in the body may not. And in fact it may open the doorway to another stress cycle more quickly because you haven’t come to a completion or an ending of that stress cycle.
And another piece to note is that we don’t need to get rid of the external stresses to release the emotion of stress in the body or to calm the body. There’s a really great book on stress cycles and it’s called Burnout the Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and that’s really a worthwhile read.
in this book,
what is suggested is that ways that we can complete the stress cycle are Breathing, so breathing practice, physical activity, laughing, a positive social interaction, so with a friend, or even just saying hello to a neighbor and you know, checking in, how was your day. Is really helpful and counts as a positive social interaction.
Crying, you know sometimes we find ourselves crying over an event and then realize later, Oh, actually I was carrying stress from a few other events that had happened. And the crying sort of released all of that stress from my body and I felt so much better afterwards. From creativity, art, dance, movement, journaling.
And, and physical affection will also help to complete the stress cycle. And I’m talking about the, the beautiful 20 second hugs where your body just calms and settles and you have that physical contact. And how do we know when a stress cycle is complete?
Well, it’s fairly simple. We feel it. So we might cry and feel better. We might feel the stress melt away after that 20 second hug. Or you might notice after a walk or a run you feel better in your body. You feel calmer and more relaxed. So that’s the stress cycle. Now the challenge comes for us as women in perimenopause or menopause.
Because we’re so much more sensitive to stress in our system because of the hormonal fluctuations. And those really are external stresses. So what I mean by that is we’re not creating, obviously we’re not creating those hormonal fluctuations from our thinking. So we’re not layering on to the stress response and the stress cycle.
with anything particularly we can change, it’s the hormonal fluctuations, which are just a really natural happening, that are causing us to be more sensitive to stress, that are causing more difficulty in completing the stress response. Because the simple truth is, Mood changes during perimenopause are real and they are not caused by your thinking.
However, we can change our perspective and expectations around stress, around our circumstances and that will relieve the internal stress and reduce the, length and intensities of stress cycles.
So completing the stress response is so important during menopause and perimenopause. And I gave you those simple and really well researched ways to complete the stress cycle. However, when we’ve got this additional player in the game, which is our hormonal fluctuations, we may need to have a little more perseverance and to support ourselves through this process.
You know, really stand by yourself. So I want you to think about, if you’re willing, How we can sort of reframe the way stress shows up for us in midlife. Because it’s a really, really common experience so the way we handle stress in midlife may not seem as effective and that’s because of that physiological change in your hormones. So it’s really important that we come back to this piece of reframing how we think about stress in midlife.
For example, do I blame myself
if I’m experiencing more stress than normal? If I’m feeling the anxiety more than normal. If I’ve got this waking up with anxiety and it’s there with me all day, maybe it settles in the afternoon. Am I blaming myself for that? Am I thinking that I’m thinking wrong? Unfortunately, with so much pop psychology in our culture, There has been sort of sneaking into the way we think about ourselves a lot more self blame.
So if I’m experiencing anxiety, I might be blaming myself. And check in with yourself, whether you are or you aren’t, whether you’re trying to fix the anxiety by fixing your thinking. So it’s very subtle, right? Because once we’ve got these foundational reframes, there are things that we can do to support ourselves to complete the stress cycle, to not be so subject to stress, by working with our thoughts and working with our perspective.
But that’s very different to blaming myself for experiencing anxiety in this moment because I A, have a faulty belief, or I’m thinking negatively, or whatever other reason I might give myself. Another perspective that we would want to reframe, I think, is am I expecting the stress, the anxiety, the low mood to resolve and never come back overnight?
And again, this is a really subtle, nuanced piece, but I know you know that you get it. I’m not saying That we resign ourselves to feeling this. And we just go, well that’s it, my life’s shit, I’m going to be anxious forever, and I’m going to be low mood forever, and I’m going to be ridiculously stressed and unable to cope with my life forever.
I’m not suggesting we go there, all the way down that end. But I also don’t think that it’s helpful for us to be having this really rigid expectation that I can fix my stress and the experience of anxiety if I do A, B or C. Whatever it is. Right? Correct my thinking, take the right form of magnesium or go for a really long run.
Or walk. In my case. Because you have got that extra stressor happening with the fluctuating hormones. So no matter what you do, there’s going to be an element of, for example, say, increased anxiety. So it’s subtle, right?
There’s this middle ground in the way we approach our mental health during midlife. Where we’re not buying into the quick fixes. Where we have a reasonable understanding that my nervous system is under more pressure and under more stress because of these hormonal fluctuations. But we’re also not Giving up on ourselves and giving up on life.
This is the piece I’m really passionate about helping women with. Because I know when we get it, it actually means that our resilience skyrockets. And we, we can really stick with ourselves and support ourselves. Say if I’m having a bad day with anxiety, which has been something that has come through more in perimenopause at different times.
I can be with myself and support myself without. Always collapsing in a heap and without having this internal demand that I fix it right now. I think that’s a really helpful middle ground perspective to come from. And there’s another reframe possible for us, around do I think something is wrong with me that I’m not as resilient to stress at the moment.
So. That is another version of blaming ourselves. But I think we want to unpack and unwind this from our, from our culture and our gender conditioning. When my mum went through midlife, she began collecting supplements. She had like cupboards and cupboards of them. And, I think she was through that phase where HRT, they didn’t have body identical HRT then, wasn’t available, as far as I’m aware she didn’t take it. And, having the cupboards and cupboards of supplements is one thing, but what it really pointed to was this underlying challenge that she was having with her physical health, her mental health.
That just was so hidden That she became quite health anxious and that is very common for us in midlife I think the way we move away from that is actually talked to other women about our experience and hear from other women about their experience that we start really sharing About menopause and our journey with menopause and midlife.
So that we, you know, we become more connected in this challenge together. That I think is really helpful. And just notice, you know, if you are spending a lot of time Googling your health symptoms, your mental health symptoms and remedies for that. If that’s taking up a lot of your time and energy It could be a time to talk to a wise and on to it, menopausally educated health practitioner.
Whether that’s your educated GP or your very up to date naturopath.
Don’t go it alone with this.
So we may find through midlife that we’re noticing an increase in stress. What can be helpful for us is to think about it in terms of stress cycles. And it may feel like, and I, I really relate to this, it may feel like, well I’ve got stress cycle on top of stress cycle, within stress cycle, I’ve got cycles and cycles and cycles.
That’s possible too, right? And it’s not that you’re doing anything wrong. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with you. Your body, your nervous system and your brain are going through an incredible transformation. As hard as perimenopause and menopause can be for us as women. There is such an incredible opportunity to, to upgrade who we are, how we show up in the world and how we respond to the circumstances around us.
And this is what my midlife upgrade course is all about. We go into this. into how we can deal with anxiety, stress and low mood, how we can manage the symptoms better, what we need to do if it’s, it’s getting too much, how to recognize that we do that right at the beginning.
If you’re still here with me at the end of this episode
and there’s something, there’s something in your heart where you’re being called forward, then please check out my course. I’ve created it from a place of, this is what I wanted when I was going through perimenopause and the beginning of my midlife journey. And the support you get, like, I’m there for you, the rest of the group is there for you.
It is a phenomenal container to grow into that next level of self confidence and self worth as a woman. In your life, because whether you’ve got a glimpse of this or not, you’re just beginning the next incredible stage of your life, but we’ve got to grow some muscles around being able to work with our nervous system, being able to work with these stress responses.
Being flexible and kind and loving and compassionate to ourselves. I don’t know if that sounds really cheesy to you, but in action, like if you can, apply that to yourself and your life, it makes such a huge difference to who you are, how connected you feel, and how you show up in your life. So… You know, if you’re still here, just go on over to my website, megancare.
- nz forward slash course, and it’s got all the details of the course there, and jump on the wait list. I would love, love to see you on my next course,
where I can guide you, support you, be with you, speak with you, we can walk this journey together, because it doesn’t have to be so lonely. It doesn’t have to be so isolating.
There’s a way through this, where we can grow into the human beings we were meant to be, but still, you know, maintain ourselves. This period is a time of such great change. And I know I’m never going to go back to that woman I was when I was 30. Psychologically, why would I want to, for a start? And yes, physical things are changing. But if we just make the minutest shift in terms of how we value ourselves.
And how we perceive ourselves and how we support ourselves and gather support around us.
This stuff might still be hard.
But we end up knowing that we’re part of something. That who we are is not inherently broken. You start to remember that you, you… You are an incredible, unique human being, and this next stage of your life can actually be really exciting and filled with adventure.
So I hope that’s really been helpful in terms of how we can look at stress, not just as being this thing, this, you know, monster in the closet. But we can understand that our nervous system has these different stress responses. That there are stress cycles that have a beginning, a middle and an end. That there are ways that we can complete a stress cycle.
And that when we’re going through perimenopause and menopause, yes, the completion of stress cycles might be a little more complicated. But we can create these reframes and shifts that give us that perseverance and that okayness when things are just not okay. That for me is the experience of being an empowered human being.
Hope this has been super helpful.
Think about one of the ways that you prefer to complete the stress cycle. Is it breathwork, physical activity, laughing, positive social interaction, crying, creativity or physical affection? Which one’s your go to? Send me a message and let me know. I’d love to hear from you. Have an amazing, amazing week, my friend, and I’ll talk to you real soon.
Bye for now.