Anger is a big, powerful emotion that no one is immune to experiencing. “Anger is wired into our full range of emotions to ensure the strength to respond and protect that which is important to us,” explains Karen Bonnell, an author and coach who works with individuals, couples, and families facing life transitions. “Think about a momma bear’s protection of her young. We all have a bit of momma bear within us whether we have children or not.” For many women, though, momma bear may have been hibernating…until midlife. Annoyances that you used to brush off suddenly set you off. Instead of biting your tongue when someone pisses you off, you give them a tongue-lashing. While it can be healthier to express your emotions instead of bottling them up, these uncontrollable outbursts can have negative effects, especially on relationships.
Most of the time, these erratic mood swings surprise not just you but also the person who is on the receiving end of your fury. Both of you may feel confused and unsure of how to respond, and you may end up feeling embarrassed or regret your reaction. Understanding what’s triggering these eruptions can help you control your emotions. And when you don’t, you’ll feel less guilty and be better equipped to do damage control.
The Link Between Hormones and Mood Swings
Starting in your late 30s to mid-40s, your hormones begin to fluctuate wildly. This stage of life is known as perimenopause, the precursor to menopause when your periods stop completely. During this time, estrogen levels, which influence mood-regulating brain chemicals, experience sharp dips and spikes at random times. When estrogen drops, feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine, plummet too, setting you up for more volatile emotions. At the same time, progesterone, a natural antidepressant that also prevents anxiety, is also declining. “When this hormonal system gets out of balance, symptoms of irritability, anxiety, depression, mood swings, foggy brain, tense muscles, and sleep disturbances can all occur,” says psychiatrist Swapna Vaidya, MD. As a result, irritations, annoyances, and frustrations can escalate in an instant. “If we layer on top of the hormonal and neurotransmitter changes the fact that many women experience profound sleep disruption coupled with anxiety, we have a perfect storm for raw, unchecked experiences of rage,” says Bonnell.
Up to 70 percent of women around the world report irritability as their primary complaint during perimenopause. But don’t panic. There are steps you can take to keep your frustrations from boiling over.
4 Ways to Take the Edge Off
“Think of angry outbursts as a personal signaling system,” says Bonnell. “You’ll experience increasing anger and more intrusive, unpredictable outbursts the more depleted you are of self-care.” That’s why it’s so important for you to take care of yourself during this stage of life. Here are four essential self-care strategies that can help to take the edge off and help with other symptoms you may experience during perimenopause.
Move more. Exercise produces endorphins, natural feel-good chemicals, and can boost serotonin levels, helping you regain your cool. Activity can also work as an on-the-spot diffuser — take a few laps around the block, do some jumping jacks, or throw some air punches (or hit a pillow or cushion). Regular workouts will also help to keep your emotions on a more even keel.
Eat healthy. A diet of non-processed foods high in vegetables, fruits, grains, clean proteins, and healthy fats can ease menopause symptoms and help you feel good.
Chill out. Meditation is one of the best ways to become more mindful and calmer. You can also do yoga, take walks in nature, plan time for joy, anything that helps you relax.
Get a better night’s sleep. While night sweats and insomnia may be hard to manage, you have control over other factors that can improve your chances of sleeping better. Sleep is an integral part of managing your emotions, improving your mood, and warding off depression. You can start by practicing good sleep hygiene like no screens before bedtime and keeping your bedroom cool and dark. And don’t let distractions like Hulu, the latest bestselling novel, or a sink full of dishes prevent you from going to bed at a reasonable time. Any steps you can take to get more sleep will help to regulate your emotions during the day.
“Your particular experience will be in part related to your ability to be gentle, accepting, and caring for your body, your emotional world, and your inner experiences as this physiologic process unfolds,” says Bonnell.
Remember, you’re not the only one experiencing these bouts of anger, and there are resources that can help make this transition smoother. Gennev, a virtual health clinic for women 40+, is a great place to start. You’ll find menopause-trained doctors and health coaches who can offer relief from symptoms and help you understand how to take care of yourself to feel great now and avoid health problems in the future.
By: Michele Stanten