Menopause is a normal part of the ageing process for women. It’s a point 12 months after the woman’s last period. The time leading up to that time is usually called perimenopause. Some women don’t experience any menopausal symptoms. However, for others, menopause may bring hot flashes, difficulty sleeping, night sweats, pain during sex, anxiety and depression. Menopause also often comes at a time in our lives when we’re dealing with many competing demands. We might be supporting children, caring for aging parents or taking on more responsibility at work. These demands, plus the symptoms of menopause, can make mental health issues more likely. To coincide with International Women’s Day on 8th March, this article explores how CBT can support women at the time of menopause.
What Is CBT?
CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) is based on the idea that our thoughts, emotions and behaviour are all interconnected. This means that the way we think and behave influences how we feel. Following this, if we change our thoughts and/or our behaviour, then our feelings will change too. CBT works by supporting us to make cognitive changes and to think in helpful rather than unhelpful ways. It also encourages us to make behavioural changes and to engage in healthy behaviours that support our mental well-being. By doing these things people usually notice that they start to feel emotionally better too.
CBT Support for Menopause
Menopause can be a challenging time for women but fortunately, there is support. CBT has been shown to be effective in managing the symptoms of menopause including anxiety, depression and problems with sleeping. It can also help to manage the impact of hot flashes and night sweats. If you’re struggling with symptoms of menopause it’s always advisable to speak with your doctor. Here are some ways that CBT can support common symptoms of menopause:
1. CBT For Low Mood
Depression is a frequently experienced symptom of menopause. Perceptions about aging, lack of sleep or other symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, can lead us to feel lower than normal. When we feel depressed we may find we stop doing the things we enjoy, such as exercising or seeing friends. We might also start to think more negatively about ourselves, others and the world in general.
CBT can help to challenge low mood by supporting us to increase physical exercise levels, do more pleasurable activities such as meeting friends and put more structure into our day. It can also help with challenging negative thoughts. For instance, CBT can support us to understand the link between societal perceptions of aging and self-esteem and begin to view ourselves more positively. When we’re more active, spending more time doing the things we enjoy and thinking in more helpful ways, then we tend to feel better too.
2. CBT For Anxiety
Anxiety is a normal reaction when a situation is threatening and we all experience anxiety sometimes. However, anxiety becomes a problem when benign situations are regularly perceived as a threat. Anxiety has a number of physical effects on the body including rapid breathing and muscle tension. These physical symptoms of anxiety themselves can then lead us to feel more anxious. Many women experience anxiety during menopause and it can be related to problems with sleeping and other symptoms such as hot flashes.
CBT for anxiety helps us to reduce our anxious thoughts. When we’re anxious we tend to catastrophize situations or imagine the worst-case scenario. For example, palpitations are a normal symptom of menopause but anxious thoughts might lead us to become concerned about our health, creating even more anxious thoughts and further palpitations. CBT can support us to think more helpfully. For instance, to recognize that the palpitations are just a symptom of menopause and nothing to worry about. CBT can also help us to change our behaviour in response to anxiety. Instead of over-eating or scrolling online, CBT might support us to go for a walk, meditate or exercise.
3. CBT For Hot Flashes
Our hormone levels affect our body temperature control so it’s not surprising that many women experience hot flashes, or intense feelings of warmth, during menopause. However, stress can increase the likelihood of us having hot flashes and it can worsen our perception of them. Therefore, reducing stress through relaxation techniques is an important part of managing hot flashes.
CBT supports us to cope with hot flashes through teaching techniques that aid relaxation. One commonly used approach is progressive muscle relaxation where we systematically tense and relax different areas of our body. Another approach is slow breathing where we focus on our breath and let the hot flash happen, knowing that it will pass. Experiencing hot flashes can also cause us to think unhelpfully. For example, we might feel that our colleagues are staring at us. CBT helps us to identify our negative thoughts and gently challenge them. We might start to recognize that other people don’t notice our hot flashes at all.
4. CBT For Sleeping Problems
Sleeping problems are frequently experienced during menopause. They might be due to anxiety, low mood, hot flashes or other symptoms such as night sweats. Worrying about not being able to sleep can make us even less likely to sleep, and this can increase our worry about sleep further. When we haven’t slept well we might be more likely to feel anxious and low during the day. We might also feel less resilient to deal with some of the other symptoms of menopause.
CBT can help support sleep issues in two ways. First, CBT can teach us about the behavioural aspects of sleep, often called sleep hygiene. It can help us to set regular times to go to bed and wake up and limit caffeine and alcohol intake. CBT can also support us to make sure our sleeping environment is at an adequate temperature and that we’re not disturbed by noise. From a cognitive perspective, CBT can help us manage our anxious thoughts about sleeping. For instance, the negative thought ‘I’ll be exhausted tomorrow and won’t be able to function’ could be reframed as ‘I might feel tired tomorrow but I know I can work even when I haven’t slept well’.
How Can Online-Therapy.com Help?
If you’re struggling with symptoms of menopause and you’d like to explore how CBT can aid in their management then Online-Theray.com can help. By signing up with our program you can choose a therapist who will work with you to develop a personalized toolkit based on CBT approaches that will support you to improve your menopause symptoms. You can choose to have your therapy sessions by video, phone or text chat (couple counselling will be video only), making Online-Therapy.com a flexible and convenient option.
At Online-Therapy.com we offer an integrated and holistic package to enable you to feel at your best. Our approach includes regular sessions with your chosen therapist, unlimited messaging and CBT worksheet support, journaling, and yoga. This ongoing support means that you have the daily expert guidance you need to make progress with improving your experience of menopause as soon as you sign up.
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