Irritability, menopause, and natural remedies for your last nerve
“Irritability.” Not quite the towering, world-ending fury of full-on rage, irritability in perimenopause and menopause is still a very real, very important problem.
When your partner or your boss or your kids or the behavior of the hangars in your closet constantly just gets under your skin, it can eat away at confidence, productivity, and significant relationships. It’s harder to deal with petty annoyances we used to be able to brush off. We snap more often, then we feel guilty about snapping, we don’t know if we can trust ourselves anymore, and before long, we’re withdrawing from the people and things that used to give us joy.
Irritability vs Rage
So what do we mean by “irritability”? It means we’re a bit more predisposed to react to situations – like getting cut off in traffic – with anger, annoyance, frustration, or impatience. The difference between irritability and rage is largely one of degree.
“Irritability is a ‘simmering’ sort of feeling. Rage is an eruption,” says one member of the Gennev community. “It’s not as dramatic, but being irritated all the time is exhausting.”
So what can we do to stop the simmer?
What causes the feeling of irritation?
Fluctuations in estrogen levels may directly cause irritability. Estrogen affects production of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, our feel-good hormones, so when estrogen levels decline, so do the happy hormones.
Hormonal changes also indirectly cause irritability by impacting sleep, taking a toll on our sex lives, causing us to have more headaches, and generally setting us up to feel less than our happy, vibrant selves some days.
Finally, in some ways, this can be a uniquely irritating phase of life: the collision of raising teens and caring for aging parents can tax our time and patience. We likely have greater responsibility at work, and our relationships may not feel as stable and supportive as previously. So some irritation is natural and expected, and while it may not be pleasant, it may not all be the fault of our hormones.
What can we do to feel less irritated?*
While the source of our irritations may be at least partially out of our control (teens will be teens and hormones will be hormones), we can take steps to manage our reactions to triggers better.
One: Nature provides a lot of herbal remedies for irritation, says Ayurvedic Cure, chamomile, peppermint, hops, St. John’s Wort, and lavender all can help us handle stress more calmly. Valerian root, says Ayurvedic Cure, has sedative qualities, so it not only calms but may help you sleep.
Two: Prevention magazine suggests replacing caffeine, which can make you jittery and prone to irritation, with matcha tea.
Three: Dr. Mariza Snyder, in her article “Top 5 Essential Oils for Hormone Balance” recommends adding the essential oil clary sage to your managing-menopause tool kit. It decreases the stress hormone cortisol, she says, and can aid in getting better sleep. She also suggests bergamot as a way to naturally “lower the body’s stress responses.”
Four: Vitamin D is a natural mood-lifter, not least because one good way to get it is to step out into the sunshine. It helps bones and brains, too, so make sure you’re getting enough. Vitamin D can be hard to get in winter, so fortified foods, salmon, and sardines are good complements.
Five: Acupuncture relieves feelings of stress for many, and since it can also minimize pain and aid in sleep, it can attack irritability from several directions.
Six: Focusing on breath and body in yoga helps many women gain control of their irritation. Some poses are said to be particularly powerful for channeling anger out of the body and spirit.
Seven: Eat well, says Psychology Today; sugar in particular can destabilize mood, so cutting waaaaaay back on sweets can be a huge boost to your natural chill. Also, stay hydrated. It’s easier to deal with life’s little annoyances when we’re not constipated and we’re free from dehydration headaches.
BONUS: Experience more pleasure, says Certified Women’s Health and Nutrition Specialist Nicole Negron: “Pleasure can be hard to attain when we live in a culture that rewards over-productivity. If you are living a life that is leaving you depleted and burned out, you will certainly be irritated. When a woman is stressed,” Nicole says, “her body begins to produce the stress hormone cortisol. If a woman has too much cortisol in her bloodstream, she is guaranteed to experience irritability, depression, and anxiety. Which all leads to inflammation in the body and then to disease.”
One answer? Orgasm: “When a woman experiences pleasure through orgasm, it stimulates those 8,000 nerve endings completely dedicated to pleasure and creativity.” Orgasms are great, but anything that brings you pleasure will work, says Nicole. “Other pleasurable activities can be sitting by the water, or dancing wildly after a shower to your favorite music. These pleasurable activities flood the body with nitric oxide which boosts endorphins, which in turn will minimize irritability and inflammation.” She suggests doing something that brings you pleasure once a day for at least 20 minutes. Tracking in a journal will help you see the success of your efforts.
Whether it’s tangled hangars or teens tangling over the TV remote, those little bumps in the road can sometimes feel like mountains. Huge, irritating, frustrating, insurmountable mountains. We know our responses are disproportionate, but we just can’t quite seem to get a grip like we used to. Making a few changes to your diet or self-care regimen can help you keep your cool.
What do you do to manage the irritation that comes with midlife? Share with us in the comments, on our Facebook page, or in our closed Facebook group! If you don’t share, we might get angry. And you won’t like us when we’re angry.
*Herbs and supplements can interact with medications, so before adding new things to your daily regimen, check with your doctor for potential concerns. If you feel your irritation is truly out of control, seek help from a medical professional.
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