Well, this is new, I thought to myself as the familiar sensation of a shallow breathing and a racing heart hit me in the grocery store check-out line.
Months before the pandemic became our new normal, I had started having them almost every night: short-lived panic attacks featuring a tightening in my chest, racing heartbeat and shallow breathing that would last just long enough for me to notice and recognize them for what they are. I’d start my deep breathing exercise to calm myself down. (Here’s my favorite and simple technique as taught by Dr. Andrew Weil.)
Usually, these sensations hit in the evening once I’ve rushed through the never-ending to-do list — Exercise! Work! Chores! — and finally collapsed on the couch to watch TV with my husband.
Now here it was happening again as I tried to empty my cart onto the conveyor belt to check out at our small urban (read: too closely packed for a pandemic) grocery store.
At that moment, I knew three things to be true:
No one wants to wait for me to do my Dr. Weil breathing exercises (besides, deep breathing fogs up my glasses!).
Stress can trigger anxiety and panic — and what’s more stressful than a crowded grocery store in a global pandemic?
Anxiety is a common experience during menopause, panic attacks too.
All three thoughts helped me focus on the task at hand. I acknowledged that what was triggering my racing heart was my deep desire to get out and get home, so I finished up, grabbed my bags and concentrated on my slowing my breathing as I walked home.
Talk it out
At my checkup this year, I spoke openly to my doctor about my panic attacks. She wasn’t surprised to hear about them and noted that fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone during menopause can cause feelings of anxiety or depression.
Indeed, here are two important stats to know about anxiety and menopause:
23 percent of peri- and postmenopausal women say they experience mood changes, according to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). (Additionally, states NAMS, symptoms of anxiety—tension, nervousness, panic, and worry—are reported more frequently during perimenopause than before it, regardless of whether symptoms of depression are present or not.)
72 percent of women suffering from anxiety say it has a moderate or extreme impact on their quality of life, according to a WebMD/HealthyWomen.org survey. (One-third of premenopausal women are more likely to say they have anxiety compared to other menopause stages.)
Often, we are SO focused on the physical changes that can come with menopause — the end of menstruation, for sure, but also weight gain and hot flashes — that we can forget that menopause can bring mental health changes as well.
As with all of our self-health needs, listen to your body when it’s telling you something. For me, I find acknowledging that yes, I am a bit anxious at this moment in time and it’s ok always gives me a moment to catch my breath and calm down.
This too shall pass.
Are you experiencing panic attacks too? Check out this good roundup of coping techniques from Healthline.
Quick Thoughts for a Pause
A GenX Bedtime Story This probably isn’t the best book to fall asleep to, but Ada Calhoun’s Why We Can’t Sleep, Women’s New Midlife Crisis will at least help you track the source of your midlife anxiety to realize you’re not imagining it and it’s not just you.
Menopause at Work Do you ever talk about your menopause symptoms at work — or today, on a Zoom call? Yeah, we don’t either. In “It’s Time to Start Talking About Menopause at Work,” Jeneva Patterson, a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership in Brussels, says it’s time to break this taboo and get real. You go first…
Trigger Warning We’re focusing on panic attacks in this edition of thePause but for those of us who have had a previous diagnosis of major depression or anxiety disorder, the risk to our mental health is greater during the perimenopausal time, according to Jennifer Payne, director of the Women's Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins University. If you're having serious depression, and your functioning is affected, if you're having suicidal thoughts, or you feel completely hopeless, that is a major depressive episode that absolutely needs treatment," she says.
If you are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, help is always available at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
One More Thing…
If you need a little more than a few deep breaths to get yourself together, try giving yourself a quick Japanese Do-In energy massage. In this 10-minute video, Gunilla Hamre from Peaceful Heart Network shows how.
It's the terror of knowing what this world is about
Watching some good friends screaming, "Let me out!"
— Under Pressure, Queen/David Bowie
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