7 Tips to Quell Anxiety and Hot Flashes
You feel a rush of heat in your chest, face, and neck. Your heart starts beating rapidly, and you feel yourself abruptly drenched in sweat. Your adrenaline has kicked into overdrive, and the heat is unbearable.
It’s the fourth time you’ve woken up soaked in your own sweat tonight, and you are starting to wonder if you will ever get a restful night of sleep again. You get up, change your nightclothes, mop yourself down with a towel, and crawl back into your damp sheets. Things are starting to cool down, but you are already dreading the next attack.
This is what a hot flash is like. The experience varies from one woman to the next, but pretty much everyone can agree on one thing: hot flashes are among the most disruptive symptoms of menopause. If they disturb your sleep enough, they can lead to stress, insomnia, fatigue, and a slew of other problems which can affect you day and night.
What Causes Hot Flashes?
Researchers still have more questions than answers when it comes to estrogen, progesterone, menstrual cycles, and menopause. Does low estrogen cause hot flashes? Maybe, but it appears to be related more to the decrease in estrogen levels—rather than the amount of estrogen present. Otherwise hot flashes would likely be more common in women with low estrogen outside of menopause
The going theory is that falling estrogen leads your hypothalamus to detect (ironically) too much heat in your body. In order to compensate, extra hormones are released to try and reduce your body temperature. The result is a rise in heart rate and dilation in your blood vessels—both designed to dissipate the extra heat. Sweating kicks in, and you have a hot flash, complete with soaked sheets and clothing, lightheadedness, and a racing heart.
Can you simply take hormones to try and put a stop to hot flashes? Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) used to be prescribed quite often by doctors. But then the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) shed new light on the dangers of HRT. The Women’s Health Initiative was one of the largest prevention studies ever conducted in the US, and found that HRT can result in an increased risk for a number of potentially lethal diseases: breast cancer, stroke, blood clots, and heart attack.
This is why I recommend that you take a healthy herbal supplement to balance your hormones instead. That way you are taking a gentler approach which stimulates your body’s production of hormones. Over time, you will adjust to your new hormone profile, but a supplement can do a lot to help control your symptoms during the most intense periods of menopause.
The Surprising Role of Anxiety in Hot Flashes
Interestingly enough however, the falling levels of estrogen in menopause do not appear to be the only cause of hot flashes.
This study set out to look at the relationship between anxiety and hot flashes during the early stages of menopause.
The women who participated in the study were all in perimenopause at the start, and were followed up with over a period of six years. The researchers found that “Anxiety scores were significantly associated with the occurrence of hot flashes and were also significantly associated with the severity and frequency of hot flashes.”
Women in the study who had moderate anxiety were three times as likely to report hot flashes as women with normal levels of anxiety.
Women with high levels of anxiety were almost five times as likely to report hot flashes as women with normal anxiety levels.
The researchers adjusted for a wide range of factors when assessing the data from the study, including lifestyle, body mass index, race, age, depression, and more. After the adjustments were made, anxiety still measured as a strong predictive factor for hot flashes.
That means that not only your body, but also your mind, can play a role in your hot flashes. While that might not sound like good news, look at it this way. Your mind is something you have some control over. There is a lot you can do to relegate your anxiety. That might mean that you can reduce the frequency and severity of your hot flashes simply by quieting your mind.
Just think—if you have moderate anxiety now and can reduce it to milder levels, you could cut down on your hot flashes to the point where they are only happening about a third as often as they are now.
7 Methods for Treating Anxiety to Help Control Hot Flashes
So what are some techniques you can use to reduce your anxiety, and by doing so, potentially reduce the severity of your hot flashes?
1. Exercise regularly
Exercise is a great way to reduce anxiety along with depression. Interestingly enough, working out regularly also seems to be tied to extraversion and seeking sensory experiences.
Remember, to get the most out of exercise, it needs to be done diligently on an ongoing basis. One day here or there isn’t going to cut it, though many anxiety sufferers report some immediate relief while working out. But for an overall improvement to your mood, working out at least several days a week every week is a must.
2. Breathe correctly
When you are having a panic attack, do you notice a tendency to hyperventilate? And think about when you experience a hot flash. Then too you may habitually resort to fast, shallow breathing.
Panic and hot flashes have a lot of physical sensations in common; both can lead you to feel unnaturally warm, lightheaded, and dizzy. Both involve a racing heart. Both can leave you drenched in sweat.
In fact, this may be one of the ways in which the two are interrelated. If you suffer from panic disorder, anything that feels like panic can actually spawn an anxiety attack.
So if you are experiencing a hot flash, do your best to control your breathing. Take deep, slow, steady breaths from your diaphragm, not your chest. This may help to prevent a hot flash from spiraling into a panic attack. If you panic during a hot flash, it makes sense that your hot flash symptoms would become more severe.
Practicing correct breathing throughout the day can help to mitigate anxiety as well, and serves as one possible form of meditation.
Multiple studies have examined the usefulness of mindfulness meditation in treating anxiety and other mood disorders. Research presently indicates that mindfulness meditation really can have a significant effect in reducing anxiety and depression.
One thing which is helpful to know if you are a beginner is that there is no one “right” method for meditating. You need to find something which works for you. While mindfulness has great results and is an excellent starting point, you might find something else works better for you. Also keep in mind that if there are dissociative elements involved in your anxiety, you should take extra care. Certain forms of meditation will make dissociation worse.
4. Try CBT
Something else you can try is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT involves realigning your thoughts and expectations in order to transform your emotions. With CBT, you reframe how you look at situations, identifying cognitive biases and other flaws in your thought patterns which make anxiety worse.
So say for example that your hot flashes are themselves a source of anxiety. With CBT, you might learn to reframe how you think about hot flashes. You might remind yourself before you even go to bed at night, “I will probably wake up with hot flashes several times. Experience tells me that they will end within a few minutes if I just let go of my fear/attempts to control them. Usually I still get at least seven hours of sleep each night, and that is enough.”
You might also remind yourself, “The symptoms of hot flashes feel like the symptoms of a panic attack. Both feel frightening, but both are harmless experiences. My life is not in danger and neither is my sanity.”
5. Tackle life problems proactively
Anxiety isn’t always baseless. If there is a specific identifiable factor in your life which is causing your anxiety and which you may be able to influence, you should tackle it head-on. If you can remove a stressor, it is unnecessary. There is no reason to put up with any more anxiety than you have to.
Just making some positive changes in your life could make your entire menopause go more smoothly.
6. Balance your priorities and make time to relax
If you are constantly juggling work, social obligations and other tasks that you need to do, you probably will not find a lot of time for what you want to do.
This is not a healthy way to move through life, but it is the norm for many people. If you are not making time to relax, you are going to be shouldering an overabundance of stress, and naturally that is going to cause chronic anxiety.
Clear out any unnecessary activities from your week that you do not really want to do. You may need to think hard about what constitutes “unnecessary” in order to do this. Even just taking a few hours each week to do something totally for yourself can significantly reduce your anxiety.
7. Get help if you need it
Finally, sometimes you can benefit from outside perspective. In some cases, that might mean talking to family or friends. Other times, you might be able to get advice online which can help you. Still other times you might need to reach out to a professional to get a fresh perspective. There is no point trying to battle your anxiety in a vacuum if you are not getting anywhere. None of us can function totally on our own.
Tame the Fires In Your Mind to Tame the Fires in Your Body
You will probably never get to a point where you are 100% calm all the time, nor is it a reasonable aim. Now and again, anxiety does serve a purpose. Sometimes it lets us know when something is genuinely wrong in our lives and warns us to take action.
But unnecessary chronic anxiety can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds. In menopause, that can mean more frequent and severe hot flashes. But if you can reduce your anxiety levels, you can also reduce your hot flashes. So stop dreading your hot flashes. Instead, cultivate equanimity, and watch your hot flashes decline on their own!