Can Stress Cause Menopause?
You’ve been going through a lot lately—and you know you’ve been stressed.
You’ve been feeling lethargic and worn-down. Maybe you or your spouse recently lost a job, or you’ve had a family member die. Or perhaps there is something else weighing heavily on your mind.
Either way, you now have a new source of stress.
Suddenly, you seem to be experiencing unusual symptoms. You’ve been skipping periods, and you are losing a lot of sleep. Your moods are all over the map. You may be experiencing headaches or other pains in your body. You’ve been sweating a lot.
What’s going on? Could you be going into early menopause? Or are you just really, really stressed? For that matter, could stress be causing you to experience premature menopause?
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Stress and Menopause (and Perimenopause) Have Some Similar Symptoms
First of all, menopause is not an abrupt transition. It is a gradual one which may take months or even years. Your production of estrogen and progesterone wind down slowly, a process called “perimenopause.” Only after you have gone 12 months without a period are you in menopause.
The symptoms of perimenopause and the symptoms of menopause are pretty much the same. They may include:
- Irregular or skipped periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Insomnia and other sleep disorders
- Metabolic changes, sometimes causing weight gain
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Sex drive changes (often loss of libido)
- Difficulties concentrating, thinking clearly, or remembering
- Digestive changes
- Tender breasts
- Loss of fullness in the breasts
This is not a full list. The experience of menopause can diverge from one woman to the next. You might also have other less common symptoms which are not on this list.
Now let’s look at some of the common symptoms of stress:
- Digestive discomfort
- Various muscle pains
- Insomnia and other sleep disorders
- Higher susceptibility to infections
- Sex drive changes (usually a lower libido)
- Sweating, especially the hands and feet
- Dry mouth
- Jaw pain (if you grind your teeth)
- Missed or irregular periods
- Hair loss (if the stress is from something extreme, like a surgery or infection)
- Metabolic changes, particularly if you binge eat, possibly leading to weight gain (the reverse can happen as well)
- Cognitive issues like racing thoughts, difficulty focusing, and forgetfulness
- Mood swings
Notice how many of these symptoms are overlaps? I’ve gone ahead and bolded them for you in both lists so that you can’t miss the similarities. In fact, more of the symptoms of stress and menopause overlap than don’t.
So you can see how severe stress could easily be confused with menopause, especially if you are at an age where you expect that you might be going into menopause.
It is possible that those missed periods, fatigue, mood swings, and other symptoms are symptomatic of menopause or perimenopause. But in many situations, you may just be really stressed.
It is worth mentioning at this point that other conditions can mimic both stress and menopause as well.
Various hormonal imbalances like PCOS, estrogen dominance, or thyroid disorders can produce many of the same symptoms.
I know this from experience since I have a hormonal imbalance, likely estrogen dominance. I too experience many of the symptoms on these lists on a daily basis (including some of the symptoms mentioned only on the menopause list). Doctors I saw suggested everything from pregnancy to early onset menopause. At the time, I was just 21.
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In the end, no doctor ever figured out what was going on with me. Hormones are a confusing, complicated, and misunderstood area of medical science.
I eventually deduced from my symptoms and experiments with home treatment what was likely going on. I have been treating the condition myself ever since.
So you shouldn’t jump to conclusions. You should always check whether something else might be happening with your body before assuming you are in menopause.
Key Point: One of the reasons why many people assume stress and menopause may have a causal relationship is because there are numerous common symptoms between the two. For this reason, severe stress may sometimes be confused with menopause and vice versa.
Right Now There is No Evidence to Conclude That Stress Can Directly Cause Menopause
So now let’s examine the question of causality. Let’s say you are super stressed, and you are around the age where you are expecting menopause. Can your stress symptoms somehow “evolve” into menopause?
I’ve read conflicting things about this—but I have yet to find any claim from a scientific, trustworthy source which indicates that stress can in any way lead to menopause.
Here is an article which discusses potential causes of premature menopause. Exactly what leads to premature menopause is unclear, but factors which may play a role include:
- Genetics. There are certain disorders which may make premature menopause more likely.
- Auto-immune diseases. Apparently around 30-60% of cases of premature menopause occur in conjunction with auto-immune diseases. These might include Addison’s, thyroid disorders, and so forth.
- Infections. Certain infections are associated with premature menopause, the most common being mumps.
- Smoking. If you are a smoker, this can bring on premature menopause. This is thought to be a reaction to the polycyclic hydrocarbons in cigarette smoke.
- Other issues involving poor health, nutrition and lifestyle. If you have spent much of your life being sickly or malnourished in some way, that could lead to an earlier menopause.
- Certain medical treatments. If you undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments, this can lead to menopause under certain conditions. I recommend clicking through to the article and reading the relevant section to get an in-depth understanding of how this works.
- Surgery. Hysterectomies can lead to ovarian failure. Indeed, this happens somewhere between 15-50% of the time.
- Drugs. Chemotherapeutic drugs or GnRH therapy may lead to premature menopause.
Nowhere on that list is there any mention of stress as a cause of menopause.
Now, that being said, one can imagine scenarios where stress might indirectly play into the onset of menopause.
A lot of people who smoke do so because they are trying to cope with stress and anxiety. If you take up smoking because you are stressed out, that could end up causing premature menopause.
Likewise, if you have a tendency to not eat right when you are stressed, and you are stressed most of the time, you could deprive yourself regularly of the nutrition you need to function at your best. Poor lifestyle choices like this could contribute to the onset of menopause.
Stress can also have other adverse health effects, potentially playing a role in heart disease and other conditions.
So it is important to get a handle on your stress. So long as your lifestyle is healthy, stress is not going to cause you to go into menopause, but it may cause an array of other problems.
Key Point: Right now there is no evidence that stress can lead directly to menopause. If however you compromise a healthy lifestyle in response to stress, you could end up engaging in poor habits which are implicated in premature menopause.
Stress Can Exacerbate the Symptoms of Menopause
One other thing to consider when it comes to stress and menopause is the fact that menopause itself can be a very stressful time of life.
Let’s say you do find out that you are going through menopause. There are quite a few reasons why this may cause you stress:
- Your physical symptoms may be annoying or excruciating, depending on how severe they are. Either way pain and discomfort are no fun for anyone, and naturally they are stressful.
- If you were hoping to get pregnant and are either in menopause or perimenopause, that can also be a source of distress. If you are still in perimenopause, it is possible to get pregnant. You may want to talk to a fertility specialist about what you can do to increase your chances.
- Issues with sex and intimacy may cause stress. Vaginal dryness, painful physical symptoms, and lower libido can make a mess of your life in the bedroom. You can still enjoy a great sex life after menopause, but you have to take a different outlook and approach to make it work. In any case, this change can be another source of frustration. Issues with emotional intimacy may also crop up, especially if you are having a hard time managing your moods.
- Mood fluctuations associated with menopause are stressful by nature. Being anxious or depressed is unpleasant. So is being angry or dealing with any of the other widely ranging emotions which can sweep through like a tempest every day.
- There may be changes in your appearance you do not like. Perhaps you have put on a lot of weight, or your hair is thinning out. Looking in the mirror at a physique you are unhappy with can be very frustrating.
- When it is hard to think clearly, trying to get through daily tasks can be extra frustrating—especially if mistakes ensue. You may find you need to exert yourself a lot more just to complete a day’s work. Cognitive symptoms like these may also amp up your anxiety.
- Menopause is a reminder of mortality. Menopause is the start of a new phase of life, but there is no denying it is also the end of one too. This can be quite depressing if you fixate on it.
- There are other things which coincidentally may be going on in life during this stage which are stressful. Perhaps the kids have just moved out, or aging relatives have passed on. Maybe you are having a hard time finding a place in the workforce. All of these can be incredibly stressful experiences.
Stress may not be able to cause menopause, but it can worsen menopause symptoms. After all, many of the symptoms of stress and menopause overlap, as previously discussed. So if you let your stress ramp up out of control, you are “doubling up” on your symptoms and exacerbating them.
Think about it for a moment … if you are in menopause, you may feel very fatigued. But if you are stressed out, you are just pilling on more fatigue. You may end up twice as exhausted.
Likewise, say you have a migraine caused by hormonal fluctuations. You can bet that if you are also all tensed up from stress that you are going to make that headache even worse. You could even add a tension headache on top of the migraine.
Or think about sweating. Night sweats with menopause are bad enough. The last thing you need is more sweating from stress.
At that rate, consider insomnia. Night sweats, hot flashes, and hormonal fluctuations can all keep you awake when you desperately need rest. But so can the racing thoughts that go with stress.
Considering all this, it is easy to see why some people worry that stress can cause menopause. Even though it cannot, causing the symptoms which make menopause so unpleasant to get worse is bad enough all on its own.
Key Point: Because stress and menopause have so many overlapping symptoms, stress can make the symptoms of menopause more severe. Getting your stress under control may help you to reduce the intensity of your menopause symptoms.
What Can You Do About Stress?
There will always be stress in your life; there is no getting around that. But while you cannot choose all of your emotions, you can choose how you respond to them. Here are a few things you can do to help mitigate the effects of stress:
- Exercise has been shown to reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. It also is great for you all around, and may help with some of the other symptoms of menopause (i.e. weight gain).
- You can try meditating. This can keep stress and anxiety at bay. There are numerous different techniques passed down through tradition which may produce results. If none of them work for you, come up with your own.
- Breathe correctly. Use your diaphragm. Try breathing in for four seconds, holding for a count of four, releasing for a count of four, and waiting for a count of four. When we are stressed or anxious, we tend to suck in more air than we need (which can cause hyperventilation and dizziness). When you breathe slowly and spend less time inhaling, you are sending your body the message, “Hey, we’re calm. We’re doing okay.” This can trick your mind into relaxing.
- Do something you enjoy. It does not matter what it is. Make a craft, play a videogame, read a book, play a sport, go on a hike. Take a trip. Whatever you are passionate about, engage with it. Stay active and keep your mind occupied with something worthwhile.
Remember that it takes time and effort to identify stress reduction techniques which work for you. So if you do not find an answer right away, keep at it—eventually, you will find something that does the trick.
Key Point: Stress is hard to deal with, and it is an unavoidable fact of life. But you can try exercising, meditating, deep breathing, and other techniques to reduce its impact.
Conclusion: Stress and Menopause Have a Complex Relationship, But Stress Does Not Cause Menopause
Stress and menopause have many of the same symptoms, so much so that they may be confused with one another. Having those symptoms might mean you are in menopause or perimenopause—but it could also mean you are just stressed. If you are, you do not need to worry about stress leading to menopause; there is no medical evidence for that.
If you are in menopause, then stress can make your symptoms more debilitating. This can happen in perimenopause as well, but will not in and of itself cause menopause to happen sooner. In all cases, chronic stress is bad for your physical and psychological health, so taking steps to cope with it in a healthy manner is essential.