Women experiencing menopause symptoms can benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps them to better manage their symptoms and make lifestyle changes that enable them to live healthier lives
Menopause is a natural transition that marks the end of a woman's reproductive years. A range of physical and emotional changes, such as hot flashes, mood swings, sleep disturbances, and decreased libido, typically accompanies it. While these changes are normal and expected, they can be disruptive and uncomfortable for many women. In the UK alone, it is estimated that around 13 million women are going through menopause or perimenopause with one in ten leaving their jobs due to the severity of the symptoms.
Recent studies, in the UK and the Netherlands, with over 600 women, have suggested that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be beneficial in helping women cope with such physical and psychological symptoms of menopause.
What Is CBT?
CBT is a type of psychotherapy focusing on the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It can help individuals identify and modify unhelpful thoughts and behaviors causing distress. This therapy has been successfully used to treat various mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, and it can be helpful for women during menopause.
How Can CBT Improve Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes are spontaneous episodes of warmth or sweating that are usually felt on the chest, neck, and face. The main theory is that hormone fluctuations impact a woman’s thermoregulatory system in the brain. CBT does not prevent those physiological changes, but it offers effective ways to calm the stress response (which can exacerbate hot flashes) and cope with physical symptoms.
Thoughts can powerfully influence how we feel and what we do. For instance, a woman in a work meeting having a hot flash may think, Everyone can see me sweat and must think there’s something wrong with me. If I talk now, I’m just going to mess up and look incompetent! Those thoughts not only are inaccurate, but also may cause her to leave the meeting—a problematic way of coping. Reframing the experience could sound something like, This is not a great time for a hot flash, but I know how to cope. I will remove a layer, drink water, and engage in paced breathing to cool down. It will pass within a couple of minutes. This response is more accurate and likely to reduce the distress, interference, and duration of the hot flash.
CBT for Depression and Anxiety
The unexpected appearance of menopausal symptoms can take a toll on your mood and cause a lot of anxiety. Plus, some people are more prone to depression during the menopausal transition, according to the British Menopause Society.
CBT can help women identify and address the negative thought patterns that can lead to anxiety and depression during menopause. Stress can exacerbate menopausal symptoms, so it is essential to find ways to reduce stress. A cognitive behavioral therapist can help women identify the sources of their stress and develop strategies to mitigate its impact. This may involve identifying and challenging unhelpful thoughts, developing relaxation techniques, and learning to manage emotions.
CBT can also aid with sleep difficulties. Sleep disruptions affect many people during perimenopause and menopause. Sometimes, it’s the result of stress, and sometimes it’s the result of other menopausal symptoms that make it harder to sleep well. Depression and anxiety can also affect sleep. Research shows that CBT helps many women sleep better during menopause.
CBT can be a powerful tool for women to manage the symptoms and changes associated with menopause. It can help them identify and address unhelpful thoughts and behaviors, contain stress levels, and adjust to the changes that come with menopause. If you are struggling with menopausal symptoms, it is worth considering CBT to manage your symptoms and navigate the transition.