Steps singer Claire Richards has revealed that menopause-related anxiety left her housebound and with heart palpitations.
The 45-year-old said she first spotted the signs of perimenopause – the name for when you have menopause symptoms before your periods stop –- while filming ITV’s The Masked Singer in October last year.
"This last year has been a weird one. I started getting perimenopause symptoms and I was like, ‘Hold on a second, I don’t like this’," she told The Mirror.
"When I was doing The Masked Singer, the anxiety was horrendous. I was having the worst palpitations, pounding through my neck. I didn’t feel I could give it my best at all."
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Richards added that the anxiety she felt got so bad that she struggled to leave her home.
"You kind of feel like you’re shrivelling up from the inside out. It took me a long time to address it. It’s a milestone, isn’t it?" she added.
"I’m not an angry person at all, but you can feel it rising. My husband knows I’m going through something and he’s been really patient."
How common is menopause-related anxiety?
Low mood, anxiety, mood swings, low concentration and brain fog are all listed as common symptoms of menopause and perimenopause by the NHS, but symptoms can be different for everyone.
A 2014 study found that 51% of women between the ages of 40 to 55 feel anxiety symptoms, compared to 25% of premenopausal women.
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"Anxiety symptoms are most common in women at the perimenopausal transition. This is the five years or so in the run up to the last menstrual period," Dr Deborah Lee, from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, says.
"The average age of menopause is age 51 but the normal range is 45 to 55 – so it is very variable. Anxiety symptoms have been shown to correlate with vasomotor symptoms – hot flushes and night sweats."
While the exact cause of anxiety during menopause is not known, Dr Lee says steroid hormones such as oestrogen are known to affect the hypothalamus area of the brain, which is responsible for stress response, and the hippocampus, which can regulate mood.
"Changes in oestrogen levels are thought to alter the release of serotonin and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA)," she adds.
"Serotonin is often called ‘the happy hormone’ as it plays a major role in mood, and GABA is the main neurotransmitter in the GABA pathway – a major anti-anxiety pathway, which helps calm fear and anxiety, induces feeling of pleasure, relaxation and helps with sleep."
Menopause and mental health
Along with anxiety and depression, Dr Lee says that there are other mental health conditions that can occur during menopause and perimenopause. These include:
Anger and irritability
An increased risk of panic attacks, and panic disorder
Feelings of anticipation, dread or fear
Loss of self-esteem
Loss of confidence
Low mood, mood swings and feelings of sadness or depression
Women can feel intensely sad and emotional and have crying spells. They can also experience mood changes from laughing one minute to crying the next.
Tiredness and lethargy
At the menopausal transition, low oestrogen levels can also trigger psychotic episodes in those with schizophrenia
If you notice you are suffering from one of several of these conditions, it’s important to seek help from your GP who can work out a treatment plan with you.
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The NHS says symptoms can last for months and even years and can change with time. Most mental health symptoms should ease or stop entirely in post menopause, but some women continue to have symptoms for longer.
The health service recommends eating well and looking after your mental health during perimenopause and menopause, including doing regular exercise, doing relaxing activities like yoga, tai chi or meditation and talking to others going through the same thing.
For more information on menopause and mental health, visit NHS Inform.