Steps star Claire Richards left housebound with 'horrendous' menopause-related anxiety

Some 51% of menopausal women between the ages of 40 to 55 feel anxiety symptoms, which can manifest in a number of ways.

Claire Richards has had anxiety due to menopause
Claire Richards, from Steps, says anxiety caused by menopause has left her housebound. (Getty Images)

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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LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: Claire Richards performs during Barclaycard Presents British Summer Time Hyde Park at Hyde Park on July 05, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Claire first noticed the symptoms of perimenopause when she was performing on The Masked Singer. (Getty Images)

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.

Read more: How menopause can affect your mood and other things you need to know - Yahoo Life UK, 9-min read

"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."

37% of respondents said they didn't know very much about what happens during menopause. (YouGov)

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

  • Forgetfulness

  • Feelings of anticipation, dread or fear

  • Loss of self-esteem

  • Loss of confidence

  • Low mood, mood swings and feelings of sadness or depression

  • Poor concentration

  • 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.

  • Insomnia

  • Tiredness and lethargy

Beautiful woman practising yoga in her living room. Arms crossing and interlinking as she crosses and bends her legs, face hidden. Neutral wall colour, wood panelling and sportswear. Green plant in corner of room.
Relaxing activities like yoga or mediation can help with anxiety during menopause. (Getty Images)

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.