Menopause and anxiety: Claire Sweeney signs up to Dancing On Ice to fight ‘vulnerabilities’

Claire Sweeney at the European Diversity Awards in 2022. She has spoken about her menopause anxiety. (Getty Images)
Claire Sweeney has revealed one of the reasons she signed up for Dancing On Ice was to tackle menopause anxiety. (Getty Images)

Claire Sweeney has shared that a big reason for her signing up to the 2024 series of Dancing On Ice was to battle her menopause anxieties.

The actor, 52, revealed wanted to tackle the "vulnerabilities and anxieties" that she has been experiencing during this period of her life.

Explaining why she said yes to the show, she told Prima magazine: "I wanted to challenge myself.

"You get little vulnerabilities and anxieties with menopause and you start to lose your bottle as you get older, so I want to conquer some fears and get my confidence and chutzpah back.

"It’s going to be good for me. When I stepped on to the ice for the first time, I had this feeling of euphoria. It was such an adrenaline rush, I loved it – how great at 52 years of age."

It isn't the first time Sweeney has discussed the symptoms she's experienced that are associated with the menopause and perimenopause.

"I’m not in the menopause at the moment," she previously told OK!. "I’m what they call perimenopausal. But it does affect you. I get a bit of anxiety sometimes but I’ve got it in hand because I’m taking the things you need to take to keep it in hand."

Anxiety is one of the main symptoms of menopause. (Getty Images)
Anxiety is one of the main symptoms of menopause. (Getty Images)

The link between menopause and anxiety

According to Dr Sarah Ball, GP and menopause doctor at Health In Menopause, anxiety, as well as other psychological issues, are very common symptoms of menopause and perimenopause; but the link is rarely made by women themselves or by health care professionals.

"The mood changes that many women experience during the menopause and the years leading up to the menopause (called the perimenopause) are chiefly due to shifts in hormone levels," Dr Ball explains.

"The fluctuations and ultimate decline in oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone influences the brain's chemical balance. In addition, other menopause symptoms can add to feelings of anxiety."

Dr Ball says hormonal changes during the menopause and perimenopause can significantly impact mental health.

"During perimenopause, when periods are ongoing, but ovarian function is faltering, levels of oestrogen can alter dramatically from very high at some points in our cycle (midcycle), to very low levels of oestrogen during the second half of the menstrual cycle," she explains.

"Both extremes, and notably the decline from high to low levels can significantly impact various neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain)."

Watch: NHS should offer women therapy for the menopause, new guidance says

The decline in progesterone in perimenopause also has an impact as progesterone is a natural calming, sedating hormone for most women.

"Testosterone also declines in women gradually from their early-mid thirties and this can negatively affect mood," Dr Ball adds.

All of these hormonal changes leads to a reduced moderating effect on neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine as well as so-called ‘stress hormones’ like cortisol and adrenaline, leading to heightened stress responses and potentially harmful changes to numerous chemical messengers in our brain, negatively influencing mental health.

Thankfully, there are some ways to overcome or manage anxiety associated with menopause and perimenopause.

Self-care can help overcome menopause anxiety. (Getty Images)
Self-care can help overcome menopause anxiety. (Getty Images)

How to overcome menopause anxiety

  • Recognise the symptoms - Dr Ball says it is worth trying to learn proactively about menopause and perimenopause so that you are more likely to recognise symptoms. "It is common for us to overlook hormone changes and instead blame our busy lives or relationship or job issues," she says

  • Keep a mood diary to identify triggers

  • Communicate with friends and family for support

  • Practice controlled breathing and maintaining a good sleep regime

  • Eat a healthy diet and avoiding high sugar content foods

  • Reduce alcohol intake. "Many use alcohol to help reduce feelings of anxiety, but this will have a rebound effect and carries other health risks," Dr Ball advises

  • Reduce caffeine intake

  • Regular exercise and engaging in enjoyable activities, such as yoga, meditation, gardening, or crafts

  • Focus on activities that bring achievement, connection, and enjoyment

  • Avoid overcommitment and set realistic short-term goals

  • Utilise resources from organisations like the NHS, No Panic, and Mind

If self-help strategies are insufficient, there are some medical interventions that could be considered including:

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to balance and/or replace hormones and alleviate symptoms

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is effective for anxiety and depression

  • Medication prescribed by a GP for managing anxiety. In the context of menopause or perimenopause, these will usually not work well if hormonal issues have not been addressed

For more information on the menopause and perimenopause visit the NHS website on things you can do to help and treatment options.

Speak to your GP, nurse or pharmacist for advice and help with your symptoms, find your nearest NHS or private menopause specialist on the British Menopause Society website, or find an NHS psychological therapies service.

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