‘I’ve always been an independent, capable woman and now I panic about driving along a motorway – what’s wrong with me?’
This is a very common scenario that I am presented with, in my profession as a Psychotherapist working with women experiencing menopausal changes. Whilst the physical symptoms of hot flushes and lack of sleep are heavily documented, the psychological impact of the menopause can be less obvious.
Many of my clients feel they are going slowly mad as simple day to day activities, once just carried out automatically, now fill them with self-doubt and anxiety. In particular, driving on motorways is a common complaint, which on the face of it seems ridiculous but actually makes sense once the shift in hormones is understood.
The deprivation of oestrogen leads to a reduction of blood flow to the brain which in turn causes blood vessels to constrict. The result of this can be a tendency to become clumsier, a reduced reaction time and a lack of ability to judge distances which is all wrapped around a fogginess of indecision. If that’s not enough, progesterone that fuels calm and promotes sleep also begins to diminish which means that it is less effective at helping with stress or anxious feelings.
For many of my clients, as they approach 50 they are also dealing with other life crises such as aging parents and difficult teenagers which can exacerbate anxiety. Exploring this in a session uncovers that when they are driving on certain roads such as motorways it presents an opportunity to overthink and this is when anxiety starts to creep in as overwhelm and feelings of out of control take over. Although the association is with driving, the anxiety is actually from different perceptions about certain aspects of their life and how they are generally feeling.
Understanding this can really help clients to gain perspective and relief that they are not going mad! It is one thing to gain awareness, and quite another to reach a level of acceptance that changes have to be made to be able to manage on a daily basis. For some, this may mean limiting alcohol to ensure a good night’s sleep and/or having an hour in the day for ‘me’ time – not always easy but sometimes a necessity.
Karen Francis www.retrainyourbrain.co.uk
Anxiety and Performance Specialist