CBT for menopausal symptoms
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a brief, non-medical approach that has shown to be helpful for a range of health problems, including anxiety and stress, depressed mood, hot flushes and night sweats, sleep problems and fatigue.
Professor Myra Hunter and Dr Melanie Smith in collaboration with the British Menopause Society have produced a very useful Women's Health Concern factsheet. Here's a taster of what it's about.
CBT helps people to develop practical ways of managing problems and provides new coping skills and useful strategies. For this reason, it can be a helpful approach to try because the skills can be applied to different problems, and can improve wellbeing in general.
CBT for anxiety and stress focuses on the links between physical symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behaviour. The way we think about symptoms in certain situations tends to affect how we feel and what we do, and these reactions can in turn increase intensity of bodily reactions.
CBT for low mood is helpful for people across the age range and when physical and emotional symptoms occur together. As for anxiety, low mood and hot flushes often occur together and the cognitive and behavioural strategies are helpful for both emotional and physical symptoms. When people are depressed, they tend to think more negatively about themselves, the world in general and have negative expectations about the future. Depressive thinking and behaviour can lead to a cycle of self-criticism and hopelessness, and many people often withdraw and avoid situations and end up feeling worse as a result. This can happen to people who would normally think quite differently, when they are not depressed.
CBT for hot flushes focuses on the links between physical symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behaviour. The way we think about symptoms in certain situations tends to affect the emotions we feel and what we do, and these reactions can in turn increase intensity of the hot flushes.
CBT for night sweats and sleep. As with hot flushes, take time to notice and manage worrying thoughts – eg about stress and loss of sleep. Ideally, set aside time during the day to address unhelpful thinking patterns or to manage problems or stress that may keep you awake at night. As part of a wind down routine, practising relaxation and paced breathing can reduce overall stress and provide a balance to busy lives. Paced breathing, when used regularly throughout the day, is then easier to apply at night to induce relaxation when required.
Here are some examples of changing 'catastrophic' thinking into calmer more helpful thoughts:
'I won't be able to function tomorrow' becomes 'I have managed before so I know I can cope'
'I'll never get a decent night's sleep again' becomes 'This is tough at the moment but it will pass'
'I've got so much to do tomorrow!' becomes 'I can prioritise what I need to do and a bit of distraction will help me get on with things.'