How Does Stress Affect Health During Menopause?


You know when you're under too much pressure, but how does stress affect health in the menopausal years?

Getting on for half of all adults have health problems related to stress at some point in their lives, and doctors reckon that more than three-quarters of their patients are suffering from stress-related disorders.

During the menopause, life can become particularly stressful for women. So many stress causes seem to collide when you hit midlife. Teenage kids, your own ageing parents, loss of direction leading to 'midlife crisis' (your own or your partner's), lack of a partner, health concerns, workplace worries, relationship problems...it's enough to make a strong woman buckle at the knees!

Add to this the bodily and psychological changes brought about by the menopause, and it's no wonder you're wanting to know, just how does stress affect health?

Stress Effects

Mature woman under stress

A certain amount of stress is good. A touch of pressure can be enough to make you perform better, stimulate new ideas and urge you to rise to a challenge.

But when stress becomes overwhelming, it's bad news. And that's when the uwelcome effects of stress and menopause kick in.

Stress and body fat

It's stress that lies behind the fact that weight loss in menopause is hard.

When you're under "bad stress" - the type that makes you want to tear your hair out - your body triggers your adrenal glands to release cortisol.

Cortisol does a great job of damping down the mental responses to stress - fear and anxiety - in your brain. The downside is, it wreaks havoc in your bloodstream, by hi-jacking your metabolism, and increasing the amount of insulin you produce.

This in turn causes insulin resistance, and prompts your body to lay down fat just where you don't want it - around your middle.

This is what causes an apple shape body to develop. Belly fat is packed with large fat cells that are hyper-sensitive to cortisol. Not only that, it releases a regular flow of fat into your blood.

If you want to lose belly fat, you'll know that it's notoriously hard to shift - and it's stress that has helped belly fat to develop.

Stress eating

If you're constantly grabbing food in a hurry, never stop to think about what you're eating, or how much because you simply don't have time, then you are stress eating. The relationship between cortisol and stress is important here. You might also be an emotional eater into the bargain. You'll know if you are, because whenever you're under stress you turn to food.

And, alas, a pile of carrot sticks are not what you crave. Emotional eaters head for sweet, fatty, high-calorie foods to help salve their stress.

It's a vicious circle, because not only does the food fail to cure the underlying stresses, it also leads to increased belly fat in menopause...which in turn causes more stress.


The question, how does stress affect health, is one that can churn around in your head all night long. It's often hard to sleep when you're under stress.

Insomnia during menopause doesn't just leave you feeling tired out. It also has an effect on your body. Scientific studies show that lack of sleep can affect your metabolism and make you feel hungrier, so that you eat more.

If you want to shed weight, it's important to get a good night's rest - which means tackling any stresses that are giving you sleepless nights.

Anxiety and depression

Perimenopausal depression and anxiety in menopause can creep up on you, and stress makes them worse.

Stress relief techniques can be very helpful in also working out how to deal with depression and anxiety. Exercise can also be useful, as it lifts your mood and helps to distract you from any worries.

Other effects of stress

How does stress affect health in other ways?

Unrelieved stress can cause a whole litany of symptoms, from raised blood pressure and heart problems, to skin rashes, nausea, headaches and other aches and pains, diabetes, asthma and arthritis.

It's easy dismiss stress as part of daily life in the 21st century - something we all have to live with.

But now you know how stress affects your health, your mind, your body and your weight, it makes sense to make use of proven ways to relieve stress, and make yourself happier and healthier.

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Stress makes you age faster

Our tendency to choose high fat foods when we're stressed, combined with changes in our blood - "stress soup" - can have serious effects on health, and cause age-related diseases to attack us earlier.

From research findings of Dr Elissa Epel, University of California San Francisco, Department of Psychiatry


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