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  • Writer's pictureTanith Carey

Rediscovering Joy: Overcoming Anhedonia in Midlife

by Tanith Carey




As a woman hitting mid-life  these days, it’s impossible not to be inundated by information about hot flushes, dry skin, lowered libido, and many of the other physical symptoms that can come with menopause.

But for all this chatter, there's a good chance you've still not heard about the one more menopause symptoms that could be colouring your whole experience of life.

It’s feeling BLAH - or emotionally flatlined - and finding it hard to enjoy the activities you used to love.

Yet  without realising it, too many of us accept Anhedonia – the scientific name for this   -  as an inevitable consequence of being a midlife woman in a stressful modern world.

But as the author of the first book to look at the reasons  behind this: “Feeling Blah?’ I’m here to tell you, you don’t have to accept this as your status quo.

So what are some of the possible reasons?

One big contributor is the shifting hormones in perimenopause and menopause. Here's why.

Far from just ruling the ovaries, many areas of the brain are packed with oestrogen receptors. They include the regions in the reward circuit, like the amygdala and the hippocampus.

As women stop ovulating – and producing oestrogen – studies show this has a knock-on effect on the feel-good chemicals, dopamine, and serotonin.

Oestrogen has also been found to stimulate the  dopamine receptors in your brain too.

So, falling levels mean that less dopamine is released into our brain’s reward system, where your good feelings are actually made.

There’s one other way falling oestrogen affects your mood. 

The female sex hormone also buffers the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol.

When it starts falling away, cortisol starts to get the upper hand. 

So this will explain why you start feeling more anxious and panicky about small things that never bothered them before. 

And oestrogen isn’t the only chemical involved.

Other hormones and neurotransmitters also stop working in harmony in perimenopause and menopause. 

Levels of progesterone, a hormone which naturally calms you, also drops off. 

Meanwhile, just to add to the miex, our levels of the male hormone, testosterone, which gives us sense of confidence, and GABA, a moderating neurotransmitter, also fall away

Because of this perfect storm – some might say whirlwind – it’s hardly surprising that the majority of women say they feel more bothered by small things that didn’t affect them before.

One common thing I hear is that women who were confident drivers ( and I include myself here)  now find themselves getting nervous about driving on motorways, or waking up worrying about their to-do lists that they previously took in their stride.

The loss of this cushioning effect during menopause can spell a shift from a “I can handle this” mentality to “This all feels a bit much”.

On top of that there’s the fact that many of us are overwhelmed simply by the amount we have to do these days.

Seventy-five per cent in the UK now also work as well as try to raise their families.

There are more working mothers in the workplace than at any time in the UK – with 75 percent also having a job, as well as being a parent, according to recent government statistics.


The fact that we are gaining more equality in the workplace is good news, except for one thing.

 

Even in 2024, in heterosexual relationships, mothers still do the lion’s share of the housework and organisation around kids, according to a wide range of studies.

As children get older and into the teen years, the demands don’t go away. If anything, the problems scale up with the size of the children, especially as more young people are struggling with mental health issues.

As the most common age to have a baby in the UK is the early 30s, the timing means many women are going through the start of the hormonal upheavals of perimenopause quite soon into their parenting. When their children are hitting puberty, we are more likely to be hitting menopause proper – and parenting teens is harder than ever.

Nothing like a teen telling you what an ‘annoying old bat'- or worse - when you’re not exactly feeling your confident best, is there?

So, while this seems to massively stack the odds against women in the mid-life years here’s the good news.

There are plenty of ways to address Blah – because we’ve never known more about how good feelings are made in the brain than we do now – thanks to fMRI scanners that can see emotions being formed.

Of course, modern life will always have its challenges and stresses. 


But when we understand how we can make these good feelings, then we can push back and start to love it again.


So far I have named a few of the factors that can add  up to feeling blah in menopause. But everyone has their own cocktail of reasons.  Diet, illness,  Long Covid, burn-out, childhood trauma - can also play their part.

When you find out what your reasons are, you can start to address them. 


Indeed the first step is knowing that 'Anhedonia' is a 'thing' that can be addressed.  That awareness alone can put you on the right path back to loving your life.

 

What I learned from my own journey out of Anhedonia is that no woman should ever feel so ground down by life that joy feels like the ultimate luxury.

 

Everyone will have their reasons. When you discover yours, you can start living life to the full again and putting together your toolbox to address them.




 

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